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Sunday, December 31, 2017

Red Oak House Christmas Bird Count

Fifteen below at noon New Year's Eve 2017 with record lows in the night convinced me that this was a year to participate in the area Christmas bird count by making observations at the Red Oak House feeders. These are my tools for the day.

The hyperborean dawn revealed that the kitchen window suet feeder had fallen to the ground. Red Oak House's Word of the Day, hyperborean (late Middle English) is from the Greek huper for beyond and Borean for Northwind.

I finally channeled my inner North Dakotan, put on the serious coat, and went out with the ladder to re-hang the feeder, filling it with the Suchy beef suet they gave us at our annual Winter Solstice potluck.

Whilst I was outdoors, I also brushed off last night's snow from the surface of the sunflower feeder. Lizzie, the Springer Spaniel, was of no help, but she was eager to be with me nonetheless, and then equally as eager to go back into the warmth of the house, to nap in the sunshine.

The thistle and sunflower feeders are covered with pine siskins and I also observe them scratching about in the spent vegetation of the perennial beds. By this point of the winter, the birds have stripped the crab apple trees of their fruit, yet the saffron dots of bittersweet remain as a bright spot in a somewhat drab landscape. The low sun shone brightly all day.

With a cup of lemon tea, I settled in near the woodstove to read a couple of books, checking the feeders now and again throughout the short day while Jim napped while he "watched" football.

Earlier today, Jim had been over to get our daughter's dead car going, attaching the battery charger in the hopes that this will do the trick. She is not alone in struggling with this, a common problem here on the northern plains in these frigid days. Jim has ice-fishing on his mind. The car didn't start and I can see neighbors dealing with the same issues.

Last year we constructed and mounted an owl nest in the big old green ash tree, and a couple of weeks ago we placed a hunk of beef soup bone within in the hopes of luring nesting great-horned owls. We are certain this gave the neighbors something to puzzle over--"What are they up to now?" A few hours later, Jim spotted one plucking at the meat, but we have not seen it since then. For Christmas, I gave Jim a beautiful screech owl nesting box and am confident that eastern screech owls will use it as I so often see and hear these in our yard.

Hairy woodpecker on suet feeder
I researched the Hairy Woodpecker in my book Words for Birds: "Dendrocopos villosus which is Greek for "tree cleaver" and coined from dendron, "tree," and kopis, "cleaver". villosus which is Latin for "hairy or shaggy"; the reference is to the general appearance of the plumage, which gives the species a hirsute but combed appearance." The Downy Woodpecker is "Dendrocopos pubescens, Latin for "coming into puberty" which seems to be related to the species being less hairy and less mature." (pg. 168) The Downy is the smaller of the two.

On and off all afternoon, this downy woodpecker clung to the huge blue spruce in the front yard, puffed up for warmth, feeding on the resin. Later, I observed the same behavior by the nuthatches. I hoped for a brown creeper to show up as I have occasionally observed one on this big tree that is right outside my kitchen "office" window.

We are not the partying sort so our end of the year celebration will consist of my homemade Swedish meatballs, made from Striefel beef and Napoleon sausage. The special taste comes from the cardamom, and the lingonberry jelly I include in the creamy sauce. Add to that some of our own bubbly, with daughter, Chelsea, as our guest and we will savor the last day of 2017.  I included black-eyed peas to the menu, as they are a Southern tradition, thought to bring prosperity to the upcoming year. Remember, my father is from Mississippi. Whilst I cook I listen to Jason Isbell and Greg Allman. 

The sun has set and my tally of birds is:

Hairy woodpeckers
Downy woodpeckers
Slate-colored juncos
Black-capped chickadees
Red-breasted nuthatches
Pine siskins
House sparrows
House Finches

The hoped-for brown creeper was a no-show as were any owls. Here's to more birding in 2018!

A New Year's Eve full moon has risen, good tunes are playing in our kitchen, and while we wait for our child to get off from work, we dine on mussels, crackers and cheese, with white wine. 

I wish for you as much joy and love as I've received in the past year, highlights of which include the Bismarck Women's March on the capitol grounds, the beginning of my blog, new friendships, my dive into Twitter, an abundant garden, many good books, time with my parents and Rachel, my husband's 70th birthday, our trip in the Midwest and to the Rocky Mountain Folk Festival, my visit to one of my oldest friend's home in Tucson, and my daughter Chelsea's adventure to Colorado for vocational training (it is good to have her home). A little thing in the year was a revelation to one of my best friends my secret ingredient for marinara, a resolution to not hold on to such silly things anymore. And how could I not include the total solar eclipse in Wyoming! 

I am a shy and reticent person, an introvert, and too old to even want to change this about me. Writing this blog has been a huge step for me and the universe has answered me back with more blessings than I could ever have dreamed. Jim cheers me on every day and I love him for that. 

And that is the truth.

"And now let us believe in a long year that is given to us, new untouched, full of things that have never been, full of work that has never been done." 
Ranier Maria Rilke

Friday, December 29, 2017

Winter Interlude

We went away over Christmas for a winter interlude with my sisters and their families and my mother, gathering in a large house in the woods of the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Driving west across the Memorial Bridge, we could see chunks of ice in the Missouri River. We traversed familiar west Dakota roads, in the midst of the first true cold snap of the season, all of our cars loaded full of passengers, food, and family.  As I drove, I counted twenty-two ruffed-legged hawks from Belfield to Belle Fourche and spotted a large herd of antelope south of Crow Butte. The prairie was mostly brown (the drought continues) and we only experienced one near-whiteout south of Buffalo.

The rental house was in the aspen and pine forest near Lead, SD. We work together as a well-oiled machine and, in no time at all, we had transformed the house to our gathering space for the next four days, each of taking turns cooking the meals and performing KP. A long folding table was heaped with cookies and other holiday treats, and, at the end of this table, we set up a bar. Some of the famous Walby Tom & Jerrys were whipped up too and the wine was uncorked.

Jim & I attended Christmas morning mass in Lead. For the next four days, everyone did what made them happy, a variety of activities that included card and board games, reading, movies, visiting, napping, downhill and cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling, sprinkled with a few visits to the nearby Deadwood casinos.

We had given each other books for Christmas and, taking turns, both read the new Louise Erdrich novel (too bleak for my taste). We caught up with the kids who live on the east coast and played lots of pinochle and cribbage with my mother.

The first couple of days were bitter cold, but the youngest headed to Terry Peak right away for some skiing.

My mother is a stitching wizard and she presented me with a beautiful new apron, with the words "Red Oak House" and some of the leaves of the plants in our yard. We were particularly happy to have been able to bring her on this trip as she has a deep love of the Black Hills and seldom is able to travel anymore.

My sisters and I bundled up and took a walk, stretching our legs and exploring the area. There was adequate snow and more in the forecast. Later on Christmas Day, our friend, Valerie Naylor, who lives nearby, came for a visit.

The two fireplaces were quite popular with everyone, as was the hot tub. Relatives who live in the southern US texted me that we were very hearty folks, having seen the news of the temperatures in the Dakotas.

On day two, Jim & I drove over to Spearfish Canyon and took a two-mile hike to Roughlock Falls, relishing the fresh air and quiet grandeur. There were a few other folks on the trail, here and there, but we mostly had it to ourselves.

On day three, my sister, Beckie, and I took our cross-country skis to Eagle Cliffs trails and did a few loops in the lovely powder snow, and burned off some of the cookie calories. It was very peaceful there and we saw no one else on the trail.

With the sunset, came the first flakes of an all-night snow, and, in the dawn light, we could see that there were about six inches on all of our cars. Time to load up and head north to our homes!  The temperatures were a little on the upward trend Thursday, but the forecast of more frigid weather was on our minds.

My mother rode from Bowman with us and, as we passed through Slope and Stark counties, I enjoyed her stories of those old days so long ago. She has very interesting and funny memories.

Today has been unpacking and dealing with Chelsea's dead car battery, greatly touched at the friends and family who had attempted to assist her in our absence. While Jim got her car going, I hauled in heaps of firewood in preparation for the upcoming cold snap.

The Missouri River is now frozen over and will be for the foreseeable future. My husband has ice-fishing on his mind. Our gardening boots are replaced by winter boots. I've had my trusty black Sorels for twenty-five years now.

It is time to add another down comforter to the bed and settle in, reading books, writing manuscripts, and fighting the proposed refinery near Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  And maybe we will squeeze in the Bismarck Christmas Bird Count.

This poem by T.S. Eliot is on much my mind today as we anticipate the Epiphany. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

The Journey Of The Magi
A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

Monday, December 18, 2017

My pal Rick Watson

He arrived in Rhame, North Dakota, when I was a senior in high school, this new, young pastor at First Lutheran Church, fresh out of Wartburg Seminary. Rick Watson and I got acquainted pretty quickly because I was the church organist and pianist, and I sang in the choir. Little did I know that this talented and brilliant young man from Mott, North Dakota, would become one of my lifelong mentors and a cherished friend.

Now, I look back at the more than forty years of our friendship. He counseled me, and the Ohm family, through the death of David. This young pastor listened to rock and roll music, and the upper bedroom of the parsonage in Rhame was crammed full of good books, on a wide range of topics.

When I was struggling in my first quarter of college in the Red River valley, far away from the wild and rolling prairie of Slope County (I bummed a ride home every single weekend but two), it was Rick who said I might consider transferring to Dickinson State (then) College. In fact, he gave this advice in that book-filled parsonage room. And thus, he changed my destiny. He also connected me with Dr. Carl Larson, who had served as his undergraduate advisor and thus became mine. Just yesterday I received a Christmas letter from the Larsons and it is so good to know that all these years later one can retain connections with such generous and intelligent folks.

Then, as my first academic year was coming to an end, it was Rick who suggested that I should take a summer job as a counselor at Badlands Lutheran Bible Camp, south of Medora, in the Bad Lands of North Dakota and so I did. On occasional weekends, Rick would show up with his guitar and his songs and keep us all laughing.

'Cause folks, Rick is one funny and fearless guy, with, dare I say, a wicked sense of humor. This, on top of an impressive vitae filled with artistic and academic accomplishments. He was a pastor for quite a few years and he has been teaching at Minot State University since 1991. Humanities and communication arts. He has influenced countless people, young and old. He has known my husband for longer than I have, as they were college students together. What stories they tell!

When I was working my way through college at the record store in the Dickinson mall, Rick would stop in to check on me and buy some vinyl. Nowadays, our paths cross at concerts in Bismarck and parties on the Suchy Farm south of Mandan.

All this time he has been writing poetry and songs. His website High Plains Creole is a great place to learn more about him. He pops up on a regular basis doing live music, mostly in Minot, in "classrooms, church basements, and coffeehouses." Rick is married to the lovely Jonelle and has two sons. It was my honor to nominate him for a DSU Alumni Fellow award and to be there when he performed on campus for Heart River Writers' Circle, on campus to accept his award.

In 2004, he was named a North Dakota Associate Poet Laureate. Something in the Mott water, I guess. His social media is endlessly interesting.  Buy some of his music and poetry to enjoy for yourself and support a fine ND fellow.

He often gives people nicknames and these characters appear in his poetry. Mine is, for better or worse, "Lil McGill" (inspired, I think and hope, by the Beatles).

Here is a poem he wrote for my 2017 birthday. As usual, Rick gets the last word.

777 Ways to Age in Grace in Spite of...


Lil (Fidel) McGill on her birthday

after the thunder and rain of this early morning
it is easy to see
yesterday was a Sabbath and holy

we drove against the south Wind
all the way to the capitol city of
struggle, our own Lost Colony home

the wind was up
all the way from Africa,
maybe, or Spain,
or Memphis, at least

Her birthday festival went into swing
all the food was Mexican, too,
as if there never had been a wall

tortillas, meats of three kinds,
the greens and the reds and the
lime colored juices

tequila, and wine
red as revolt,
or clear and white--you could see through
the glass to the garden all around

the violets bloomed beneath the trees,
early in May, and the dry air hit 90 degrees
the garden was in; the flowers were coming
the bees acted peacefully, drunk in some joy

music and mystery made
by people, food and whine,
the eternally now of family and friends

we ate and drank to the revolution of the earth
the 3/4 moon was high in the sky
before the sun even thought to go down

we ate and drank to the people's hopes
to the proletariat of education
to the hopes of history, Reformation,

to the lusty spouts of garlic leaves,
the 10,000 future tomatoes
of every shade of red in the sky

the marriage of children
the health of friends
the love of the dead

stories of how and why we survived
of the water up on these northern grounds
that would soon be warm enough to swim

farmers whose land was blowing away
because they could not fallow the hallowed ground
the abandoned house in the middle of a field

so huge it would take all day to walk
a house gone empty, now falling down
after the last time the earth blew away

the wheat and cattle
the wind that we cursed
with a tone only love can make

of guitars, and songs we still need to sing
even though many who need them are dead
and who knows? ...but sing, touch the strings

and then of course,
the birthday song to the girl
made a woman by us,

by her sorrow, by love and drought,
badlands, war and the dreams of holy rain
until the darkness was not a threat

the darkness, the wind
became a song inside our bones
and there we were together: at home

Richard Henry Watson  May 8, 2017

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Fort Keogh Trail

Another important historic trail in North Dakota that has been on my mind this past year is the Fort Keogh Trail. This trail passed nearby to where I grew up in Slope County.

As shown on the map below, it ran from Fort Abraham Lincoln (near present-day Mandan, ND) to Fort Keogh, west of Miles City, MT.

Completed during the summer of 1877, it was also known as the Post Office Route no. 35,051 and began operation in 1878, with stations about 18 miles apart. "The route roughly followed the Custer Trail of 1876...[and] afforded the natural and most convenient places to set up stations, which usually consisted of a dugout in the side of a hill...." (Old Red Old Ten)

An excellent source of information on the Trail is in the files at Theodore Roosevelt National Park and has been digitized by the Theodore Roosevelt Center.

"Two miles west of Amidon the mail road is around 150 yards north of the present highway No. 85 and crosses Sand creek about a mile and a half north of where you would be if you would go due west from Amidon. A station was located on Sand creek. (Roberts' Letter 3-24-49) After crossing Deep creek about a mile below the H.T. Ranch the road continued to the Little Missouri, where there was a station by that name." (Fort Keogh Trail, TRNP, pg. 7) These stations were the ones that my grandparents and parents remembered.

This photo from the TR Center archives shows four men standing on the location of the Fort Keogh Trail at Sand Creek (with the Little Missouri River cottonwoods and banks clearly shown).

Four men looking at Sand Creek station location on the Fort Keogh Trail (courtesy of TRNP and the TR Center)
"Most of the stations were mere dugouts in the side of a hill, with a single window and door in front...The first real building [seen] since leaving Bismarck was a little stock tender's cabin on the western bank of the Little Missouri. (Fort Keogh Trail, TRNP, pg. 8)

Harry Roberts writes in As I Remember regarding the Keogh Trail in Slope County at Sand Creek "I have pictures of the building [I wonder what happened to these] and also pictures of two graves of the two men that took care of the relay horses there. The Indians discovered the horses grazing out a little ways from the buildings and proceeded to run the horses off. These two men grabbed their guns and rushed out to regain the horses and both of them met their death." (Slope Saga, pg. 1120)

The photo below by the famous photographer L.A. Huffman, who lived at Fort Keogh, shows the wagon trails along the Fort Keogh Trail.

"Huffman never forgot his trip from Bismarck to Fort Keogh in the open buckboards of the mail carriers. Exposed to the wind and subzero temperatures without adequate clothing, he suffered so severely that he was forced to lay over at a little stage station midway along the trail. The first night out an outlaw who was under suspecision in connection with the disappearance of some army mules stopped the stage and climbed in. Curiously,, he sized Huffman up as a fellow-fugitive and generously offered to attempt a stand-off while Huffman got away should an attempt be made to apprehend them." (Brown, Mark H. and W.R. Felton. Before Barbed Wired: L.A. Huffman, Photographers on Horseback, c1975, pg. 14)

His position at Fort Keogh was post photographer and while there he witness the surrender of important Native American chiefs and about two thousand of Sitting Bull's followers.

Fort Keogh, Montana. Officer's Quarters and Cavalry Barracks, June 1880 (by L.A. Huffman)
There is an interesting Bismarck Tribune article published in 2009 that tells readers more about the soldier named Keogh, after which the Fort and Trail is named. Song Tied to Little Bighorn's History

In a document called Buffalo Hunt in the 1880s, available electronically through the Montana Memory Project, the tale is told of W.E. Limestone and 3 of his friends traveling to Fort Keogh to hunt the last of the buffalo in December of 1880. They almost froze to death on the trail.  This is just one of the many colorful stories centered on the Fort Keogh Trail.

In 1873, the Trail was described as a "busy highway." (Fort Keogh Trail, TRNP, pg. 11) and by the 1890's it was known as the Government Road. By the 20th century, travelers could stay at the Amidon Hotel.

The sign in front of this hotel reads: "We burn our coal mines, fossilize our ancestors, petrify our wood, welcome our guests, stop and see us, Amidon Community League." (Photo is dated 1938) My great-aunt lived in Amidon in the early days and operated a store with her husband.

The history of western North Dakota is as rich with these stories as it is breathtakingly beautiful in its landscape.

Photo by Jim Fuglie

Friday, December 15, 2017

Krumkake day

Today, after a couple of weeks of Jim's plea "when are we going to?", we set aside the time to make krumkake, a Norwegian holiday tradition.

I use my half-Norwegian mother's tried & true recipe with a large amount of butter, sugar, and eggs.

My KitchenAid stand mixer makes this part so easy! I will never part with it.

We use Jim's mother's krumkake iron. Today, Jim manned the iron and I did the rolling on the little wooden spindles.

God jul til alle!