Friday, July 10, 2020

my wife goes horseback riding almost every day. she's quite thin and the anxiety of this whole covid thing has gotten to her pretty badly. we have four kids left in the house and mostly we concentrate on keeping them safe. they are teenagers and don't really believe that anything will get them ever. or maybe it's more accurate to say they have too many distractions to keep risk abatement in mind.

the horse ranch is four miles away over a remote, rocky, back road which is impassable part of the year. the ranchers get out for groceries only once a month but like it that way. they run an rv park that combines horses and camping, and being way out there the way they are, they are pretty assured that trouble is not going to just sneak up on them.

she tries to take the girls with them but often, very often, the girls have other things on their minds. it seems to me, if i had a chance to keep getting up on a horse, i'd keep doing it. but i'm not them. i can't tell them what they want.

to me the drive out there is the best part. it's just such a remote road, that it makes the remote road we live on seem like main street. we were lucky the time we got a flat way out there because a sheriff who lives out there just happened to come by. it's the kind of road where people don't just happen to come by.

she rides up into the dry mountain country and i'm surprised there aren't more rattlers or something to spook the horses, but apparently they are more used to it than i am. i would say, if you're not packing a lot of padding, and your horse gets spooked, the problem is that you'll land on rocks. i'm sure the thought has occurred to her.

in fact this one wild horse did spook one time, and they had to call a helicopter. when we got the bill it was like fifty thousand. but they have such things covered as long as you can explain how you were way out in the middle of nowhere, actually driving to the hospital would be very risky (involving cattle guards etc.) and really helicopter was the way to go. she says, the view was great, but all i could really see was stars, since i was on my back and had to stay that way.

to her credit she got back on a horse. she's tough. i think she knows she needs it to survive in these tough times. i don't begrudge her some good times way out in the mountains. i worry, though. she's the only wife i've got.

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

so trump and devos order everyone to go to school, which in my opinion ruins the schools. they can't test everyone who walks through the door, so the teachers are vulnerable, and will take a family leave if they're smart, or just get out. every set of parents who can, will homeschool, for as long as they can. there is not the money to make it all work and they won't provide it. on the contrary, as they've said, they will only withhold money if they can, if someone wants to make distance learning possible. one can only conclude that they are out to kill our children and their parents.

i've been reading about the pioneers, who really lived in a different world. they would work twelve hour days, and would often be educated for only a couple of weeks in the winter. parents cared intensely about what they learned and how they learned it. sometimes parents would band together with other parents in a neighborhood and make a school, usually the one-room variety, where everyone of all ages would be educated in the same room. parents would take turns so they'd teach one day a week, or maybe two. collectively the neighborhood would provide the kids' education.

this system actually worked well, and believe it or not, kids were better educated back then. if you look at only the ground they covered, they covered way more ground than we do today. today we argue about whether to teach cursive, and we teach only the thinnest and shallowest version of history. no latin, no any language, no grammar today. memorizing state capitals, or spelling anything, out the window. back then they actually knew quite a bit more when they got out of school.

in addition, they knew how to cut logs, build a fire, seal the windows, shovel and get the snow off the roof, as this was all required just to keep the schoolhouse running. but the reason they valued education, frankly was because the rest of their lives were so tough. education was seen as a way out, or a way into a gentler world.

today kids don't see it that way, or at least, very few do. many kids are from a generation whose parents got screwed by the schools, in the sense that they became anti-education and voted for trump. whatever we were supposed to be teaching them, they didn't learn critical skills, and they send their kids to school now, mostly so they can work, or because they have to. to the question of whether they value education, well, some do, for sure. but most value it less because there is less proof that it does anyone any good. the educated are just as unemployed as anyone else, and trump is doing nothing to improve their lot, or make anyone want to be a teacher.

i think we should use the pioneer model when we start over. for starters, don't send your kids back to school until they are safe; this could be a year or two. make a system, whether you get together with your neighbors or not, where you cover your bases with your kids' education - the schools may help you with this, or they may not be able to. i actually think we are on our own here, as a culture. we can have our jobs, and make money, and live in the world without getting covid. but if we care about our children's education we may have to go a little out of our way to make sure they get one. the government just isn't going to provide a good one any more, at least for a couple of years.

in the future, i think we'll need a practical, nationwide commitment to good public schools. i honestly don't believe we have one now, or we wouldn't even have devos in there. to me she represents a significant minority (the 31% who voted for trump) and their complete disregard for good national education. you don't hear trump or devos talking about a national commitment to a good education for all american children. they don't even have that commitment themselves. so this is something we need to work on as a nation. hopefully biden is up to it, or at least willing to appoint someone who cares.

but i wouldn't even wait for biden. do you think some new president is going to come in and superimpose a national commitment onto an education system that is in shambles? i don't think so. it will take dozens of years to put the pieces back together. in the meantime, those who figure out this home0schooling business will be the ones who actually educate their children.

Saturday, July 04, 2020

Happy Fourth!



May the popular demand for democracy, fair & sensible government, and a true sense of patriotism, that is a desire for what is best for this country, prevail.
first, i want to wish every one of my readers a happy fourth. i will put, on top of this post, a picture of an uncle sam on stilts, pointing something out to a kid with a suggestion that very old cars might be part of the picture. to me he is pointing out the value of history, though i doubt that was actually going on at the time. it happened at a cloudcroft fourth of july parade; i'm not sure they're even having one this year. if they are, there is only an outside chance we will make it.

i take the fourth to ponder seriously the good ideas this country was founded on, and what i am doing to perpetuate them. they are more than ever endangered, and the price of freedom is constant vigilance. but i have to admit, i also take what little time i have, and try to get my ideas down on paper where they can be read. and i'm seriously add, which means that when one idea stalls or needs a break, i need to move along to another one, rather than hanging around stewing on my inability to go forward, which is crippling. in that spirit i have about five projects that are in the works, but have a strong inclination to get started on a sixth, which is equally urgent, given that due to covid i could be toast at any minute.

i have faith that i will not pick it up from my children, yes. i let them sleep over at friends' houses and catch rides with kids whose mather works in a restaurant. i myself buy what i have to; yesterday i stood in line for about ten minutes waiting to buy spicy chicken sandwiches. but the aisles were thin, the people were from texas, and anything could have happened. in the convenience store i bought ice cream and milk: same thing. at the convenience store, allsups, mask rate was about 40% - that is actually improving. but the place is small. it circulates its own air.

in the mornings, my wife often goes horseback riding. this is my time to work. but as the sun comes up over the back of the house, it becomes quite intense, until not only is it hot outside, but it is directly above the south-facing, high triangular window at the top of our living room, and about ten thirty or eleven it shines in my eyes. time to work; i usually respond by going outside. there are generally a couple more hours before it gets truly hot.

when it's truly hot, about two, i can neither keep working outside, nor come in, where she has started cooking, and doesn't especially want me sitting around on the computer. she starts getting at me about unfinished things around the house - and yes, there are a lot of them, from cars not properly maintained, a shed that needs cleaned out, this kind of thing. i build a deck and a cat porch but it irritates her because it looks a little tumble-down from the street and i'm not truly a professional builder yet. i have all this wood from an old deck and still have to protect it from the impending rainy season. but instead i've been mostly focused on my writing projects.

my latest obsession is compiling the best of my professional writing. This would look like "essays in reflection of thirty years of teaching esl" or some such thing. these things are all over my computer, and my computer is dying. i have put most of them on google docs or on blogs, but i find that both of these options are basically unacceptable. they just don't get seen. they might at some point get used and referred to, or read, or understood, or whatever, but that's about the best i can hope for. lately i've been using amazon to compile my work, that is, to show the best of what i've done. i taught with my eyes open; i saw a lot of things. and language learning is still a mystery to vast numbers of people.

so to start with those two this time:
essays on language learning, or whatever it's called, compilation of past work, not started yet;
language as a self-organizing system, book that is about half done and needs substantial theoretical underpinning;
comin' 'round to lovin' it, book of short stories, all set at mcdonald's, almost finished;
prairie leveretts, book about my great-great grandfather, settler in nebraska territory, but also including my great-great-great grandfather, and another great-great grandfather, in other words, the eighteen hundreds, the civil war, the westward expansion
. this book needs a lot of work. I got a little too into it and couldn't see the forest for the trees. i took a little break.
just passing through, my own autobiography with traveling stories, intended now partly to set straight a genealogical record, which would answer the question, where did he get these ten children, and are they all really related? to each other?
the iowa novel, also called the actualist's wife, doesn't really have a name yet, but it is a lyric tribute to actualism and the hippie scene in iowa city in 1975. now i love those people dearly so i have all kinds of issues related to how much to reveal, and that has always been a sore spot between me and them anyway, so now it's time to play it right, and just paint a fairly accurate picture of everything that went on. this one totally absorbs me, but, the more i'm into it, the more i'm afraid i'm again missing the forest for the trees. just took a little break. i have about thirty pages which would translate into about fifty of a true novel.
quaker plays - about four are written, about two more are ready to be finished, in my head, just have to be put on paper, and i have good ideas for about three more. nixon is in there. hoover is already done. rufus, i did rufus. the idea here is to cover a wide range of quaker experience and knowledge in the modern world, so that grown-ups, this time, can read and learn about quakerism. one may be about zoom and the moral dilemmas involved in getting up there; not sure how that will pan out. i haven't even quite worked it out in my head. one problem is that you really have to get into another frame of mind to write plays; they don't write themselves. it's non-fiction in that you do research; the one on the table involves pawnees and what's called massacre canyon in western nebraska.
then beyond that i have a few other dreams:
non-fiction biography of the life of bela fleck, and his partner abigail washburn, well i guess she's his wife, and they have a baby, the banjo emperor, so throw him in there too. i don't hear music like i used to; i feel like i've lost the accuracy and enjoyment of hearing that was damaged either by moving way up on the mountain, or by working at a junior high. either way, i feel like my hearing is a bit impaired and hearing aids just amplify the horrible sound of sounds coming through water - they have become quite unpleasant to me. like beethoven, i'm working on finishing my legacy while i've gone deaf. in my case, it's figuring out how to put intense music into writing form. or rather, the joys that music brought me. it's very possible i'll never get this hearing back, since i don't plan on moving down from the mountain any time soon. but i don't feel like i've totally lost all my hearing either; i've just dunked everything into this allergy-filled swimming pool. i don't get all mad about it. remember i have ten kids, and my wife is struggling with their intense natures, and taking it out on me sometimes. i don't want to hear everything, anymore. i actually like working out on the land, where for the most part it's quiet, though sometimes there is the elk bugling, or some fire call that i'm missing.
two more novels, both half finished - i should at least mention them here. i get the sense that novels will be more productive in the end than stories. so what has happened? i've stalled, is all. one is about texas, the earlier one about small-town illinois, and saint louis. both are worthy and valuable. both are half finished. both may happen, may not.
chou and happy fourth. may freedom and democracy, and practical, sensible government prevail.

Friday, July 03, 2020

on the eve of the fourth, i should be talking about my love for the country - its wild spaces, out in the country, where i tend to flee on the fourth. i am not big on fireworks, and i'm very happy now that i'm in a place that outlaws them because the fourth is the driest moment of fire season, the very last. after the fourth the rains come, and though there isn't a lot of rain, what there is alleviates the fire hazard a little. i'm grateful. i don't want to fire off crackers anyway, so i just point out that they're dangerous and leave it at that.

the kids are going nuts with the quarantine, except the oldest, who could conceivably quarantine himself the rest of his life, if he only were to be able to make a living. here's a kid who actually made a thousand a month on his youtube channel, but now that he wants to make money he finds it a little harder, as if he's one of a billion who are trying too hard. nevertheless we told him: take it easy this summer. you got straight a's, you were valedictorian, you were the star of the class that didn't get to throw its tassels. stay home, be safe, get ready for college.

so he is, and, we are keeping our word. we let him stay up all night, or sleep in. we make no demands on him. and he chooses not to go to town. he's got his mom's caution, paranoia and anxiety in him.

the other three, on the other hand, are adopted, and though that has nothing to do with it, well, i guess it does have something to do with it. for, while we are all about caution and anxiety, they are just plain ont-and-out teenagers, wanting to be out in the world and see what's out there. they maintain that they are careful - they wear masks, they don't hug, that kind of thing. but we know better. for one thing, they don't quite really believe this coronavirus thing, aince a lot of their friends don't. they're doing what teenagers do.

which could be our undoing. i am quick, writing my books, because my time on this earth could be limited.

Thursday, July 02, 2020

sometimes i brood on my failure to market successfully - maybe i'm a bad writer. i somehow naively thought that when people read good short stories they'd want to read more. or the same with haiku, which actually is even more naive. nobody pays to read haiku, i guess. but it's not even that i need the money, as time goes by, i feel like i need the recognition, and that comes in the form of money. if they buy it, they are recognizing you. if not, it's just a bunch of words on a sea of self-published dreck.

so i pound away at twitter and the social media; i put my pop art up there, and hope people recognize a kind of jangled, artistic way of looking at things. that's what i'm selling, after all. but nothing. i don't think people buy stuff off of twitter, but even if they do, it's like what, you have to have a thousand viewers to get one click, and a thousand clicks to get one sale.

i worry a little about whether i may have given away too much of it (my first few books of stories are all online, pretty much), or if too much of the early stuff is still out there; presumably i've gotten better. but i also worry about not getting better. the purpose of this very blog is to ensure that i keep writing no matter what. but i'm a little careless with it; i let myself ramble. i let myself not worry about such things as caps or formal language. and as a result some of my carelessness spills over into my regular writing. my sister says, "too many commas!" and what i think she means is, tortured turn of phrase, as my wife puts it, that distract the reader from what you're saying into attention to the way you say it. too much of that, and it's no fun to read any more.

in transcribing the work of my great great grandfather i'm impressed by how careful he is. he uses some things i would never dream of, in terms of informality, but he never uses a contraction, for example, and he clips his paragraphs. he gives the reader just what the reader can take. his sentences are careful. he was a bitter old man, convinced that his life was ruined unnecessarily, but he was interesting in that way at least: he was a good writer. i am going to pick up from him that sense of discipline, and apply it to everything i do.

at the moment i am doing about five things: finishing prairie leveretts, a story about one great-great grandfather who settled nebraska during the civil war; publishing the story of my life, the autobiography of the other great-great grandfather, treasurer of hillsdale college in its early days, and one of its first students; finishing comin' 'round to lovin' it, mcdonald's short stories; writing an iowa novel, which is kind of a documentation of a poetry movement, a documentation of a fantastic vegetarian restaurant and bakery, and at the same time, a love novel and tribute to some of the things i went through in iowa. what do you do when you fall in with someone who is, cough cough, just not the right person. it happens all the time, unfortunately. and my mission which is easy in this case, is to fill in all the details, true or not, of what i remember of iowa city at the time. my goal is to let the characters say it, so i don't have to. actually it's harder to let the characters say it, because you have to then make dialogue. but i'm up to it. it's a tall order.

and then on the marketing front, i've noticed the blogs. this is the prime example. i have eighteen hundred people coming through here every month. presumably some are coming through to read it, or care about what is happening in my life, as friends, but i don't have eighteen hundred friends; the other theory is that they are clicking around looking for something interesting. and maybe they find it, maybe they don't. probably seventeen hundred just click right back out the minute they get here. but there are still a lot of eyes on this page, and if i get the eyes on the right thing, maybe that'll help. what i'm telling you is that i might go commercial to some degree: make some blogs so that they direct a person's attention in the right direction, and thus get them to help me. this might be better than the alternative, which is to continue to use them to make my writing sloppier, more reckless, more free-form random.

a sleepy morning here - my wife is in alamo, with the fifteen-year-old, buying cleats; his sister is spending the night a friend's. the twelve-year-old is around, brooding, watching media, occupying a pig-sty. the puppy is on my lap - that's where he likes to be. we get mad at him when he barks at the deer, the rabbits, and the skunks, but that's what he does, it's his job, it's part of his identity. you could try to make him shut up (we do), but he doesn't really understand that. fortunately we feed him plenty. we like having him around. he curls up and looks cute and he anchors us wherever we are. that, i think, is his job too. as he sits here i'm not sure if he knows i am writing about him, but he knows how to place himself so i pet him as much as possible, which of course is good for my mental health. and my mental health is the most important. none of the above projects can be finished without it.

new mexico is about to turn, from the driest of the dry seasons, to what they call the monsoon. this happens around july fourth. we get what little rain we get all year on the fourth of july, or rather, from the fourth and six weeks into the end of the summer. it's not "monsoon" in the sense that you have it in, say, the philippines, but it's what we've got. we watch the clouds roll in from the southwest, from zipolite and oaxaca state, up through the great chihuahuan desert, and up past el paso to here, and it drops a little on us, and we're grateful. my greenthread, my navajo tea, will be grateful too, and will breathe, and enjoy life at its best, with just a little water. what else i could grow, i'm not sure, probably peppers (peppers grow most places in new mexico), but that's for another day, another post. chou.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

this staying home has become a habit, though we take our kids to town every once in a while, sometimes every day for a while. at home i'm plenty busy. i've decided to write everything i've ever wanted to write, and just plug away until i've said everything i've ever wanted to say. there's plenty left; there are at least five or six unfinished books on my desktop. i started a novel finally, about iowa. and since i always loved iowa, it's kind of a love story. but i get to throw in everything i always loved about iowa - and there is a lot! particularly iowa city - one of my favorite cities ever.

but to be specific about it, what's favorite about it is the way it was in 1975, so that's where i'm setting the novel. iowa city, 1975. i don't really like what it's become, or even especially what it became while i was still there. there was this tiny little time while i was there that i really liked, and that's what i'm writing about.

the good thing about novels is the kind of choice you have going in. you can have any plot, any characters, any setting, any time. it's a lot of power.

but you have to have a goal going in. a lot of times i go in, and i have things i want to say, but i don't have a complete picture. i have two unfinished novels just sitting there. and i've been determined to finish them, before i start this iowa one. but the iowa one i just started anyway. i figure, with the coronavirus and all, you have to just say it all, while you have the chance. get it all out there. tell the world. you might be on a ventilator tomorrow.

it's a little mixed up with my autobiography, which is also very heavily leaning on iowa. so much of my growing up happened there, and i did so much. with this novel i can make the vast majority of it true. i just have to make an overlying plot, a reason for the reader to keep turning the pages. and there weren't any major scandals at that time - big murders, or financial scams, whatever. i end up making the story much more nuanced, a real picture of real people, all with different names. to protect the innocent and not-so-innocent.

you might ask about my relatives - the settlement of the territory of nebraska and all that. well they're still there, and i have to print that one, and read it, and finish it, but basically i got so far on the civil war, and i kind of wore it out. i had to come up for air. i had to do the seventies, my own seventies, to remember who i am.

more later, things are happening here, even as the clock turns, and we go into july.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Saturday, June 27, 2020

i go on hiatus from marketing sometimes; i just get discouraged and avoid it. besides, i'm working on my book (see last post). deep into the civil war, the panic of 1893, the atchison topeka & santa fe. i want to finish it. it's intense.

my wife pointed out that i hadn't been working outside, which is true. it got real hot afternoons and i've turned into a wimp; then it rained a lot and that was a pretty good excuse. actually i like it out there. i'm smoothing out piles of ground stump and dirt, where a stump grinder turned up the earth a lot. he actually didn't see every stump, so i have a few yet to pull out. it's a kind of landscaping, making it so grass can grow during the rainy season, which is coming.

to some degree it's already here. it's rained three or four out of the last five days. it's glorious, because june is so darn dry it'll about kill you. a little rain makes it so i can pull those stumps, and i can make things better if i want to. the raking is good for me.

while i'm out there, i mull over the characters in my book. they are real live people, who leave some clues and say some things, if you can find them. they live through the civil war, then they live through the panic of 1893. they travel around the country - for a while, in horse and carriage, then later, they get an auto. they're kind of on that cusp where, at first, you're not going to go out to colorado or california, it's just too far. three weeks on a horse and wagon, the scorching sun donner pass and all, too much. but then you get an auto, and everyone wants to try it. meet you out in sunnyvale. you can catch their excitement. they take their pup tent with them. sometimes they stay in a motel, and that's real treat.

i sit in the center of our village counting mask rates. some people wear them, some don't. my own kids don't, but should. we tell them to. the minute we're not watching, they don't. they're young, and really really don't believe they're in any danger. meanwhile numbers skyrocket in florida, texas, arizona, california. it makes us nervous; we're surrounded. things look bleak. a deadly virus is winning the war.

in our little town, it hasn't claimed a single person. we have about eight hundred people, and we're all still here. about five hundred of us are real nervous. lots of us wear masks regularly. i stay in my truck where i won't feel the obligation to wear one, because i'm just sitting here, not going anywhere. i watch the people who walk in the downtown boardwalk in front of me. 50%, 70%, sometimes 30%. the percentage changes according to what time i'm out here.

our friend says it's locals that are the worst. we're actually a tourist town, and all our tourists are from texas, where it's really out of control. so we're nervous about having a town full of texans walking around with the virus. but it turns out, those are the ones that are wearing the masks. they're sensitive; they know the law; they don't want us thinking bad of them. whether they have it or not, they're at least following the rules. it's the locals, and a few of the visitors, who just don't believe in it. they make up stories about how they really don't work. hey, if i was single, i'd probably have a fewof those stories. you delude yourself when you're on your own. people can be influenced very easily; it doesn't take much.

we came out of our little valley the other day to sign some papers to lease our house. i realized how country i was. i was virtually unable to keep a mask on; i couldn't hear myself talk. i didn't really know what was happening here in town. i hadn't talked to many people about the situation and i'm more and more uncomfortable, even going anywhere. just now some guy walked next to my truck and coughed. he was carrying a mask in his hand. i'm hoping the outside air, the gentle breeze, took care of it. but i put on my mask anyway. i'm not letting that virus get in there.

my wife also is obsessively checking the news. just a few years back we lived in texas. her deepest fear is, no icu beds, no care. she's got a point. lubbock is now up to hundreds of new cases a day, in lubbock alone. almost ten thousand new ones in florida, a day, in a state that is full of old people. four 9/11's a day, you could say, in florida alone.

yet we still have zero in our mountain zip code, and hope it stays that way.

Friday, June 26, 2020

there was a little girl in our family story who was very interesting. her parents died when she was about three. She had a younger sister, and four older sisters; one was a half-sister, having the same father but an earlier mother. When her parents died, all six girls were in Ohio, near Cleveland. Her younger sister was adopted by a family in Wisconsin, relatives.

they had a gregarious uncle, freeman tisdel, a wealthy man who ran a hotel in warren, illinois. many of them ended up out there. he was involved in the founding of warren and was its first postmaster.

her oldest sister, the half-sister, met my great-great grandfather and married him in warren in 1858. there was a depression in 1857, and everyone was just trying to get by, but they had their baby pretty quickly as they were trying to make it. as i understand it, the young girl, ellen, who was now about six, looked up to her oldest sister, hattie, who was more like 20. that older sister was watching out for her. young ellen helped hattie with the baby.

word came of gold being found in pike's peak, colorado, and there was lots of excitement. menfolk were tired of the depression already and thought maybe money was to be had by going out there and mining for it. after all, it was only back in 1849 that gold had been found in california, and there were plenty of people around bragging about how they'd gone out there, found it, got rich, or at least knew someone who did. you needed certain tools, like pickaxes, and horses and oxen to lug things around. and you needed to get out there; the first problem was getting across the mississippi, which was wide and shallow but very muddy and treacherous in its own way. after that it was wild, uncharted plains all the way through iowa, nebraska and eastern colorado though there were wagon ruts on most of it.

the mnefolk included hattie's husband, james walker leverett, but also freeman tisdel. freeman tisdel had been wronged in a dispute over the founding of warren, and had begun selling everything out, preparing to vacate, hotel and everything. what about all these nieces he'd taken in? i'm not sure; some of them went back to ohio. they were not without resources. hattie and the baby waited for word on where the menfolk ended up; ellen remained in warren with her. the menfolk gathered up teams of oxen and tools and wagons and set out across the mississippi for pike's peak. pike's peak or bust.

the mississippi was as rough as its reputation, but in iowa city they caught the mormon trail west and settled into a rhythm. when they got west of des moines they saw little stone towers marking lane's trail which cut south at nebraska city and helped settlers make kansas a free state. lane's chimneys, they were called. but also they saw eastbound travelers who said pike's peak was a humbug. there was gold, yes, but it was too hard for normal people to get with a pickaxe. might as well turn around right here, they said.

instead they followed lane's trail, cut south in nebraska city, and before they got to the kansas line, stopped in the southeast corner of nebraska and settled a town called salem. it was 1859. nebraska was still a territory. there were very few houses, but james walker leverett had brought a sawmill, and he started making one. they sent one man back to get the womenfolk.

the women at that time included hattie and the baby, but also ellen. what else could she do? she was sticking with hattie at all costs, and if they were going to live out there, she was going with them. there was a cool way to travel now that the west was opening up. they could take the steamboat down the river, from warren, to quincy/hannibal, then take the new railroad from hannibal to saint jo, in western missouri on the missouri river north of kansas city. then there was another steamboat going up the missouri, from saint jo up to rulo, nebraska, in the southeastern corner. they'd get off the steamboat in rulo and go the last eighteen miles by horse & carriage, to salem.

the new railroad was scary enough - war was brewing and outlaws were robbing the trains - and the steamboats were a wild ride, since they didn't know the missouri, and it was a wild river - but what really scared ellen, who was nine, was the stage ride through indian country. it seemed to her so wild, so dark, so wild-west. as it turned out, there were so-called indians there, between rulo and salem, the sauk and fox, but they turned out to be friendly. when they finally met her, they were quite taken with her blonde hair and offered to have her come live with them, and they meant it. they would have taken her in that minute. but she was a nine-year-old girl, being brought up in salem, a pioneer community. she went to school with other children. she helped hattie in whatever way she could.

life was not easy, and the baby died. hattie had three more, while they were out there, and kept taking care of ellen, as well as freeman and a few other people. james finished building their house. war broke out back in the east. it was the civil war, war of all wars.

ellen lived the life of a kid in a pioneer village. she liked the people and came to like the place. she came to not be afraid of the indians, and to be useful to hattie and the family. the following year, the five thousand settlers in nebraska voted against statehood. two men were shot and killed in nearby falls city in a dispute over which town should be county seat of richardson county; salem ultimately lost that opportunity to falls city itself. neither town has more than a couple thousand today, and rulo is dinky too. it's the plains; it's pretty hard to get food out of the ground.

in 1864 the family turned around and went back to illinois. they heard about indians in the west, coming back east, and burning everything down on their way. these, the pawnee, were the original residents of southeast nebraska. they had been promised protection from the sioux, if they were to just move west and out of the way for the settlers, but the promise had been broken. they were angry. they had lost their homeland, and they'd been attacked in the west. and they were coming back.

the family loaded up everything they owned in their covered wagon, and set off the same way they came, into iowa, across the nishnabotna, across the plains on lane's trail. the nishnabotna was flooding because of heavy rains. by now ellen was 14. she was watching the babies in the back of the wagon, on their straw beds. there was a rickety bridge on the nishnabotna and everyone was allowed to walk across the bridge while the team tried to get the wagon across the river. eventually they made it, and made it across iowa, too. one had to figure out how to feed one's horses; but if that was done, everything else was easy.

back in illinois, her sisters had gone back to ohio, so ellen just kept on going. but when she found her other sisters, she told them about nebraska. she sold them on nebraska. in 1867, she was to go back, marry, and have eight children or so. her sisters would follow and do the same.

all except hattie. hattie, with her new family, ended up in wisconsin for twelve years, and then south dakota for eleven. south dakota was much like nebraska - a territory, wild, just developing, with a wild river running through it and nasty, cold winters. in the panic of 1893 hattie and james decided they had to leave, and turned to their friends down in southeast nebraska.

their best friend lived across the state line in kansas, so they moved there. by now they were in their sixties; their children were grown. but ellen was in the area, and her sisters too. hattie got to see everyone again.

ellen had maintained all along that it was a good place; people were nice. they helped each other out. winters were hard. it was not for the faint-hearted. but ellen was tough. she had seen much of the world, from ohio on west anyway, and it suited her. whe was considered one of the early founders of southeast nebraska.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

it's pouring down rain, and that's unusual for june - usually the "monsoon" season doesn't start until the fourth. so the ground, which has become crackly dry and brown, is getting a good soak. it's the kind of rain where heat that has been packed away by the top foot or so of earth now becomes steam, and rises slowly all through the land.

we are of course worried about the virus. we sent a kid to town today, ostensibly for a basketball practice later - and we have no idea who's on that team, or where they work, or who might have picked it up at some point. arizona and texas, which surround us, are flooded with it; we, in our mountain zip code, still have zero, but know that won't last forever. for one thing, tourists are flooding the place. everyone is feeling trapped and feeling like getting away. the mountains are their chosen destination, especially when they feel they can't do what they want to do at home. given true choice - low price of gas, time off work, a hot and dry spell in the valley - hundreds will come up here on any given day.

i feel, sometimes, like stopping to use a bathroom at the campground on the highway; it's called sleepygrass. actually any of the alternatives are dangerous - the public bathroom, the one at a popular and always-open restaurant, and sleepygrass. a much better alternative would be the side of the road, but even that only works some of the time. i try to go before i leave home. this almost never works. i'm in the car, i'm in town, i have to go somewhere. i'll have to develop my system so i'm not in such a jam. i can understand how rvs have become so popular.

finished my transposing of the 80-page tirade of my great great grandfather. if he is to be believed a professor of divinity simply had it in for him, and ruined him, got him taken out of his treasurer's job, committed all nature of personal offenses, when he had done nothing, basically, to deserve it. it's a story that is dying to have the other side told, but i don't have the other side; i have only his, so that's what i'm telling. from a family perspective it explains a deep almost ingrained distrust of organized religion. if this is a doctor of divinity, a supposed fine man, who is ruining a person who has done nothing wrong, what's' up with that? if even, he feels like he has to tell the story, and it's in writing, and it's typed out on old crinkly paper, and it was therefore probably not heard or believed elsewhere, what's up with that?

i sometimes wonder about the nature of justice in this world. you have these cop cases, and i think that cops are just as likely to be human, or likely to be just as human, as anyone, which means that, given a hot chase, a criminal situation, and the fact that they are armed and trained, they will just as likely use their gun as not - this is a dead setup for a lot of injustice. i don't know what's passing for an "innocent man" these days as i think a lot of people, george floyd included, are not perfect and the mere fact that they are out of jail, on the street, even walking down the street, makes them more innocent than your average person, who is dead or in jail. it's a constant struggle to stay alive, to have enough food, to take care of one's health, and then these cops come around with a kind of snide arrogance, which i've experienced by the way. but when they are in charge and trying to regain control and trying to get a decent outcome for the average person, they have a lot of pressure on them. and i'm not going to tell them how to do their jobs. i would say, yes they should be fair, yes they should consider carefully before pulling out their gun and just firing around. they are in an unenviable position.

the rain, now, has made the mountains smell very nice. the pine trees are breathing. what was brown, you can almost watch it turn green, or at least think about it. i'm grateful i'm way out here at the end of the road, with lots of deer and elk all around me, hummingbirds coming up and hovering, to see if i've brought them some honey. a blue bird, with an orange breast, landing nearby, probably looking for the same kind of advantage. they all have enough water now, and that will make a big difference in the next few days. the deer and rabbits will come round, hoping the grass has that green fresh-growth edge and they can pick it right off. the cows will tread with huge hoof-prints, pulling some things right out of the ground and leaving huge poops. our own animals will stay excited - they are excited both by thunder and lightning, which are plentiful today, but also by the promise of change in the air, the excitement in the animal kingdom and even the plants. the world is still alive - and after an earthquake in mexico, and a long hot dry summer, to come back around to just a little bit of rain, it's, ahhhh, pretty nice. you can breathe it in, all the way.