Thursday, November 28, 2019

A Thanksgiving Meditation: Things I Love

A Thanksgiving Meditation: Things I Love

English cheese
A good Cabernet
The smell of chrysanthemums
A clean house
Chelsea's warm skin when we hug
Scones and clotted cream
Freshly ground coffee, brewed in a French press, with cream
Rachel's smile
Solitude and silence
Fresh walleye
Ethnic food
Navajo rugs and jewelry
Public television and radio
Chunky chocolate chip oatmeal cookies
The Badlands
The books of Terry Tempest Williams and Robert Macfarlane
Clean sheets, best when dried on a clothesline outdoors
The Tetons
Roast pork
Lucinda Williams
British TV & movies
Wind rustling in cottonwood leaves
Costume dramas of all kinds
Jackson Browne's music
My Grandma Lily's rolling-pin
Good books, mostly non-fiction
Garden tomatoes
Carrot cake
The color turquoise
The New Yorker magazine
The memory of Mama Crook's biscuits
Irish butter
Watching ocean waves breaking on a sandy beach
Americana music
My Mauviel copper pots
Shelling and eating peas
Museums and galleries
Mangoes and Washington peaches
Prairie Smoke
Comfortable hiking boots
The Winter Olympics
Good newspapers
Vanderbilt University
Freshly baled hay
Ice cream
Hamilton (The Musical)
Rosemary and basil
Eudora Welty
My Google Pixel phone
Van Gogh
National parks
All things Great Britain
Camping with Jim
Live music
Caldecott picture books
Fire in my woodstove
Dark chocolate
Tenting next to a rushing mountain stream

(editorial note: I started this about two months ago, but almost didn't post when I saw Terry Dullum's similar blog -- then thought "nah, I'll go ahead")

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Momaday, Falling Stars, and Two Extraordinary Nights in November-REVISED

This is a significantly revised version of my original blog posted on 11/20/2019 with the addition of details I've located since that date as well as updates on the 11/21/2019 Unicorn showers. 

Although the annual Leonids meteor showers have come and gone, the news about a potential "rich burst" of shooting stars from the Unicorn meteor showers has me thinking back to two remarkable nights in my life during Novembers long past.

I follow the website "Earth & Sky" and here is something they have to say about the Unicorn meteors: "you might catch a rich burst of meteors from the constellation Monoceros the Unicorn. At its peak, it was said the showers 'could' produce a burst of 100 meteors in just 15 minutes." You can read more about it at "Earth & Sky" as well as this article on the CNN website including the times to watch. However, the 2019 Unicorn showers were a bust I can say, from both my observations  -- we saw two -- and this "Earth and Sky" post which says they were "elusive."

Unlike the more recent showers, on an extraordinary night in November 2001, the Leonid meteor showers were exceptional, just as predicted in the media. That night, I made plans with a friend to drive to a dark place near Richardton, ND, where we bundled up, positioned our lawn chairs for the display, scrambled into sleeping bags, and sipped on hot tea from a thermos. While the night was somewhat cloudy, the show was still spectacular, with massive explosions of green and purple near the northern horizon, so large one could imagine the sound. Many viewers documented that night and some accounts and photos are widely available including here. Interesting historical accounts of past Leonids are in this story from The Washington Post, including fascinating details of an 1833 meteor storm (more about that later).

About the time of the 2001 Leonids, I began work on a rewarding project as part of my responsibilities as library director at Dickinson State University, a collaboration with the Department of Language and Literature to bring contemporary authors to campus. The co-coordinator and my partner in this venture, Dr. David Solheim, came up with the program's name: "Heart River Writers' Circle." Solheim made the arrangements with the authors (he had been bringing authors and poets to campus for many years by then) and I handled the other details, mostly administrative and public relations, as well as the follow-up book discussions held in the Library and open to anyone who wished to attend. He and I were somewhat stunned when the president (and his wife, who was very enthusiastic about the project) told us to "think big." We stood in the hallway for a time looking at each other and then plunged ahead on a literary project that heightened attention to writers and survives to this day, long after our retirement.

Thus it was that our second visiting writer for the series was Pulitzer Prize winner author N. Scott Momaday. His reading was a big splash, the auditorium packed including with tribal college students who were bused in for the evening and breakfast with the author the next morning. But first, I had the honor of dining with Momaday at the President's house before the reading where Solheim and I were allowed to invite a few of our own guests. It was an intimate gathering and I invited the man I was dating (who became my husband, Jim) and friends Debi and Ken Rogers (Ken had graciously agreed to lead a future book discussion for "In the Bear's House").

As we gathered that night for supper, Momaday, who is Kiowa himself, told us a story in his beautiful, sonorous voice of the Kiowa people being awakened on a winter night by a massive meteor shower many centuries ago. This was the 1833 Leonids, he said. He told us the story from the Kiowas Calendar History, described here in the Calendar history of the Kiowa Indians by James Mooney, available at

D'ä´-p'é'gyä-de Sai, "Winter that the stars fell." This winter takes its name from the memorable meteoric display which occurred shortly before daylight on the morning of November 13, 1833. It was observed throughout North America, and created great excitement among the plains tribes, as well as among a large part of our own population; the event is still used as a chronologic starting point by the old people of the various tribes. It is pictorially represented on most of the Dakota calendars discussed by Mallery in his valuable work on the Picture Writing of the American Indians. Set-t'an was born in the preceding summer, and the small figure of a child over the winter bar indicates that this is his first winter or year; the stars above his head represent the meteors.

Fig. 64—Winter 1833—34—The stars fell.
The Kiowa say it occurred in the winter season, when they were camped on a small tributary of Elm fork of Red river, within the present Greer county, Oklahoma. The whole camp was asleep, when they were wakened by a sudden light; running out from the tipis, they found the night as bright as day, with myriads of meteors darting about in the sky. The parents aroused the children, saying, "Get up, get up, there is something awful (zédălbe) going on!" They had never before known such an occurrence, and regarded it as something ominous or dangerous, and sat watching it with dread and apprehension until daylight.

After he told us this story, many of us shared our memories of watching the 2001 Leonids.

Momaday is also on my mind because the PBS series "American Masters" aired the splendid documentary "Words From A Bear" this week -- a film I've been waiting to see. (We narrowly missed its screening last winter at the Sundance Film Festival when we passed through one night off!) From the film's website: "American Masters examines the enigmatic life and mind of National Medal of Arts-winner Navarro Scott Momaday, the Kiowa novelist, short-story writer, essayist and poet, in the Season 33 finale." The film is streaming now; you can read more about the film here.

For the Heart River Writers' Circle events, I prepared bookmarks to be given out cleverly promoting both the author's upcoming reading and the later book discussions. I have many of those bookmarks to this day, tucked into the books I would purchase for my personal collection. After the readings, the authors signed their books at a reception, thus it is we have many signed books here at Red Oak House.

Someone snapped a photo of Solheim and me with Momaday that night, but, sadly, I don't have that photo. I do have the vivid memories though, just as burned into my synapses as that night I watched the Leonids, or the times I watched the Halley's and Hale-Bopp comets, or the night my daughter and I slept out on a hay bale stack to watch the Perseid meteor showers.

Do pause some night in the future and take in meteor showers as well as the stupendous Momaday film, for moments to fill your life with awe.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Is There Any Doubt I'm a Cartographic Geek?

Is there any doubt I'm a cartographic geek? Is there any doubt I'm an Anglophile?

Great Britain counties I visited in August & 

September 2019

England (of 48 counties, I went to 33)
·         Bedfordshire
·         Berkshire
·         Buckinghamshire
·         Cambridgeshire
·         Cheshire
·         City of London
·         Cornwall
·         Cumbria
·         Devon
·         Durham
·         Glouchestershire
·         Greater London
·         Greater Manchester
·         Hampshire
·         Herefordshire
·         Herfordshire
·         Kent
·         Lancashire
·         Leicestershire
·         Merseyside
·         North Yorkshire
·         Northumberland
·         Nottinghamshire
·         Oxfordshire
·         Shropshire
·         Somerset
·         South Yorkshire
·         Surrey
·         Tyne and Wear
·         Warwickshire
·         West Midlands
·         West Yorkshire
·         Wiltshire

Scotland (of 20 counties I went to 12)
·         Scottish Borders
·         Midlothian
·         City of Edinburgh
·         West Lothian
·         Falkirk
·         North Lanarkshire
·         Stirling
·         Perth and Kinross
·         Argyll and Bute
·         West Dumbartonshire
·         Glasgow City
·         South Lanarkshire

Wales (Welsh name)
·         Clwyd (Clwyd)
·         Monmouthshire (Sir Fynwy)

In Ireland, I only visited Dublin, also the English name of the county, but in Gaelic is Contae Bhaile Átha Cliath

I've already begun a list of destinations for my return to the United Kingdom and Ireland! Meanwhile, I've got some scones to bake, testing a recipe from the BBC. And, yes, I binge-watched season 3 of "The Crown" already.

English cheese

Monday, November 4, 2019

Red Oak House Tenth Anniversary

November is our tenth anniversary at Red Oak House and the longest I've lived in one place in my lifetime. The explanation for my peripatetic life is, in part, that I was an Army brat. Looking back, I think that my heart was seeking the perfect match for my home and didn't find it until we bought Red Oak House. I know that the ten-year record does not hold for my husband because he grew up in a small southwest North Dakota town, in one place for 15 years. Yet, as an adult, he has also been fairly restless. (To be fair, I lived in Dickinson for more than thirty years, but in many different abodes.)

I used to say that I must live where I could smell sagebrush, and for much of my life I did, but now I revel in living where I see the Missouri River every day, content in the knowledge that my beloved Little Missouri River, its hauntingly beautiful tributary, flows by me each day mingled within the waters of the big river. We drink some of the cleanest water in the world and I am grateful each time I turn on a tap at Red Oak House.

Because our house was vacant at the time a decade ago, the seller allowed us to start painting before we actually closed on the sale in mid-November. By the time the movers arrived with our stuff that had been in storage in South Heart (of all places), it was a blustery day like today.

In the intervening years, we've sunk lots more sweat equity into this house, to not mention money. We transformed a huge plot of grass into perennial beds and a vegetable garden and raspberry patch. We've nurtured the existing trees, most importantly the ND Champion Red Oak, and planted a few more, including a small grove of quaking aspen and a thriving crab apple. We hauled in hundreds of rocks and several boulders and planted thousands of perennials. We built a website to boot.

We replaced most of the original windows and battled a persistently leaky roof until we broke down last spring to lay down some serious cash on a gorgeous metal roof. Summer before last we had most of the wood floors refinished. Last summer I painted the exterior, a huge job for which I am proud I did on my own. We are hopeful the big-ticket items are behind us now and we can spend more on travel.

But for now, we tuck in for a long winter, catching up on projects in our respective offices (mine is in the kitchen where I write bathed in light from the windows all around, Jim's is more cave-like). In the evenings, we relax in our living room, watching TV and reading books.

Lillian's "office"

Jim's office

May you all find the home of your heart.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 55: Autumn Sunshine

Today I worked joyously in the autumn sunshine at Red Oak House, on a rare still day, planting 92 tulip bulbs, at the request of my husband. He had asked me last spring to plant more and, when I received an email from a seed company mentioning bulbs, it hit me that there was still time. Last night I went to a local home store, where it looked like I was too late as the Christmas stuff dominated, but I wandered into the semi-dark garden supply area and found lots of bulbs for sale, knowing that today would be the day to get the planting done.

These tender shoots are beyond delectable for the ravenous rabbits when it is the only green in the spring, so I must plant tulips inside the garden fence. I dug a trench six inches deep -- it is muddy and my boots grew heavy with the load underfoot. While I worked, my mind wandered back to pleasant childhood days planting tulips with my mother at our Slope County farm. We also had to plant inside the fence that was around the house to protect from rabbits. My mother loves tulips, bright spots in what can be bleak spring days in North Dakota.

There is not much color in the yard this year as most of the leaves are turning brown and gray, even the aspens, normally a luminous saffron by now. I mowed up the current round of gray leaves from the grass, secure in the knowledge that most of the leaves remain on the flower beds (which occupy far more space than the tiny plot of grass we have) to provide critical cover for over-wintering insects. I need the three bags I gathered with the mower to mulch the asparagus.

For some reason, the eponymous Red Oak tree is defying this trend of brown and gray leaves (which we surmise must be caused by the overly abundant rains we've had this year). It is looking glorious right now. Soon enough its leaves will rain down and fill the rain gutters.

Again to protect from rabbits, I've erected fences around some of the shrubs they munch on during the winter. The chrysanthemums are mostly flattened from the early October heavy snow, but a few spots of color remain here and there, mostly from the purple asters. On the feeders, the birds are busy with constant visits from nuthatches, both red- and white-breasted, woodpeckers, chickadees, and juncoes. I especially like it when the raucous Blue Jays show up. For now, I seem to have foiled the pesky squirrels.

Autumn foods dominate in our kitchen, including last Sunday's roast with root vegetables, one of our "nothing-from-the-store" meals (we buy the beef from a Morton County friend). Jim is happily spending today in a boat on the Missouri River, sipping their traditional Bloody Mary and attempting to put some walleye in the freezer before the fishing season ends. He always comes home with good stories if not fish.

Here at Red Oak House, we are mostly ready for the winter, a time to focus on our many indoor projects, including work on our neglected manuscript.

"If you were coming in the fall,
I'd brush the summer by"  Emily Dickinson


Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Tomato Herb Phyllo Tart - My Recipe

I love to cook and I love to share food with family and friends. I've been cooking on my own for a crowd since I was ten-years-old. Last night I made this dish, which makes my husband very happy. Many friends requested the recipe. Here it is, a first for WildDakotaWoman.

Tomato and Herb Phyllo Tart

7 sheets phyllo pastry, thawed
1/2 c. melted Irish butter
1 c. grated Parmesana Reggiano (don't use the cheap parmesan)
1 1/2 c. grated mozzarella cheese (again, higher quality cheese, more flavorful results)
1 large head of garlic, chopped
4-5 large tomatoes, sliced
1& 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
1 t. grated fresh pepper
1/2 t. thyme
1/2 t. oregano
1 t. fresh chopped rosemary

Note: all spices are Penzeys or freshly grown -- I have a rosemary plant I keep indoors over the winter.

Preheat oven to 350°. Place tomato slices on paper towels and pat dry. Place a sheet of parchment paper on a large cookie sheet and then lightly coat with non-stick cooking spray. Place one sheet of phyllo on the cookie sheet. Brush with melted butter, then sprinkle with a T. or so of parmesan. Don't worry about full coverage as this will be taken care of with multiple sheets. Place another sheet over this and press down firmly. Repeat until all sheets are used and all butter & parmesan is used. Sprinkle the top with mozzarella. Place the tomatoes on top in straight lines so square can be cut after baking. Place the chopped garlic on next, then sprinkle on the salt, pepper and other spices. Bake at 350°for 30 minutes or until the edges are lightly golden and the bottom cooked. If needed broil for a minute or two at the end to carefully brown the top. Cut into squares and decorate with fresh rosemary sprigs when serving.

Bon appetit!

Friday, October 11, 2019

A Long-Overdue Wild Badlands Day

My family journeyed west earlier this week for a long-overdue wild Badlands day.

If you look closely, you can see Chelsea, my hiking companion

Our first stop was to view the ongoing bison round-up at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The corrals were full of bison and, from outside the fence, we watched the trailers being loaded, and we could hear the racket those massive beasts make when their bodies meet steel.

In the heart of the park, we were delighted to see the saffron cottonwoods in our beloved Little Missouri River valley and observed that the water was unusually deep for this time of the year, a reflection of the wet cycle we've been experiencing.

My daughter and I went for a hike, a bushwack really, making our own trail, a couple of hours of bliss on a 75-degree sunny day, with a gentle Zephyr wind, no ticks, and the knowledge that a blizzard was coming the very next day. (See photo at top) Chelsea told me her favorite was the shades of red in the chokecherry bushes and little bluestem grasses. We savored every moment.

It turned out to be a pretty snake-y day, one small rattler and two blue racers, and Chelsea, of Wild By Nature Photography (my daughter), got some good photos with her telephoto lens. I have exceptional "snake radar," having honed it growing up in Slope County, where snakes are abundant.

Rattler (Wild by Nature Photography, Chelsea Sorenson)

Blue Racer (Wild by Nature Photograph, Chelsea Sorenson) 

The day ended with a stint at Peaceful Valley Ranch where a team of young scientists is banding Northern Saw-whet Owls, an annual ritual. While we didn't have the fortune of catching any owls this particular night, it was a thrill to stand under the stars listening to the Sandhill Cranes fly over. "Hurry up," we shouted.

After a good night's sleep at the Rough Riders Hotel, we rushed home to wrap up the last of the gardening work before the blizzard. I dug out the snow shovels from storage and hurriedly picked raspberries with cold fingers and Jim planted and mulched next year's garlic.

If you need me, I'll be happily watching it snow on our lovely new metal roof at Red Oak House. Since we bought the house, the roof has leaked. This will be the best winter in our ten years here, no doubt.

Monday, September 30, 2019

My Country Music Memories

The Ellis Family of Attala County, Mississippi, with their instruments

Although we have greatly anticipated its airing, at Red Oak House we mostly watched "Country Music" in delay, recording it for playback at our convenience, and we finished it Sunday afternoon. Every moment took me back to my many days in my father's homeland, Mississippi, and my time in Nashville when I was attending graduate school at Vanderbilt University, where we drove by the Mother Church most every day. We thought nothing of seeing music stars in the restaurants we frequented. That was just Nashville life. One of our classmates worked in the Country Music Hall and Fame library and came home with terrific stories. Our path on occasional walks took us to Music Row past the studios in which creative magic was happening. When we needed to blow off steam, we spent a day at Opryland riding the roller-coaster and enjoying the Grand Old Opry.

It is challenging to pinpoint what I loved most about the Burns series, but I am thrilled that the spotlight shined on two of my favorite performers, Emmylou Harris and Rosanne Cash. That, and the final, perfect frame on Mother Maybelle Carter, as it should be. Will the Circle Be Unbroken, indeed.

Much of what I know of country music was from my time in Slope County when I would drive the pickup to the field where my father was fixing fence, to take him "coffee". He would always be listening to the country AM station out of Baker, Montana. That memory and the recollection that my Mama Crook (my father's mother) went into mourning when Patsy Cline died, she who loved every single word sung by Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette. My mother remembers a very hot summer day at the Ryman Auditorium in the early 1950s when everyone tried to keep cool with paper fans and ticket holders were encouraged to relinquish their seats to those standing in line outside.

My Mama Crook herself had grown up singing and playing what they called "Old Timey" music with her siblings, their father a Civil War veteran of the Confederate Army (shown with their instruments in the photo at top, my great-grandfather center back row). It has been fun to witness my father's stories of listening to WSM on the family radio when he was a youngun'. He also learned to sing with shape notes at the nearby Friendship country church - what they called "lining out."

Years later, I took my husband to Nashville to see these places again. On our first night there, we went to a club. As the musicians were setting up their own instruments on stage for the show, I said to him, "That's Vince Gill!" "Nah," said my skeptical husband. When he admitted I was right, he was thunderstruck and sat back to soak in a quintessential Nashville moment. 

These stories and the stories told in country songs are the fabric of my life. It is no wonder that my favorite of all music genres is Americana. I regularly stream the radio show American Routes, listening in my office/kitchen. Wouldn't that technology just amaze my Mama Crook? God bless Burns and his entire team for their heartfelt work. We are better people for their contribution to our rich heritage.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 54: Time to Pay the Piper

You may have noticed that WildDakotaWoman has been quiet of late. I've been to England, Scotland, & Wales for that time. Yup, a whole month. It was just as wonderful as I thought it would be and I'll write about it when I have time.

I don't have time because I came home to at least a month worth of yard work and it is autumn, with the many tasks to accomplish before the snow. I was delighted to discover upon my return that I had not entirely missed the Washington peach crop at our local fruit stand, and I eat one or two a day.

The tomato crop has been a big disappointment, with too little of the vital ingredients: sunshine and hot temperatures. A meager number of jars in the pantry to proves. Jim begged for just one more tomato pie and I capitulated the other day. The garlic harvest was good and there is the promise for abundant carrots when the time comes to dig those in a few weeks. Jim brings in a bowl full of raspberries each day and the pollinators are busy in the asters and chrysanthemums. While I was gone, the slugs did some real damage to some of my hostas. We are going to have to take the gloves off and control those buggers next year. 

We've had more than 4" of rain in September, but between showers I've been cutting back perennial vegetation these past few days with blisters to show for it. While I work I listen to nuthatches and jays calling in the trees overhead, and an occasional migrating Red-tailed Hawk passing. Time to get my yearly batch of suet made and hung outside my office window -- and to think about projects for the long winter to come.