Humility and Reality

~Either is able to function as instructor with regard to the other~

Hands-at-the-side-humility bows before what is, and makes it more likely that the eyes can be lifted to Reality’s wide-as-the-sky horizons.

If we dare stand with opened eyes on the edge of life’s ripening wheat field, we may see the imperative invitations of The Christ revealed primarily as invitations to actions.

I am the Bread of Life – Come. Eat.

I am the Resurrection – Come. Live. Continue reading

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Imperfect Love

In January of 2014, Grant and I were well into our walk in the deep woods when I began to realize that the tears I was shedding seemed to be a bit never-ending~~in my opinion.
I commented to him one afternoon that perhaps when he stepped over to heavenly ground some day in our near future, he might have a sense of relief at having been delivered from having to watch me cry. His gentle and immediate comment was, “You go ahead and cry all you need to.”
A few days later,  I did my best to describe the tears and the lessons.

Sometimes tears flow

just as though

ours was a great romance.

I didn’t know

imperfect love

could grieve so deep.

I strain to see through gloom

a way to go ’round

what lies straight ahead.

Flawed diamond

shines through

its wrapping of tears

and still tears flow

just as though

ours was a great romance.

 We shared the reading of it together more than once before he left on March 1.
Perhaps ours was ~ a great romance 


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Are We There Yet?

(Originally published in February of 2014)

About six weeks before he left us, it occurred to me that Grant and I must sometimes look a bit like those kids tucked into the back seat of the family car heading out to an unfamiliar destination – back in the day. The following was written at during those weeks.


The youngsters are surprised at  being on a trip that they knew nothing about the day before but they find ways to make the best of the unexpected outing on an unfamiliar road. By noon, however, the sense of adventure wears thin and the question(s) began floating up from the back seat to the authorities in the front seat.

Are we there yet? 

He’s not staying on his side.

How much farther is it?

I see a house! Is that where we’re going?

….are we there yet?

Deciding ahead of time what we can stand. Trying to make sense of the turns and the shifts.  Trying out the idea that accepting the inevitable will allow ease in the interim,  we forget that the unknowns are unknown at all times. Continue reading

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Hospice Came Today

(First published in January of 2014)

Hospice came today.

And they came yesterday.


Today we met our nurse who will be walking with us. She left with a bag of homemade cookies and a couple of big hugs after 75 minutes of getting acquainted that caused us to draw in close. We’re so glad to have medical resources for evaluating and understanding heretofore unfamiliar things.

On Monday a hospital bed will be brought from the Salem warehouse as ordered via the corporate offices in Arizona that handle such things in the western part of the country.

Two months ago today we knew there were awesome and fearful things we did not understand because two days earlier we had gotten a cold call from a regional cancer research center, the caller clearly believing we were expecting the contact, “Hi! I’m calling to set up your appointment at the cancer center.” Oh.

And right then the disconcerting silence we had endured for two frustrating weeks after the routine hernia repair fell off its great lofty table and shattered into a million pieces with a ROAARRRR that no one but us heard. Continue reading

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Dance With Us!

mbob2(This was originally published in November of 2013)

On October 18, 2013, Grant had a routine hernia repair. For several weeks following that in-and-out surgery we were on what sometimes looked like a wild goose chase.

I imagine that some days we have sort of looked like Gilligan’s three hour tour. In the planning it was a simple outing but in the doing it turned out that we were were quite unable to find our way back to the quiet shore we had left and by the second week in November we understood that we were in an entirely different world, one not of our choosing.

We were launched Cheerios-like as though shot from guns, on a journey from which we would not return. On November 14 we were told by the oncologist and Knight Cancer Center that he had metastasized, untreatable cancer.

Further details or test descriptions never change the bottom line. The doctor’s willingness to use many different phrases to say the same thing doesn’t change the story– the thoughtfully formed words kept on saying the same thing. 

Both Jesus’ earthly ministry and Scripture  illustrate repeatedly that Christianity is no religion – it is a relationship. Christianity is not a placebo for making life feel all better. 

rrrrrrrrIt pulls no punches, makes no excuses, denies no pain, pretends no easy answers, and never presents a Sovereign God who does the “there, there” routine.

What He says about life stands up to the test of life as it is. So it was for Grant and I during the less-than-four-months remaining to us.

When Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:4 that there is “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;…” the man knew what he was talking about.

Perhaps an easy reading suggests that Solomon was talking about alternating experiences while our times of mourning and dancing may present themselves as overlapping concentric circles.

Also on November 14 Grant congratulated me when we confirmed that Mailboxes and Old Barns was in print. We laughed and cried, hugged and sort of shook our heads at the bizarre experience of receiving final sign-off documents for the manuscript on the same day that the docs said, “It’s incurable.”

We marveled at the peace in which we were wrapped. We continued our familiarization tour with the sharp heart-pain that put me – again – within the shelter of his arms, where my tears fell eeeeeeeeeon his chest while his fell on top of my head.

During those days we learned that you can slow dance to the Gaither Vocal Band – and yes, we danced like no one was watching.

We didn’t expect the book to be available until the first week of December at the earliest so were pleased, and crushed, and confused.

About twenty years ago  I was handed yet more family memorabilia and realized that I needed to think about how to preserve what was contained in the precious books, letters and pictures, in my own memories and all the records. It seemed particularly urgent to me because of the incongruity of my growing up on the prairie and our sons growing up in southern California.

If it weren’t for the blog opportunities that became commonplace in the last few years it might still have seemed too cumbersome to think what to do with the gathered material. About eight years ago, I began to sort and assemble materials for the purpose of writing the stories that would summarize bits of this and and pieces of that.

Just verbally telling them to our now-late-40s/growing older sons would not necessarily mean they would be preserved or passed on. They had to be written down. I thought there would be value added in their preservation. So this blog was established to become a work room, an online office for writing, deleting, arranging, sorting, and gathering.


If we do believe that our overall lives have significance at all – whatever our context for thinking that – then the things from which the sum of the whole is drawn surely have value: the whole is valuable because of the value of the parts. An endless focus only on what lies ahead may have the effect of diminishing the value of what lies behind us.

What we are is traceable to events and people of the past (which were not all good – of course not – and it would be silly to pretend they were).  But I do have the option of choosing what is good and right and valuable – and treasuring it.

Everything I shared in the stories that eventually filled the book is absolutely true in character and in detail. I shade no event. I invent no stories to finish out a post. That’s why I think of them as word pictures. A picture of a time and place that is outlined, not with cameras or paints or water colors – but with words. Intending that the reader should read – and see.

I began writing the stories with a single focus – to get the task done. My parents and grandparents did a remarkable job of documenting and preserving their lives in photos, documents, letters and a variety of handwritten records – with the technology we have available to us today, I really thought it would be a shame not to put some effort in getting their work and my own memories of the life they built for us into permanent form.

I set up my blog in order to have a place to drop the things I was writing just so they wouldn’t be all over the place. 

Then I thought: I sure want to write as well as I can so the acid test would be – let someone read it who really has no vested interest in liking it. So I ventured into the uncertain world of letting a couple of online acquaintances read as I posted.

I became more aware of the limits of my writing and noticed the occasional presumption when I unnecessarily included some personal bit about an old neighbor or family member (someone born before 1900 or before 1925) and then realizing – “Oh dear – why would I record that foible? Why record that now to sit here forever? No. Take that out.”

eeeeeSo then to think again – what’s the purpose? Just pictures. Word pictures.

I never intended to show all the pictures. I wanted to show the pictures of what has blessed my life.  So I just kept writing – not knowing where any of it would go – just knew I had to write it down for our sons.

I grew up on the prairie where nobody new moved in and nobody old moved out – the same people had lived on the same farms from around 1900 when the land was first broken.

But us? By the time our sons graduated from high school, we had moved about nine times, mostly within California – nowhere near our roots of Montana and Minnesota. We had also been divorced for 6 1/2 years of the 28 years we spent in California, remarrying in 1984 while the boys were both in high school in Palmdale.

I knew what I had been able to put in their hearts…I knew their hearts were oriented to true north – but they didn’t know the details of true north – too much of it was a blank map – not just a blank place on a map.  They didn’t know the blank spots on my heart map. They couldn’t know why I climbed the well tower. They wouldn’t know what it meant to bring in dry land harvests that seldom exceeded twenty-five bushels per acre. They wouldn’t know what it meant to look for a sick cow, finding her dead, and having to go home and tell Dad.

How would they know if I didn’t write it down? So I wrote. Sometimes with tears running down my face.

About three years ago, as the not-yet-named Treehouse gang stumbled through the woods looking for each other – again – we clicked our little grasshopper poppers through the mists – we barely knew one another’s user names from other sites and certainly didn’t have any particular expectations. We just knew we had formed relationships that mattered so we kept clicking.  Kept dropping the trail of crumbs. Had some interesting stop overs.

When we finally came to rest in the woods and found new digs under construction, the first assignments were handed out in a pretty random way and after putzing around awhile, we just sort of started doing stuff that needed doing. That’s pretty much what we’re still doing as far as I can tell.

Each one just does what needs doing today. Writes a post that they have been thinking about for awhile. Tries out an idea. That’s how the Sunday MBOBs started. I asked the group if they thought that might be interesting….and also thought that it might help me to keep writing if I knew I had to.   

The task of writing each Sunday has revealed some of my limits but has also surrounded me with encouragement and exhortation that could have been found nowhere else. The friendships and relationships that I have found in trying to put words here every Sunday for you to read are absolutely astounding – both those on the front side, in the threads and the depth of blessing in those on the back side, among the admins.

Sundance, Ytz4me, stella, Ad Rem, Menagarie, WeeWeed, WaltzingMatilda, Patriot Dreamer – these people hold my heart. In these recent days they have literally borne me along in arms of love, speaking strength into my very spirit when I have been overwhelmed with both the joys and sorrows of life in which we are living at the moment.

The process informed me that everyone has such stories and such memories within, or some longing to have them. There is some sound from their own heart that responds to the sounds from mine. We find comfort and strengthen in saying what is so about ourselves and our histories, in a hundred different ways. We sit around the campfire and talk. It’s good. It’s so very good.

It is a priceless privilege to stand in your midst, with sorrow (but not sorrowing as those who have no hope) and with joy (knowing that MBOB is now a harvest brought in).

sadfsdfMy participation in the threads is not much these days – I don’t have the resilience or strength  just now. The final matters involved in getting the book into print have actually been minimal over recent weeks because it was right there and ready to go, with, of course, no understanding on our part about the context in which it would come to life.

We are filled with gratitude that we made it! It would never have happened without his unconditional love and support. He is my rock.

So – this MBOB, about the book, couldn’t be written without talking about what he is dealing with. We are living the mix of joy and sorrow: we are grateful that joy mixes with sorrow, and that we have one another.

I may write in another format about the journey he and I have been given but today we just want to joy over the completion of this task –

– so come dance with us!




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Spurgeon’s Sermon on Isaiah 26:3

Truth is not time sensitive. Charles Spurgeon preached a sermon 130 years ago that is still fully applicable to our concerns and our needs.   This is only a short excerpt from it (the whole thing is twelve pages when printed out).

A Sermon
(No. 1818)
Delivered on Lord’s Day Morning, January 4th, 1885, by
At The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington

No perfect peace can be enjoyed unless every secret cause of fear is met and removed.

Whisper it at the gates and in the hostelries that the city might be taken by surprise, and that spies had been seen in the meadows, down by the East gate; and straightway the city would be in a ferment. No; peace cannot breathe while suspicion haunts the streets.

Our peace may be a false peace, a fools peace; we may be lulled into a carnal security.

Politically, nations have become self-confident, have dreamed of peace when the forges were ringing with the hammers of war; and so ill has happened unto them.

Spiritually, there are multitudes of persons who think that all is right with their souls, when, indeed, all is wrong, for eternity. It is to be feared that some have received a “strong delusion, that they should believe a lie.”

Now, we cannot call that perfect peace which lies only on the surface, and will not bear to be looked into. We desire a peace which sits in open court, and neither blindfolds nor muzzles ambassadors. The peace which requires that there should be a hushing-up of this and that is an evil thing. Such is the direct opposite of the peace of God. If there be any charge against God’s people, men are challenged to bring it,-“Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect?”

The pardon which God gives us is not a smothering-up of our sins, nor a blinding of justice. God is as just in His pardons as in His punishments.

It shall be seen at the last, when believers enter into their glory, that they rise there by law, just as surely as the lost sink down to hell by law: that is to say, that the Lord Jesus Christ hath rendered to the law such recompense by His perfect obedience, and His matchless atonement, that it shall be as just on God’s part to save His elect as to condemn the unbelieving world.

We claim that our peace is just and right. It may be examined and tested; for here we have NO FICTION.

If truth is to be found beneath the stars, it is in the peace which come through the precious blood of the Son of God. The peace which God gives goes through the very bottom of things, and brings us into the eternal harmonies.

Continue reading

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It’s all good: A Hard Freeze

snowflakeAmong the nuances that govern daily life in cold country during October and November is the distinction between a freeze and a hard freeze.

A freeze simply means the temperature was at 32 degrees Fahrenheit for thirty minutes or an hour.

A hard freeze means that the temperature sank to 25 degrees or lower and stayed there for several hours.

If it’s just a freeze, life pretty much goes on as usual. If it’s a hard freeze the things that everybody knows to do kick into seasonal reality and hit the to-do list.

A freeze won’t kill all the flowers. A hard freeze will.

A freeze won’t put an ice cover on the stock tanks down in the pasture. A hard freeze will.

There are hundred way to measure the business of cold weather.  Here’s a site that provides a hundred different Inuit words for snow:

They have four words just for sparkling snow:

  • sotla – snow sparkling with sunlight
  • tlun – now sparkling with moonlight
  • astrila – snow sparkling with starlight
  • clim – snow sparkling with flashlight or headlight

Continue reading

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Just Before Christmas – in 1941

Ten days before Christmas in 1941Dad paid $2 for two tons of coal for the furnace. He also spent 19 cents for food – perhaps a bag of his favorite lemon drops – on his way to the coal mine south of the river where the coal was brought out of the tunnel in a small wagon that ran on rails, pulled by a single horse.

It was eight days after the attack on Pearl Harbor and Admiral Husband Edward Kimmel, CIC of the Pacific Fleet still has two days to go before his rank reverts to Rear Admiral and he is replaced by Admiral Nimitz.

As the sun rises in Holland on this day the Dutch learn that their use of gas and electricity is subject to new restrictions. Continue reading

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Cowboy Poems and Christmas Dawn

There is fierce language regarding any reproduction – so –

Empty Saddles at Christmas speaks of cowboys off to war.

I like the line describing a white Christmas that shows up at dawn.





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“The first supermarket supposedly appeared on the American landscape in 1946. That is not very long ago.

Until then, where was all the food?

Dear folks, the food was in homes, gardens, local fields, and forests.

It was near kitchens, near tables, near bedsides.

It was in the pantry, the cellar, the backyard.”

Joel Salatin, Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World

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Cows and Plumb Lines

Our older son called me just before Father’s Day last spring to tell me of a gift he wants to give me in appreciation of my efforts to preserve the mailboxes and old barns of my life.

He recently bought a new camera with lots of digital doo-dads and special features. The point-of-purchase goodies included this: the retailer from whom he purchased the equipment will produce a single copy of a full size, four color coffee table book featuring DS’s photography. It will always be a one-of-a-kind item.

He plans to photograph mailboxes and old barns that he finds in his work-related travel across Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming. When the book (titled Mailboxes and Old Barns) is completed it will be my keepsake, eventually to return to his hands.

He was just checking to see if that would be ok.  Oh, yes. That would certainly be ok.

He was concerned whether it constituted taking my idea. Oh, no. That’s not taking my idea – that’s blessing mom’s heart.

What love is it that puts into the hearts of our children some grotto of life that shelters the same heritage that holds our own hearts steady?

It doesn’t get much better than that. Continue reading

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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. Continue reading

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What Gets Worked In Gets Worked Out

Kinkade-A Quiet Retreat

My grandparents and thousands of others just like them left Denmark in the 1890s, having served and worked, walked and loved. They had learned lessons around kitchen tables, kilns, and fishing boats.

Many were fishermen and tradesmen leaving home because there was no way to expand.

Some left with a reputation because they had stolen something one day in their past.

Some with a reputation for being skilled would be greatly missed. Some had been divorced and left behind a small daughter who would disappear in memory and never surface to be recognized again.

They arrived in America to be greeted by New Yorkers who had been building, working, and sweating for one hundred fifty years. They stood for hours in the lines at Ellis Island or sat on their crates and trunks, and worried that they would be refused entry.

Those who greeted them or sold them railway tickets or directed them to the rooming houses had also internalized their own lessons around heavy wooden kitchen tables in Poland, Italy, Denmark, or Scotland – or perhaps in Brooklyn. Now those lessons were being worked out by New Yorkers, by Bostonians, by those who had Gone West.

They worked out what had been worked in.

My grandfather ordered a custom made clothes brush in 1884. The date is gouged deep into the side of the thick wooden base. The heavy bristles are all brown except for the couple of hundred white ones that form his initials within the brush itself – SL – in beautiful script. No one could ever doubt whose clothes brush it was.

My maternal grandfather built the library table that sits by my pantry. My dad built the book case with perfectly swinging doors on small hinges. My mother crocheted the dresses I wore when I was three and four and five that hang here and there.

They all worked out what had been worked in. Someone showed them. They learned. They did. They remembered. They recognized where to implement it. They chose to implement it. So I have the library table, the book case, and the dresses.

3Get up and get to work! – became gotta do what ya gotta do accompanied by it is what it is. Which later became we have to live life as it is, not the way we wish it was. Repetition of gentle sayings that got worked into the warp and woof of life to remind children and young people and old people – life is what you make it.

Sun’s up! Time’s a-wastin’!

About fifteen years ago in Minnesota Lakes Country Grant was dealing with An Old Farmer regarding the purchase of a small rowboat.

The negotiations took some time because the old man had stories to tell about how he and his wife had managed their farm over the decades. He shared in some detail about how this field got cleared, how that beaver dam got blown up.

Each story ended with a triumphant restatement and declaration. “Yup. I blew that dam up. I did I did.” There’s just something about the satisfaction of honestly declaring, “Yup. I did that. I did I did.” (with no pause for punctuation)

When Grant and I, some weeks after the drama of placing the ledger board, finally finished our 12′ X 20′ deck on the Minnesota house we took up the Ceremonial Carpenter’s Pencil and one of us began “Yup. We built it…” and the other chimed in to finish together, “We did we did.”

Internalized lessons that become reference points end up reinforcing day by day determinations, hour by hour results, and and become life’s accomplishments.


Unlike some states in these United States, Montana laws allow for mineral rights to be held by individuals. The original plots of land deeded to settlers in the early 1900s included 100% of the rights for any minerals found either on top of or under the matted prairie grass that covered the poor land and those mineral rights continue to move with the ownership of the land over the years.

Because he understood the value of property our dad didn’t sell his mineral rights during The Great Depression when there was no cash for months at a time, as some others did.

Because he understood the value of delayed gratification he didn’t sell his mineral rights for an excellent price in the early 1950s, as some did, in order to buy a new car.

Because he understood the value of patient endurance he didn’t become bitter when he lost both some land and  some mineral rights during the depression. The bank took possession of less than fifty acres because he was unable to pay the taxes on that one parcel. The local banker told him he would have first rights to buy it back when things got better. Things got better. Dad repurchased the acreage but the Federal Land Bank had passed a regulation that allowed them to retain 50% of the mineral rights from such land so, to this day, out of 1180+ acres, our family no longer holds the mineral rights for that portion.

right thingBecause he understood the value of doing what’s right – when he was dying in 1962, he included 50% of the mineral rights in the sale of the farm to his nephew and retained 50% for mom. He could have retained 100% for her but in his thinking that would not have been right.

Because he was determined to simply do things right, last December Grant refused to turn in his resignation at his part time Home Depot work via a phone call. He believed you need to resign in person.

It wasn’t that they didn’t know what was happening – they had known for a month that he had a terminal diagnosis and would never be back to work. I always tried to support in very practical ways and would go with him when he had doc appointments or tasks that could be difficult or lonely during those weeks, but you know what? This trip for this task? I just couldn’t.

I tried to persuade him, gently, that it was OK to do an official resignation on the phone in conversation with his department manager. We talked about it two or three times and then one morning he quietly said, “I’m going to Home Depot. Shouldn’t take too long.”

He did. It didn’t. I couldn’t.

I had watched him cross every ‘t’ and dot ever ‘i’ all of his life – doing it the way it needed to be done. Drove me crazy sometimes when a job took him three hours (done right) that I could have done in thirty minutes (done fast). And now, knowing he was walking in there to finally say, “I can’t. I have to resign.”

So he did it ‘the right way.’ With full accountability. Face to face. In complete sentences. Taking direct responsibility for what they already full well knew: he would not be coming back to work.

When our sons and I spoke with his former department manager at Home Depot, there were tears in her eyes which escaped now and then as she described to them how she valued his work.

west1She said it like this: “I call them my old farts crew. When I have a bunch of guys like your dad in my department things work right. The paperwork is right. They show up on time. They work until I kick them out. Inventory is pulled down at the right time. With an old farts crew I know we’re good to go. They do it right and don’t have to be watched.”

Lessons that are worked in do get worked out. 

Doing one or the other

all day – every day

let’s push on

and afterward we can say

“We did we did.”










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What Does God Remember?

Psalm 103:11-13 ends with this – “He knows our frame. He remembers that we are dust.” How astounding is it that “He remembers.….”! Why on EARTH should He “remember” anything about our predicaments??? That’s a CHOICE on His part. He chooses to remember.

And what does He remember in this particular verse? That we are dust.

Consider what level of expectation we have toward dust. Not much

He remembers with compassion – “They are dust. I remember that. I love them. I do not expect of them. I will not abandon them.”

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It Has Been Measured

locke2When Thomas Jefferson was asked to write the Declaration of Independence in late June 1776, he did so in just a few days. The document we know isn’t terribly long, but the draft he delivered to the Second Continental Congress was much longer, and the original draft was heavily edited, revised and diluted by committee. One phrase that was in both the original and final versions is, “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Why did this phrase appear in both versions? Jefferson was a well-read person; his home Monticello was filled with the works of contemporary and historic philosophers. In fact, one of Jefferson’s favorite thinkers was English philosopher John lockeLocke. Locke originally posited (in “Two Treatises on Government”) the idea that a person’s right to live a healthy life, free to amass and maintain property — “life, health, liberty and property” — is one granted by God. Locke also reasoned that our fates are determined by God; no other individual may interfere with that fate

Locke….cites property as a natural right. Clearly, Jefferson took Locke’s concept of the right to life and liberty and applied it to the fledgling United States and its citizens in the Declaration of Independence.


lockeeeOwnership of property can be simply expressed as, “This is mine; that is yours” or “This is mine; it is not yours.” The ability to make a distinction between what is mine and what is yours is necessary to individual liberty, and the land surveys that preceded the settling of the the country were the result of a basic truth:  if we cannot establish where my ownership ends and yours begins, no one can effectively claim to own anything. Continue reading

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Ditches, One Car Accidents, and The One Hoss Shay


Our summers were usually dry and seldom offered enough rain to keep things green beyond July 1.

There was one–just one summer in which there was enough rain that the water did stand deep enough and long enough in the roadside ditches to support a small and short-lived tick community.

On the day in question, I was headed for the side of our big country lawn–which was just an area near the house that was kept cut short and the horse shoe pits were there–I was headed there because the ditch between the lawn and the road was actually filled with green grass about eight to ten inches high. I’d never seen anything so lovely on our roads or in our yard during the summer and I wanted to play in it.

But someone called, “Sharon! Don’t! There are ticks in the ditch.” Of course, that led to questions. Ticks were not common at all; our ditches usually offered other problems that had to do with vehicles ending up in them due to snow or ice or mud. Continue reading

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Lumber for Buildings on a Treeless Prairie

Terry, Montana is 160 miles south of where our farm was.

The site where Terry is located was first called Joubert’s Landing, in recognition of the man who built a supply point along the Yellowstone River for freighters traveling from BismarckDakota Territory, to Miles CityMontana Territory. When the Northern Pacific Railway‘s transcontinental rail line arrived in 1881, the town was renamed for Alfred Howe Terry,[6] a General in the Union Army who commanded an 1876 expedition in connection with George Armstrong Custer’s campaign against Native Americans,[7]specifically in the west.,_Montana

wash house pine logs terryTerry had ground water (which we didn’t have) and some big trees near the Yellowstone river (which we didn’t have) that made some log houses possible. The planting of Terry’s first tree, however, was still documented for the history books.

The town was located just south of the Yellowstone River midway between the larger towns of Miles City and Glendive…Seen from a distance in 1893, it looked like a mirage on the dusty treeless plain. Sagebrush and cactus were its only vegetation. The first tree in Terry—a wild plum—would be planted later that year.

What was not apparent to the eye was the resource that gave Terry its life: its ample underground water supply. In an area where water was scarce and almost undrinkable (like 160 miles further north!) due to alkali salts, this was no small matter. (from Photographing Montana, Donna M. Lucey)

And consider these descriptions of developments further south in Hamilton County, Nebraska, where the commercial wagon trails were operating as early as 1847.

wash house 5A well-traveled freighting road was established between the Missouri River…along the south bank of the Platte River, to Fort Kearney…a heavy freighting business was done over this road from about 1852 to 1860. It was called the Ox-Bow Trail…The great freighting firm of Russell, Majors and Waddell used this road in 1858 and 1859 for the transportation of thousands of wagon loads of freight to Utah. (The Way was Long, Denny Enderle & Diann Jensen, 1999)

They had commercial wagon activity in Nebraska but there weren’t many trees around there either—so when they didn’t have time or inclination to wait for lumber to arrive on the wagons, they built buildings out of straw bales.

Advantages of straw-bale construction over conventional building systems include the renewable nature of straw, cost, easy availability, naturally fire-retardant and high insulation value. Disadvantages include susceptibility to rot, difficulty of obtaining insurance coverage, and high space requirements for the straw itself.

One-story building with flat roof, large steeple

<—- Pilgrim Holiness Church in Arthur, Nebraska

Straw-bale construction was greatly facilitated by the mechanical hay baler, which was invented in the 1850s and was widespread by the 1890s.  It proved particularly useful in theNebraska Sandhills. Pioneers seeking land under the 1862 Homestead Act and the 1904 Kinkaid Act found a dearth of trees over much of Nebraska. In many parts of the state, the soil was suitable for dugouts and sod houses. However, in the Sandhills, the soil generally made poor construction sod;  in the few places where suitable sod could be found, it was more valuable for agriculture than as a building material.

The third documented use of hay bales in construction in Nebraska was a schoolhouse built in 1901 or 1902. Unfenced and unprotected by stucco or plaster, it was reported in 1902 as having been eaten by cows. To combat this, builders began plastering their bale structures; if cement or lime stucco was unavailable, locally obtained “gumbo mud” was employed.  Between 1896 and 1945, an estimated 70 straw-bale buildings, including houses, farm buildings, churches, schools, offices, and grocery stores had been built in the Sandhills. In 1999, 2173 surviving bale buildings were reported in Arthur and Logan Counties, including the 1928 Pilgrim Holiness Church in the village of Arthur, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Once I started thinking about the problem of getting decent lumber in the early 1900s, I wanted to understand whether the problem presented itself differently in other pioneer communities.

I thought it was worth thinking about what was required of those who chose to fight their way into a future on the prairie—a prairie that didn’t offer materials for building buildings—a prairie that stretched from the Canadian latitudes to the Texas-Mexico border.

The prairie included parts of ColoradoKansasMontanaNebraskaNew MexicoNorth DakotaOklahomaSouth DakotaTexas, and Wyoming, and the Canadian provinces of AlbertaManitoba and Saskatchewan. It was big. It was very big.

Considering the times, it was actually pretty upscale to build even the outbuildings out of—lumber!

wash house 3The wash house on our farm was one of our many outbuildings. It was well designed for a variety of purposes that morphed over the years, constructed with good quality milled lumber from far away which had arrived at the nearest rail head and was hauled to the farm in a horse drawn wagon.

These outbuildings were built to last, and they did. This wash house was well-roofed and sat between the cave (underground vegetable storage—a root cellar with doorway of standard size and cement steps eight feet into the earth) and the outhouse. The wash house had two windows, a big wooden door with a huge hook that closed it tightly from the outside, a wooden floor, a well-shingled roof and exterior walls which were also covered with thick shingles, keeping the wood dry and saving the paint for more important buildings both little (outhouses) and big (barns and houses).

wash house1The original use of the wash house was, obviously, a place to wash clothes. Pre-electricity (1949 or so), the gas-engine washing machine was there. After electricity came in, the wash house became a place for storage, playing house and watching the dynamite thunderstorms, sitting in safety with the door open, enjoying the sound and the fury.

Playing house in the wash house was a perfect illustration of practicing being grownup, and might include staying there overnight, all of twenty feet from the back door of the house, especially if my cousin could come over and spend the night.

An old double bed was stored there so we would drag blankets and pillows out and create our temporary home. Once things were dark and quiet in the house (although Mom would always leave the light on at the back steps in case we changed our minds about our level of courage in the middle of the night and wanted the option of coming inside to go to my bedroom), we would scare ourselves in the silence as we listened for the sounds of things that were never out there. It was a fact, though, that badgers and coyotes were part of the night in our pastures, so once darkness descended, we didn’t go out of the wash house. For anything.

washing house 2Practicing being a grownup was pretty much what childhood was about. It would have been considered strange for childhood to be thought of as a destination, or even as a place to linger; but it was a perfectly respectable way station en route to actually being grown up, and most of our play reflected that.

Now because finished lumber was highly valued and difficult to obtain in the early years, it was also re-used. When some building had outlived its original purpose and either fell down or was taken down, the old square nails were pulled out and the lumber carefully stacked, anticipating the day when the farmer would go to the lumber pile to locate the perfect piece for some new project he was working on or some pig fence he was repairing.

wash hoouselkjBits of lumber were specifically not used for bonfires or weinie roasts, both of which we enjoyed whenever we had the chance. The wood for such entertainment came from dead branches that were broken off the standing trees in the coulees. It could be burned with a comfortable conscience since it hadn’t been laboriously obtained.

wash house987Neither the size or quality of those trees was suitable for log buildings or for milling, but the dead branches were perfect for roasting hot dogs (stuck on to the end of a skinny, sharp branch selected for the purpose) and marshmallows on a summer evening or winter afternoon.

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Letters to Rosebud: Mar 31, 1926

Mar 31 – 1926

Dear Edith.

Here we are at the last evening in this month. Tomorrow it is April 1 and I am going to be real careful that nobody fools me. I expect a letter from you, and hope I don’t get fooled on that.

I don’t know when you will get this, but hope it is before Sunday.

Isn’t it funny weather? I can’t make it out at all. Just wonder what there is coming. Is it going to be spring or a snowstorm? No doubt a snow would be the best thing but I don’t want to see it for another week. Had hoped on getting in the field but the ground is too frozen yet. The ducks were going north by the thousands this afternoon, but about dark some were coming back. I guess they failed to find open water around Coalridge and decided to spend the night on the Missouri. They fly over a mile a minute so it doesn’t take so long.

I cleaned the cellar out nice yesterday and washed the new dishes, and hung pictures and cleaned up around the house and shot a gopher and chopped some wood and finished up on my drill and a million other things – oh, yes – there was one dish broken, but I’ll order that next trip to town.

Today I stayed in the woodpile pretty steady. Tomorrow I am going to churn. Got 2 gallons of AaA No. 1 cream, real OK stuff, doncher know. I’ll get lard anyway. Haven’t got the Ford cleaned up yet. It don’t take long and I expect a little wet anyway. It’s too cold for the fingers.

We don’t want to ridge in a mudball next Saturday so I must get it done soon. Am just wondering if this is the last letter I write to you. Next week will be only 4 days parting and I could almost beat a letter. Look for me at 9 oclock Sunday morning. Hope everything goes well so we can follow our plans.

Got so much to tell you that I’m afraid I won’t get started at all.

Till we meet.

Your Immanual

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Letter to Rosebud: March 28, 1926

Sunday Mar 28

Dear Rosebud,

Today I just beat it right home, because I wanted to spend this Sunday afternoon all alone. I guess it is good to be alone and do a little thinking sometimes.

Have just had my “kaffe slat” so felt like writing a little.

I got your letter yesterday.

Willie and George were down here yesterday farming wheat, and I gave them dinner. George said it looked like I had been feathering my nest a little, which I had to admit. When they got done here we all went up to Willies to clean oats. I had my seed up there, too, as Willie had brought it out from McCabe for me when I was in Wolf Point. About the first thing I got up there was a look at a wedding invitation which they had received. Seems it came from Westby. George read it thru very studiously. About next Sunday. I can’t possibly get Frank and Holger along as there is going to be confirmation here, and one of Holger’s sisters is in the class. It would be the best, but maybe they can come early enuf on the 10th, otherwise I’m sure we can make it all right; so don’t be too disappointed.

We are all such wonderfully bright people that we can remember what you tell us. Do you really think that Lillie is so much brighter? Well, maybe she is.

Don’t you think we are having some great weather now days? It’s cold enuf to freeze a brromstick. I got my new drill home and set up ready to go. Hope I get a little more field work done before the wedding, so I won’t be crowded too much later on.

I am going to town tomorrow so you will get this letter before you go home. I am also planning on my last bachelor wash day tomorrow, so you won’t have a pile of dirty rags look at you on arrival. Have soon got cream enuf to churn, then you can judge if I am a buttermaker or not.

This noon when I sat at the kitchen cabinet eating dinner, the door opened and Mrs. Nels Jorgensen slid a big loaf of rye bread in front of me, and I proceeded to cut a slice right away. I ground some rye meal for them, then they bring me a loaf once in a while. Won’t it be a good one if they come with bread for me in about 2 weeks. Well, we will just eat it if they do, no trouble at all.

(then three pages written in Danish)

Well now I have done my chores and had supper so you better get another chapter. I have been making a map for our visitors to consult on the way to Coalridge on April 10th. Everybody can find to Dagmar but after that most people are lost, because they all want to go east. But I guess my map will get them right.

I suppose they will all come in a bunch, about 4 cars. I’ll bet Lillie is up in the air in suspense already. She won’t be able to study very much next week.

It certainly is going to be some real celebration; something better than the 4th of July.

If I can’t get in the field for a few days, I better unpack and wash all the new dishes and see how many are broken. I don’t think there are any as they are packed pretty well. I don’t know if I should hang any pictures up. You might want a different arrangement with them. They are all piled up, but if the big ones get too much in my way I may hang them the way I like them.

I really should soon be out of something to say, or maybe out of ink. You’ll think this is the fattest letter you ever got, and if Mrs. Johnson hold of it first you’ll never hear the last of it. Isn’t that new arrival going to arrive soon? No, I’m not interested.

Don’t forget to order your flowers for the morning of the 10th and tell the druggist if he fails to have them there on time he will need flowers himself, as your future one who is going to call for them is 7 feet tall and as a strong as a locomotive, and can’t take a joke; if it would be one. I’m sure I don’t know what long sentence means, but maybe you can figure it out.

Goodnight for tonight.

Till we meet again.

Maybe in dreamland.

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Letters to Rosebud – March 24, 1926

March 24—1926

Dear Edith.

Well I just wrote a letter to Sidney so you better get yours while I am warmed up. I have been busy in the house all day. Finished painting and got the rug down in the dining room; also got the table set up. It certainly is a dandy. Do you know that room is a pippin now. The only thing I don’t like is that the floor is too rough. I put paper under, but guess it will have to have some more to fill the low spots here and there. I got some dust inside yesterday, that made things look grimy for a while, but I chased out all I could find, and not with a dry broom either; no I scrubbed the floors. I just had enough floor paint left to wet a cat’s nose, but I made it anyhow. Think I’ll let you paint the kitchen woodwork if you think it needs another coat. Our farming got stopped, so I just pushed this job over today. Otherwise I would have done it evenings. Also got your sewing machine set up. I guess it is allright. Nice plain cabinet with no crevices to catch dirt. Well, you will soon see it all, but I like to tell you about it, and it is all I have to write anyway.

I’m just as happy as can be about everything. God is good. He gave us one another, and a nice place to live. Let our whole life be spent serving Him as our Lord, then we will be truly happy. I just won’t think of any chance of unhappiness. Life is as we make it. With true love we can never make a mistake.

Tonight there are only 17 days more of single blessedness? For me and when you read this, there will be still less and I suppose you will only have 2 or 3 more letters from your bachelor. Tell Mrs. Johnson that I am going to keep you for good and she can’t get you any more, when she has need of a girl.

It is turning colder tonight so I am not looking for any more snow. This is our regular spring equinox storm period, and will soon blow over, at least before our wedding day. If it is fit to go cross country on Easter Sunday then we will take a spin over and talk with Rev. Beck. I spose there are a lot of things you want to talk about.

Well in a few days the whole United States will be discussing the approaching wedding. Ain’t we got fun. We sho is. Fifty invites and what if they should all come? That would be more fun yet.

Guess I better ring off on this stuff and send 25 cents for a Farm paper. They sent me about a ½ doz cards for a present and real pretty postals at that, so I better pay up for another year.

Good night my dear, and grow nice and fat.

From your loving


Be sure to tell Lillie how early in the day you want to see her on the 10th. She was anxious about it, but you have probably told her all about it now, as I told her to write you about it. Ain’t this grammar? I’ll say!

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