Sunday 31 October 2021

Swiss Chard Stalk

    We are in the midst of cold clear weather.  The temperature yesterday overnight was -12°C (10°F) and even though it just got a bit above freezing during the day, it was a very sunny and beautiful day.  It was a Work Day at the community garden; time to clear out everything from the planting boxes.  Seven of us came out in the chill of the morning to do the work.

    We still a lot of beets, carrots, and kale in our box that needed to be harvested or discarded in the compost pile.  There was a couple of inches of frost on the soil and I had to use a garden fork to loosen up the carrots, and really pull hard to get some of the massive roots of the other plants out.

    I wasn’t expecting to see anything beautiful amongst all of our frozen vegetable plants, but I was delighted upon seeing this Swiss Chard, with the sunshine backlighting the brilliant orange stalks and curled leaves with their frosted edges.

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Saturday 30 October 2021

Moving Closer to Winter

    It is presently -7°C (19°F) outside, our coldest day so far.  There are areas of ice forming on parts of the pond and the ground is covered with frost.  There is not a cloud in the sky, so while it won’t be a warm day, it should be a sunny one.  There is a prediction of an aurora tonight and Sunday and with the clear skies, I am hoping that we will be able to see it.

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Friday 29 October 2021

Remembering A Day From Hell

    We’ve all had our bad days, hopefully, they don’t come around too often.  On the trivia calendar I make every year, I used to sometimes designate the day my brother lost both his girlfriend and his job as “Rob’s Bad Day.” 

    Yesterday when I was going through my videos to find an old photo of the flying squirrel, I came across the video clip taken on one of the worst days I have experienced. 

    It was on my birthday in 1999, but there was no celebrating.  Our sewer had backed up and the backhoe that said it would come, never did, leaving me sopping wet and muddy, shoveling sticky clay out of the hole I had to dig in the yard.  I spent most of the day out in the cold snow/slush/rain digging through mucky clay that stuck to my shovel, trying to get down to my sewer pipe in hopes of finding the septic tank.

    My wife, a teacher, came home sick from school.  Later that afternoon, when I had finished digging, she was instructing me how to make my own birthday cake, but I forgot to put in the flour and the cake overflowed in the oven and burned.

    I had been stressed out all day about the Internet Society meeting that I had to chair that evening, because we were going to take a vote on changing the way we collected money for the service we provided for the community and it was contentious. 

    I was running the meeting in the high school that evening, when my sick wife arrived at the door of the room, and whispered to me that my father had died; finally succumbing to the cancer that plagued him.  I excused myself from the meeting and retreated back to the security of our house.

    The only good thing to say about bad days is that eventually they end and exist only in one’s memory.



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Thursday 28 October 2021

Northern Flying Squirrel

    Flying Squirrels; now there is something you don’t see every day:  In fact, it would be pretty amazing if you did, because they only come out at night, when it’s dark. 

    The other night when I was giving Kona her final walk, we got close to the piece of wood I have hanging from a willow tree, where I put peanut butter in the holes for the birds to eat.  Kona sensed a presence, and as we approached, I heard a scrambling up the bark of the tree.  I knew it was a flying squirrel right away because 20 years ago I took some pictures of one that was eating the peanut butter.  

    I used my camcorder with night vision and using it I fortunately got some photos.   Because Flying Squirrels are nocturnal, they have very big eyes with very effective retinas that really reflect the light, which in the photos make the eyes look like headlights.  They have a very fluffy tail.

    The other night I really couldn’t see where the squirrel was, in the tree, but as Kona and I walked toward the house, I saw the squirrel silently glide 15 feet (4.5m) through the air, across the driveway to a willow tree on the other side.  I was a remarkable thing to see.  

    I will be keeping my eye out for the Flying Squirrel from now on when I do that last dog walk.

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Wednesday 27 October 2021

Our Patient Dog

    Kona is a high maintenance dog.  She demands our constant attention, which often drives us crazy because we have other things we need to do.  She is not a very trustworthy dog when she is outside, because her very keen sense of smell causes her to instantly streak off in search of the deer, mice, or a squirrel that she smells.  

    While I am working on something outside, it would be nice to have Kona out there with me, because we know she loves to be out of doors, but if we have to have her constantly on a leash so she doesn’t run off into the woods, its difficult for me to work on whatever I need to do.

    The gardening is not a problem because the garden is fenced and while I am working in the garden, Kona is happy to be inside the garden, sniffing around the perimeter for mice.

    We have a squirrel living in the shop.  In the past, squirrels have made a mess of the inside, causing me to spent a lot of time sealing up all of the cracks and crevasses to prevent the pests from getting in, but it seems I failed.  While I hate having a squirrel in the barn, I have now found a bright side to the shop/squirrel problem.

    When Kona followed me into the shop one day, she discovered the presence of the squirrel.  Ever since then, she loves nothing more than sitting in the shop, hours at a time, watching and waiting for the squirrel. 

    Now when I have some job to do outside, I just open the shop door and let Kona into the shop.  She sits there, and sits there, and sits there, patiently watching the shop squirrel, while I get on with my outside job.

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Tuesday 26 October 2021

Evansville's Schmidt Greenhouse: End of an Era

    As the price of heating fuel rose starting in the 1970’s, the commercial economics of the Schmidt Greenhouse became more difficult, but my uncle continued growing produce until his retirement.  He sought to find someone else to take it over, but couldn’t, so the greenhouse stood idle for a few years.

    He was relieved when he was approached by a man who wanted to use the greenhouse to grow commercial roses.  Roses where planted and harvested, but that floral enterprise couldn’t compete with the cheaper roses being imported from South America, and so the man abandoned his dream, leaving the greenhouse once again, unused.

    Mother Nature discovered the empty greenhouse and decided if no one else was going to use it, she would.  All sorts of plants and trees took hold and grew wonderfully.  Even the occasional deer found its way into the vacant botanical garden.  

    My uncle then sought someone to tear the greenhouse down in exchange for its materials:  glass and pipe.  That too was a difficult search, but finally he found someone who said he would do it.  The agreement was to carefully de-construct building, but the guy got greedy and started ripping out weight-bearing pipe, ignoring the glass on the roof, which began to destabilize the structure.  When my uncle discovered the man in the barn stealing expensive aluminum irrigation pipe (not part of the deal), the agreement was cancelled and the man taken to court.

    My uncle eventually just had to hire someone to tear the greenhouse down with a big backhoe and haul the pieces away to the dump. 

     Now there is just a large mowed lawn where the Schmidt Greenhouse once stood, but it still looms large and lucid in my memories.

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Monday 25 October 2021

Inside the Old Schmidt Greenhouse

    Here are a couple of old photos showing the inside of the Schmidt Greenhouse.  That is my Uncle Bill in the flashy 1970’s plaid pants, cutting some lettuce.  Lettuce was grown, during in the winter.  The pipes you see running horizontally along the beds of lettuce, circulated hot water from a boiler, which heated the greenhouse during the winter.  Once all of the lettuce had been harvested and the seasons warmed, the greenhouse was planted with tomatoes, but unfortunately, I have no photos of them, not that you could see very far with all of the tall tomato plants. 

    The Schmidt Greenhouse was new technology when my Grandfather built it.  It was, I think, the first commercial greenhouse in Evansville, IN.

    When we were young, my cousin and I loved to play in the empty beds of the greenhouse with our toy trucks, building roads and making making hills and valleys.  One night we were allowed to “camp” and sleep inside the greenhouse.

    I remember one winter, the Schmidts lost a portion of their lettuce crop when a bad hail storm caused hailstones to crash through the greenhouse glass, splintering glass that showered down onto the lettuce, making it to dangerous to use, so the crop was lost.  

    The greenhouse was quite big, I estimate that there was about 16,000 sq. ft (1,500 sq. m.) under glass.  These photos can capture only a bit of the growing area.

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Sunday 24 October 2021

The Old Schmidt Greenhouse

    The other day I was searching through some of my old slides looking for some photos of my grandmother’s homestead, when I came across one of my favorite shots of my younger brothers.  The two smiling urchins you see standing in front of the greenhouse shed are Rob and Roy, identical twins, if you haven’t figured that out from the photo.  

    When this photo was taken, the twins were following in their big brother’s footsteps, by picking tomatoes and doing other jobs working in the Schmidt Greenhouse.  The old geezer sitting behind them polishing tomatoes is Sylvester Mohr, was also the long-employed farmhand that I also worked with a decade earlier when I was picking tomatoes.

    The Schmidt Greenhouse was a bit of an institution on the rural north side of Evansville, Indiana, for those people who loved big lush tasty tomatoes.  They sold to people who stopped in, but most of the tomatoes where boxed and sold to Evansville grocery stores. Hot House tomatoes, then later in the summer field tomatoes were grown.  During the late winter and early spring lettuce was grown in the greenhouse.  

    Working in the greenhouse was one of the first paying jobs I had in my youth.  I have vivid memories of fighting my way down the long, tall,  jungly, rows of tomato plants, lugging a half-bushel basket along with me, as I picked the tomatoes that were starting to redden.  I had to get to the greenhouse very early because we had to pick before the greenhouse got too hot and miserable.  I distinctly remember the dismay I felt with sweat running down my face and being slapped by a big tomato leaf as I pushed my way down the row of tomato plants.  

    I have fond memories of working along side Sylvester, who would continually tell me tall tales about how strong he was, and I often had to hide behind the tomato plants as he told them, because I didn’t want him to see skepticism on my face.  Although the work was often hot and sweaty and my hands always smelled like tomato plants, it was a wonderful environment for a kid to grow up in.

    Below is an airplane’s view of the Schmidt Greenhouse.

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Saturday 23 October 2021

Moonlit Pond

    I took this shot the other morning.  I don’t often see the moon reflecting in the water of my pond.  During the summer with its longer days, by the time the moon gets in this position, it is already too light outside to make a noticeable reflection in the water.  During the winter it is dark enough, but by then the pond is covered with ice and snow, so again, no reflection.

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Friday 22 October 2021

Wild Swans

    What a treat it was to come upon this pair of Trumpeter Swans yesterday.  Swans are the biggest waterfowl in North America, both in weight and body size.  Their wing span is between 6 to 8 feet (1.8 to 2.4 meters).  In 1933 there were thought to be only 70 Trumpeter Swans left and it was figured that they were headed for extinction.  In the 1950’s a population of the birds were spotted at Copper Lake, Alaska and breeding programs and reintroduction were started which have now increased the number of Trumpeter Swans to 46,000 -  a real success story.

    I had only been aware of domesticated swans, smoothly gliding across the water in urban parks, until I moved to Canada.  When I heard that wild swans migrated through the Robson Valley, I was eager to see them, and did.  Even though they come through here every year, I always feel privileged to spot them because they still seem so exotic.

    While it looks like they are in a lake, they are actually in a field that, since our heavy rain summer in 2020, seems now to be permanently flooded.

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Thursday 21 October 2021

Sadie's Homestead Saga Concludes

    Above is a photo of Sadie Marchant’s homesteaded land, which is still owned by her family.  The photo below shows some of the family visiting the land in 1973.

Sadie’s Memoir concludes:

I had traveled back to South Dakota for Christmas, on my last leave of absence and returned to Montana in a blizzard.  When the train reached Havre, the thermometer had dropped “out of sight” so the conductor told us.  I stopped at Great Falls to go to the land office to announce my return then went out to Floweree where I was to pick up some of my belongings that Gertrude Trackwell had borrowed, since she had just filed a claim.  They dropped me off me at my cabin and left.

When I went in to make my bed, I discovered someone had entered my cabin and stolen all of my bedding.  I had to sit up all night and keep my little stove red hot to keep from freezing to death, as it was bitter cold.  I walked to the neighbors the next day and remained there until I could get to Great Falls and purchase more bedding.  

I regretted losing my army blankets that kept me so warm no matter how cold it was.  Thats was in February and in May of that year, (1914) I “proved up” on my homestead and the land officially became mine.  You will remember it was to have been five years, but thanks to new legislation that had been passed, the required residency time was reduced to three years.

The day came when I had to say goodbye to all of the fine friends I had made and we knew that we probably would never see each other again.  I returned home to South Dakota to a very proud father.  My homesteading experience made all that would later come in my life, easy.

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Wednesday 20 October 2021

Sadie's Homesteading Continues

I had such wonderful neighbors.  The nearest was Mrs. James Cullen from Wisconsin.  We had an understanding - if I needed anything I would hang a white sheet outside my house.  Some other good neighbors were the Jim Morarity’s from Chicago.  Little Mrs. Morarity never quite adjusted to the rugged life.  She was always wishing she could be walking down Madison Avenue in a white suit with a bouquet of violets pinned to her lapel.  

One winter’s day after a big blizzard when through, when the snow was very deep, she saw me walking across the country to Carter and remarked to her husband, “I do not believe that Miss Carr has any feeling, going out on a day like this”.  What she did not know was that Miss Carr had to sit in the dark the night before because she was out of coal oil.

My second school was about 13 miles from my place.  It was known as Castor School.  I boarded with a family by the name of Howell.  They had two boys, the oldest was a boy in his early teens, and he used to let me ride his pony back to my place on Friday night as it was quite a walk.  

One Sunday when I returned to their house, he was in bed and his mother told me he was very ill.  I realized that, when I heard him moaning.  He was one of my pupils and I knew he was not putting on an act.  This when on for a couple of days.

His father was a railroader and was not at home.  The mother sat as if she were in a trance.  I realized something had to be done, so I walked over to the home of Mr. Castor who was on the school board and he drove me twenty miles to see a nurse.  We brought her back with us and she said that she felt certain he had osteomyelitis, as his leg had started to turn black.  

She advised us to get hm to the Great Falls Hospital at once.  The mother went with hm and the grandmother came to stay with us.  He was in the hospital for over a year.  The doctors wanted to amputate, but he would not let them.  I learned after I left Montana that he recovered enough to walk.

It seemed as if everything happened at this place.  I killed my first Diamond-back rattlesnake as it was sunning itself in the yard.

One Sunday when I was out on a picnic with some of the young folks, the lightning struck the house and tore off the front of the house.  I had to take my belongings (what was left of them, as some were destroyed by fire) and hunt for a new boarding place.

I remember once when I was riding the pony home and feeling pretty lonely (as day was I could look there was nothing in sight), I happened to glance up and see a lonely bird winging along.  The children has been memorizing the poem, “To A Waterfowl” and that last stanza came to my mind:

He, who, from zone to zone,

Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight,

In the long way that I must trace alone,

Will lead my steps aright.

There were times when it was lonely, but the beautiful friendships that I made compensated for that.  My dearest friends were Edna Vischer, her sister, Gertrude Trackwell and Ina Duncan, a young woman who was there with relatives.  We kept up a correspondence through these 50 years even though we have never seen each other in all that time.

I often feel like the Oscar winners when they receive their Oscars.  I could not have done my homesteading if it had not been for all of the good people that helped me.  People invited me into their  homes, they loaned me horses, and hauled water to me.  Water was a problem as wells could not be found very often.  In winter I melted snow and in summer I carried water from reservoirs.  This water was full of little crawling creatures and had to be strained and boiled.  

I remember the time after a big blizzard, I looked out of the window and saw a lone rider coming down the lane.  He said his wife could not sleep because she knew there was a young woman down there alone and she was afraid I needed something  I assured him there was nothing I needed and he wended his way back through the drifted snow.  It warmed my heart.  It was a wonderful gesture that someone cared that much for someone that they did not know or had never seen.

(Although Sadie never wrote it in this memoir, she once told us that during those frigid winter’s nights, she would often sleep with potatoes under the covers to keep them from freezing.)

I had an outside cellar and one day during harvesting, I was going in for something and I heard a rustle.  Looking down I saw a large rattler.  I took one leap and was out of the cellar.  I went into the cabin and told the girls who were helping me feed the harvesters.  On of the girls was real brave.  She said she was not afraid to go in.  She started down the steps and she not only saw one snake, but two.  It did not take her long to get out.  I closed the cellar door forever and decided the snakes wanted it more than I did.

    The painting above was done by Sadie Marchant in the 1980’s when she took a beginner’s painting class.  It was painted from her memory of her long ago Montana homesteading home.  Sadie’s memoir concludes on tomorrow’s blog.

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Tuesday 19 October 2021

Sadie's Homesteading Saga Continues

It was a lot of fun to fix up my cabin.  I stenciled curtains for the windows, and made bookcases and cupboards out of the wooden boxes and creates that my good were shipped in.  It was my first, very own home and with 320 acres of land which would be mine someday — I was happy.  I could go to bed when I pleased and get up when I pleased (something I could never do at home).

My first school was near Floweree.  I boarded with Mr. and Mrs. Trackwell, who had a daughter named Rosemary.  They were a fine Christian family and welcomed me into their home.  My school room was a cabin that belonged to a young man who turned it over for a school during his absence.  I had students from many different states which made the job very interesting.

Usually I would go over to my cabin on Friday nights and spend the whole weekend.  One Sunday I had been promised a ride back to my boarding place and the ride did not materialize.  About four o’clock I began to get worried and decided to walk.  My boarding place was about eight miles from my homestead.  When I reached Carter, the lady at the hotel told me if I would take a certain path it would cut off a few miles, so I decided to do that because it was getting late.  

It was early October and I was dressed warm.  I carried a hand bag with with a week’s supply of of clean clothing.  I never did find the path, since it had long grown over.  I stopped and looked in all directions.  There was nothing in sight, not even a cabin.  I had never seen this part of the country before.  Suddenly it dawned on me that I was lost and almost as suddenly it was dark.

I just just kept going in the direction I thought was right.  It seemed as if I was climbing up, then down.  I would run into a herd of range cattle, and they would scamper off.  They were more afraid of me than I was of them.  I could hear coyotes howling and I had no desire to spend the night on the prairie.  

I tried to follow a light, but it would disappear.  Finally after walking and running for five hours, the light suddenly loomed up in front of me, and I saw a house.  Through the window I could see children playing.  I thought I was in Great Falls, it seemed as if I had walked that far.  I rapped on the door and when they opened it, I staggered in, exhausted.

They removed my clothing which was soaked with perspiration and put me to bed.  This was the Ainley family.  Mr. Ainley was the grocer in Floweree.  The next morning Mrs. Ainley drove me to school.   This was the most harrowing experience that I had during my homestead years.  I learned one lesson—never again to take a short cut that I know nothing about.  I had wandered thought what was known as the Big Black Coulee.  There were deep ravines and holes I could have fallen into and no one would have known what had happened to me.

Mr. & Mrs. Trackwell went to Floweree to church and they took me with them on Sunday.  They would sometimes go to someone’s home for dinner or invite someone home with them.  Mrs. Trackwell was a marvelous cook and on Saturday she would fix a large roast of beef, a large kettle of rutabagas, make pies and cakes.  These people lived well for they had their own meat and vegetables.  I met so many wonderful people through them.  It finally came to where I had so many invitations on Sunday, I had a hard time deciding where to go.

On Thanksgiving they all gathered at church and brought food.  It reminded me of the pilgrims.

I remember, as probably others do, of a night in winter when we had gone to church to some function and a blizzard developed.  We were not able to go home and someone suggested we go to Mr. Ainley’s store and spend the night.  We made coffee and sandwiches and played games until morning.

One Saturday morning Rosemary Trackwell and I started the hike to my cabin.  We had gone about four miles when we saw a wagon approaching.  The two men stopped and asked us if we wanted a ride.  Rosemary was getting tired so we climbed up on the high spring seat atop several side boards.  We had not gone far when we noticed a motorcycle coming(an almost unheard of thing in those days).  We asked the driver if his horses would be afraid of the machine and he said he did not think so.

When that motorcycle got closer to us, those horses when crazy.  The driver was thrown from the wagon and the other man jumped out, leaving Rosemary and I stranded in the racing wagon, pulled with wild, runaway horses.  I saw we were headed toward a deep coulee and I yelled for Rosemary to jump. 

We leaped from the wagon and I hit the ground with such force that I just doubled up.  I could not get my breath and they carried me up to the hotel at Carter.  I was put to bed where I remained for the day.  I did not seem to be hurt, but I was in shock.

The horses had veered their course and straddled a barb wire fence, and finally hit a telephone pole.  One horse was so badly cut from the fence that it died.

More of Sadie’s memoir tomorrow.

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Monday 18 October 2021

Sadie Carr Marchant's Homesteading Adventure

    The other day while trying to “organize” one of the chaotic areas of my room, I came upon a short memoir my Grandmother Marchant had written about the time she homesteaded in the barren prairies of Montana.  I have always felt a special kinship to my grandmother, because of what she did when she was a young lady.  Like her, I left my family when I struck out to Canada, but I was married, she was alone, and she was a female, which made things a whole lot more difficult for her.

    Here is the first part of what she wrote about her homesteading adventure:

Homesteading Memories


Sadie Carr Marchant

On an Easter Sunday morning in 1911, my father looked up from his paper and said, “Sadie, here is an opportunity for you.”  He was reading an Aberdeen South Dakota paper, and he had read a letter from a Mr. Truax of Big Sandy, Montana, who told of what a wonderful country it was and of the land yet to be filed on,

Some of my school teacher friends had gone out across the Missouri River in South Dakota and taken up homesteads, and I, too, had been thinking of this fore some time.  My father offered to help me finance a claim if I wanted to go.  I wrote to Mr. Truaz that very day and soon received an answer.  He gave such a glowing account of the country that it make me even more anxious to go.

At the time, at the age of 23, I was teaching school and my term ended in a few days.  I closed school on Friday and the following Monday, went into Redfield to see when there would be an excursion to that part of the Montana.  The depot agent told me there was one that day, and if I could leave that night on a freight train that would take me to Aberdeen, he could give me the cheap excursion rates. 

I knew deep down in my heart that if I did not leave that day, I would in all probability, not go at all.  I went home, talked things over with my father.  He had planned to go with me, but circumstances were such that he could not leave at that that time, but he advised me to go anyway.

I packed my suitcase, stopped at my County Superintendent’s office to get a recommendation and left on the six o’clock train.  I was young, it was spring, and I was off on a great adventure.   How great it would be, I did not realize.

The depot agent had advised me to buy a ticket to Great Falls.  This was good advice for when we came to Big Sandy, my heart sank.  It was not at all as I had pictured it, so I decided to go on to Great Falls.  

After three days and nights on the train, crossing the great barren plains, Great Falls looked like an oasis in the desert.  I checked in at the beautiful new Rainbow Hotel.  Everything about Great Falls impressed me.  Here was a city with street cars, beautiful parks, beautiful falls, the great copper smelter, and there was land to be homesteaded not far away.

I had become acquainted with a land agent on the train (the very thing Mr. Truax had told me not to do,)  This man came to the hotel and persuaded me to come out to the areas around Carter and Floweree and let him show me the land.  I had gone to the land office in Great Falls and they had just shoved a map out in front of me and told me nothing.

I went out to Carter and put up at a little hotel and the land agent took me out with some others.  The land he showed me was thirty or forty miles out of town.  I knew I could not go out there as it would cost a fortune to have my provisions hauled.  He then showed me a claim that was available about six miles away from Floweree, and three miles from Carter, on the Missouri River.  

We rode around this 320 acres on horseback.  Everything was green and beautiful, as there had been a great deal of rain.  It was evening and off across the river I could see the beautiful Highwood Mountains.  I decided that this was just what I wanted.  I went back to Great Falls, filed a claim and had my cabin built right away so I could establish the needed residence required as part of the Homestead Act, before I left for home.  

I borrowed a cot and blankets from the hotel and the first night I slept in the cabin, there was a terrific storm.  The top of one side of the cabin had not been completed and it rained on my bed, drenching me.  As I walked over to the hotel the next morning the folks were all out on the veranda waiting for me.

I knew what they were thinking, “I’ll bet this fixed her and she will have had enough of homesteading.”  

I’ll admit I had been frightened, as storms and rattlesnakes were something I feared very much, but it had not daunted me.  I waited to have the cabin completed then stayed in it several nights before leaving for my home in South Dakota. 

I had all that summer in South Dakota to think about it and my father, who was beginning to have second thoughts about having his young daughter homesteading, tried in every way to discourage me.  He was willing to lose the money he had given me, if I would only give it up.

I did a lot of praying over it and did not know myself how I was going to endure the five years of residency required before that land became mine, but I was determined to go.  The settlers in Montana had  promised me a school, so when August came, I packed my belongings, and ordered a laundry stove, table, chair, and folding cot from Sears & Roebuck to be delivered.  My friends gave me a farewell shower and finally amidst sad farewells, I left for Montana. 

Sadie’s adventure continues tomorrow.

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Sunday 17 October 2021

Soggy Sundays

    Every Sunday I sit down and write a letter to my 100 year old mother.  There isn’t always a lot to write  about because there isn’t a lot going on around here, so I often end up with a paragraph mentioning what our weather is doing somewhere in the letter.  Strangely, for weeks and weeks now it seems like every time I mention the weather, I have to report that it is either raining or showering.  Well that is not the case today, because today it is neither showering or raining--instead it is snowing.  (It did rain hard all night however, then slowly turned into snow around 6:30 AM.)

    I find it strange how often precipitation does seem to always occur on the same day of the week.  In the summer of 2020, when we began to have our music jam outside on the McBride Train Station porch, it seemed to rain or shower every Tuesday, the night of our Jam.  Fortunately, his summer on our outside Jam, it seemed to be sunny and warm every Tuesday, which was a welcome change.

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Friday 15 October 2021

Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman


Deborah Feldman grew up in a closed Hasidic community in New York, and was basically raised by her Jewish Orthodox grandparents after her mother left the marriage.   Deborah’s father came from a wealthy Jewish family, but he had a very low IQ and developmental problems.   His family was under great traditional pressure to marry him off, because as the oldest, he had to marry before his younger siblings could.  

Her mother grew up in Great Britain, in a poor Jewish family and didn’t have any prospects for a “good” marriage until they were approached by Deborah’s father’s family.  They married and had Deborah, but after the marriage her mother felt trapped in a loveless marriage and resentment from her in-laws, who had been so kind before the wedding, She left the marriage and had to leave Deborah behind.

Deborah was never comfortable, or felt like she was a part of the strict rigid confines of the cloistered Hasidic community where she grew up.  There were strict rules about everything, especially for females.  Her curiosity made her a secret rebel who would sneak into public libraries to get and and read English novels, something forbidden by her sect.  She had to hide the library books in her room.  

       She bought an English version of the Talmud, something women were forbidden to read, and after reading how King David, was actually a hypocrite and murderer and not the hero honored by her Hasidic sect, she began to privately question all the indoctrination and dogma she had experienced throughout all of her young life.  She recognized that the whole religion was basically set up for men; a women’s role was designed just to serve men and manufacture babies.

Her disillusionment increased when she turned 17 and was forced into an arranged marriage.  She was only able to meet her intended husband for only 30 minutes beforehand and then had to keep her head down.  The marriage thrust her into all kind of bizarre customs and traditions.  There were rules about everything.  Women had to cut off all of their hair, then wear wigs.  During their menstrual cycle they had to avoid touching their husbands and had go to a religious bathhouse to bathe and be deemed “clean” when it ended.  It seemed that every aspect of her life was closely observed.  Husbands, like her husband who studied the Talmud and were considered scholars, had sex on Fridays.

Her marriage was a disaster beginning on their Honeymoon night.  Neither she or her husband really knew what to do and she seemed to have some kind of anatomical problem, which meant weeks of doctor consultations.  After months spent correcting the problem, which was caused by stress and extreme anxiety, her first real “consummation” of the marriage resulted in her getting pregnant, which meant more doctor appointments and a frustrated husband.

She quickly got fed up with her husbands’s attitude and lost any love she had started to develop for him, especially after he put off taking her to the hospital because of a  Jewish religious day, even though she was experiencing a medical emergency.  Upon finally getting to the hospital, she was immediately given drugs to prompt the birth because of the danger she was in.  

Deborah at this point a new mother, had had enough of her religion and her marriage.  She didn’t want to accept a woman’s role as a baby machine.  She secretly took some writing classes at Sarah Lawrence College, escaped with her infant son and divorced her husband.  It was a complete break from her previous life.  She had to abandon her family and the Hasidic community where she had spent her whole life. She dumped her long dresses and wigs, and began a new life, wearing jeans, sporting her own hair, listening to music, and at the age of 22 wrote this novel.

I, like most others who have read Unorthodox, found it to be a fascinating glimpse into the fundamentalist Jewish Cult where Deborah suffered under all kinds of ridiculous and strict rules.  I have great respect for people like her who have had courage enough to think independently, and are willing to sacrifice their whole past, for their principles.

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