Dots and Panoramas, Calderas and Fractals

Ninety years ago my Dad and five other farmers went together to buy a seeder, each of them contributing $9 to its purchase.

They shared the costs of equipment for seeding  in spring and threshing costs in the fall. When summer was over and harvest finished in the fall of 1924 Dad’s bill for his share of the threshing was $418. His farm expenses for the entire year ended up being a little over $1300 and his profit was $644.03.

binderThe grain binder that was in his name only was repaired at least eight times in August: there are that many entries in his handwritten records that just say “binder repair.”

He bought almost four hundred pounds of twine during August and September that was destined for use on the binder, tying every individual bundle of grain that would be cut,  shocked for drying, and finally threshed as the threshing crew moved from farm to farm. That’s a lot of twine. These are all details. Dots.

Back in the day children were often occupied with the draw-by-number picture books. Until they knew their numbers it was just a confusing page with random dots, but once they knew their numbers they pursued the task of dot-connecting enthusiastically, anticipating the picture that would come into view.

Cross stitch, architecture, astronomy, and medicine include the same elements of connecting the dots. Whether simple or complex, replication and imitation produces what was first created by another. Even natural giftedness rides on the shoulders of dots left earlier by others.

Replicating and imitating can feed the desire to initiate. There’s a whole lot of yeast for new bread in the details and dots of what we call nostalgia.

The warmth of nostalgia in its innocent form draws us to a world where we photoshop our present selves into an old memory. Within our own heart in that moment, there we stand under the tree, next to a favorite aunt, smelling the cookies, drinking ice-cold, perfectly sweetened lemonade.

These are dots: The singular yellow prickly pear, one of only two in our seven hundred sedumacres of pasture, is isolated and unseen except by the grazing cattle or a farm kid who makes the time for the long hike to see that spot of brilliant yellow. A bee on a ripened sedum head. The fractals of the dahlias. The thousands of Mom-crocheted stitches being soaked through in a heavy downpour at Old Faithful Geyser in 1950 as my older siblings teased me for wearing a dress that had so many holes in it on such a rainy day.

There I stood on that massive *caldera. Just a dot.

Dots alone can be tiresome and yet we can truly relish a sky full of thousands of stars as seen from the isolation of the great southwest desert or from the top of one of Colorado’s 14,000’+ peaks. Standing before that display we forget the dots and lose ourselves in the panorama.

The 1/6th share of the planter and the debt for the threshing – just dots. But if you get enough dots of receipts and expenses, eventually – like the prickly pear – they become a bright memory and a legacy and then the panorama is easier to see than the dots.

Nostalgia built the dots into legacy. Legacy becomes the panorama. The dots and the panorama are inextricably linked and interdependent.


You load 16 tons and whaddaya get? Another day older and deeper in debt? 

Not always.

On December 20, 1924 Dad loaded 14 tons at the coal mine operated by his brother and was paid $3.50.

fractals3He saw the **fractals of his day

He knew the patterns of the sky

Repairing binders just the dots

That drew the picture of his life  

~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~


**You don’t have to be a mathematician or scientist to appreciate rainbows, fractals, or gravity. I figured out a few years back what fractals actually were and have loved noticing them since, everywhere. They illustrate, present, and explain themselves with their own voice. Look at them long enough and understand just the surface of – why? It’ll give you something to think about, if you wish, during an idle hour or when you’re waiting to fall asleep.  A fractal is a natural phenomenon and a mathematical set. What they have in common is a repeating pattern that displays at every scale.

Signed copies of Mailboxes and Old Barns ($18/including shipping) can be ordered by emailing me at Payment can be made by PayPal or by check to Sharon Torgerson, P O Box 513, Woodburn, OR 97071.





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