Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"...and We are the Imagination of Ourselves."

In the East, they call it the Net of Indra. Heathens call it Wyrd.

Lower Metres of the Year

It's the waiting time. Each day now will be longer than the last. I'll flip through seed books and dream. I'll walk the garden in the frost and plan.

I've been letting Robert Frost speak my heart. Today (for Dad) we'll hear from Emily.

The murmuring of bees has ceased;
But murmuring of some
Posterior, prophetic,
Has simultaneous come, --

The lower metres of the year,
When nature's laugh is done,--
The Revelations of the book
Whose Genesis is June.

-Emily Dickinson

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Of the Stones of the Place

I farm a pasture where the boulders lie
As touching as a basketful of eggs,
And though they're nothing anybody begs,
I wonder if it wouldn't signify

For me to send you one out where you live
In wind-soil to a depth of thirty feet,
And every acre good enough to eat,
As fine as flour put through a baker's sieve.

I'd ship a smooth one you could slap and chafe,
And set up like a statue in your yard,
An eolith palladium to guard
The West and keep the old tradition safe.

Carve nothing on it. You can simply say
In self-defense to quizzical inquiry:
"The portrait of the soul of my Gransir Ira.
It came from where he came from anyway."

-Robert Frost

You poetry readers are all familiar with that sensation that a poem was written just for or about you. This one is mine. I'm the "you" in this poem who works in "wind-soil to a depth of thirty feet, and every acre good enough to eat," and I had a "Gransir Ira" who farmed "a pasture where the boulders lie." As for the shipping of an "eolith palladium to guard The West and keep the old tradition safe," Frost did that for us with this poem.

Monday, December 29, 2008

In Hardwood Groves

The same leaves over and over again!
They fall from giving shade above,
To make one texture of faded brown
And fit the earth like a leather glove.

Before the leaves can mount again
To fill the trees with another shade,
They must go down past things coming up.
They must go down into the dark decayed.

They must be pierced by flowers and put
Beneath the feet of dancing flowers.
However it is in some other world
I know that this is the way in ours.

-Robert Frost

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Sound of Trees

I wonder about the trees.
Why do we wish to bear
Forever the noise of these
More than another noise
So close to our dwelling place?
We suffer them by the day
Till we lose all measure of pace,
And fixity in our joys
And acquire a listening air.
They are that that talks of going
But never gets away;
And that talks no less for knowing,
As it grows wiser and older,
That now it means to stay.
My feet tug at the floor
And my head sways to my shoulder
Sometimes when I watch trees sway,
From the window or the door.
I shall set forth for somewhere,
I shall make the reckless choice
Some day when they are in voice
And tossing so as to scare
The white clouds over them on.
I shall have less to say,
But I shall be gone.

-Robert Frost

Tree at my Window

Tree at my window, window tree,
My sash is lowered when night comes on;
But let there never be curtain drawn
Between you and me.

Vague dream-head lifted out of the ground,
And thing next most diffuse to cloud,
Not all your light tongues talking aloud
Could be profound.

But, tree, I have seen you taken and tossed,
And if you have seen me when I slept,
You have seen me when I was taken and swept
And all but lost.

That day she put our heads together,
Fate had her imagination about her,
Your head so much concerned with outer,
Mine with inner, weather.

-Robert Frost

Friday, December 26, 2008


My two sons, one learning from the other.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Memorial Stones

A son is best, even if he is born late,
when the father is dead;
seldom do memorial stones stand by the wayside,
unless one kinsman raises them for another.

Havamol 72

Saturday, December 20, 2008

This Remembering Business

My dad was president of his senior class, 1947. Below is his "Message to Seniors", published in the "Red and Black," which I assume was a school publication.

Message to Seniors

Grandpa used to tell me about Ernie Hensen. He said that Ernie was the grandest fellow that ever put two feet on this earth. Ernie was a Swede (his folks brought him over when he was just a little tot) with an accent as merry and twinkling as sleigh bells on a winter night. Grandpa said that he and Ernie were always doing something for each other. Ernie would help Gramp into town with a load of chickens or give him some well-water when Grandpa's well went dry in the summer. Or maybe in the fall Grandpa would go over to Ernie's place and help with the butchering or clear a few more trees off the back end of the west pasture. As the years passed, they became great friends. Theirs was not just a passing acquaintance: it was warm, permanent friendship--maybe you could say love.

It was the summer when I was fifteen that Grandpa took me over to Ernie's place and showed me the evergreen (it was a rare species) that he gave as a memorial to Ernie's son who was killed in action in World War II. They had it planted in the front yard, and summer or winter this tree was always fresh and green--a living memorial. Ernie and his family treasured it and took good care of it, too.

Last winter when I heard that Grandpa had died, I thought of that evergreen tree. I thought to myself that here is a tree which is not only a memorial to a war hero but a symbol, a living object which represents a friendship between two old farmers. For this gift between them is like the bond of friendship which tied them together. Like the evergreen, their friendship was something that they both held dear to their hearts, something which was always fresh and growing, which never changed with the season, something that can never fade or fail no matter what may come--even death.

Seniors, we're going out into the world. We're scattering in all directions. We don't have anything like an evergreen to plant that will serve our memory. We have only the memory. Let's plant that in our hearts and never forget the wonderful friends we've had in school and the swell times we've had together. Write to your old friends; send them Christmas cards and wedding announcements, or in any way keep in touch with them. Don't let friends slip off with a casual wave of your hand! This remembering business is one of the finest parts of living.
-President of the Senior Class

"This remembering business in one of the finest parts of living." My dad wrote that almost 62 years ago, yet it's as much a part of his life today as then--probably more so--and he transmitted that respect for memory to me. I don't know how I learned it, except in knowing him. There were a lot of fine things I learned simply by knowing him.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Turkey Stuffing

My mom was a great cook in a rough fashion. She didn’t make fancy food and didn’t know any recipes, but if you wanted a hearty, decent meal, she was the one to call. Her ingredients were simple; hamburger, a roast once in a while, whole fryers (that’s chicken, for those of you too young to remember when chicken wasn’t sold already cut up) and the abundance from our garden. Is there any finer ingredient than a fresh tomato? Seriously.

When my sis and I still lived at home, our mom hosted holiday dinners at our house. One of the most important things we had to do was make the stuffing for the turkey. Because our family traditionally eats the holiday meal at noon, that meant we had to rise very early in the morning to prepare the turkey and its dressing. I have vivid memories of the three of us, my mom, sister and myself, baking, chopping, boiling, toasting and salting.

Now, my mom’s best attempt at a recipe was a telephone call to Granner transcribed to the back of a paper plate with a crayon Mom found at the bottom of a drawer. That’s how she made the dressing every year, on a wing and a prayer. Mom knew, substantially, what went into making dressing and how it should taste, but as for amounts and procedure, that varied from year to year. Her technique was to assemble it all, taste, then adjust, taste and adjust again. The miracle was that it was absolutely delicious, and I’ve never had better in all my life.

Mom’s cooking days are past. Although at 79 years old, she’s still vibrant and active, what little focus she ever had to prepare a large, complicated meal is dwindling and insufficient. That’s not to say she’s “doddering.” At her very best, rather, it was a great effort for her to keep on track. And why should she these days be expected to cook for all of us? Wasn’t that what those early morning hours with her two daughters were all about? Passing on her knowledge to us, disorganized as it might be?!

In fact, in recent years Mom has not done the cooking. I have taken a hand at it, and my sisters, too. Sadly, however, no one has tried to replicate Mom’s dressing. We’ve served Stove Top stuffing instead, but it’s a poor, poor substitute. It’s not that I wouldn’t do it if I could, but I don’t have a recipe!

O, the weather is rotten, and I can’t work on the garden shed clean-up, but I can still get to the store, and I’ve conjured up a new project—replicating my mom’s turkey dressing. Yes, I have to go to the dentist and get a permanent crown put on this morning, but I hope that doesn’t take long and doesn’t incapacitate me quite like having my tooth filed down two weeks ago. If all goes well, I’ll be in the kitchen this afternoon, drawing on my memories, 30 years old, and experimenting with loaves of bread, fresh-baked cornbread, celery and seasonings. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Our Beloved Chiefs

I admit it. I’m a diehard Kansas City Chiefs fan, emphasis on the diehard. Last week, when our beloved Chiefs were 2-11, I wore a Chiefs logo sweatshirt and rooted for them to the bitter end of a bitter game and a missed field goal in the last 2 seconds, just like I do every week. I wasn’t the only one! Fans at the stadium actually got to their feet in support of the defense on a Chargers critical 3rd down. Of course, that may have something to do with the tailgating, which reaches momumental proportions at Arrowhead, and the copious flow of beer.

Our beloved Chiefs have a special magic that I’m not sure is present anywhere else. This team has the ability to inspire hope in the fans, even, for example, at 2-11, and then at the last second to dash those hopes in the most cruel fashion. It’s not just this year. It’s been happening for years as the team puts together great seasons, only to sadistically disappoint the fans once we reach the playoffs.

This year has consisted of one crushing blow after another. There has been promise, hope, stunning plays, consistency from key players, development among rookies, and then they, somehow, some way, from some magic hat, find a way to lose the game. Need I mention the decision to “go for 2” when we were one point down against the Chargers in our first match this year? It would be easier to be a Detroit Lions fan. At least you wouldn’t get your hopes up every week. Those fans KNOW the Lions are going to lose. Not so with the Chiefs. The potential is always there for a win. Blast them!

It was just announced that tight end Tony Gonzalez has been picked for his 10th straight pro bowl, an honor well-deserved. Tony is Superman and a joy to watch. I hope he doesn’t leave next year, but I wouldn’t blame him if he did. No one would. Yet, there’s always that…hope… that next year… Darn, there I go again!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


While I slept, it snowed so silently that I was unaware. This morning, pretty surprise.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Not Fit for Man nor Beast

Rest of Today [Monday]
Partly sunny [Hogwash!]. Highs near 15 [not even yet]. North winds 10 to 15 mph [when it's not gusting]. Lowest wind chills around 9 below [I heard 11].

It's currently 10 degrees, and the wind is blowing. It freezes the air in your lungs. I know because I was knucklehead enough to go out in it.

Ducks on the river are giddy.
[My six words for the day :) ]

Blog Review

I’m cleaning up my Blog List, removing those blogs that essentially never post. Below is my rationale for keeping those listed that I do (in no particular order).

Six Word Blog—hail Anne Johnson for the invention. Everyone wants to get in on the act and write six word poetry with her. If you’re not keeping up on Six Word Blog, you’re missing out on the best six words of your day. Do yourself a favor and read.

The Secret Sun—Chris is spiraling down into synchromysticism like there’s no tomorrow. If you have the energy, you can try to keep up with him. Just be sure to attach yourself to a tether line from the mother ship. Although I don't share his opinions, I find Chris' mental gymnastics fascinating in a voyueristic kind of way. Lately, I've only been skimming as I lose interest in the content and may end up removing this blog.

Stranger Fruit—Always worth a peek. The Monday Mustelid is terrific, although I read that it may be coming to an end. A pity.

Wild Chihuahuas—If I was restricted to one blog, this would be the one for me. I can’t say enough good things about Pico’s wit, his choice of subjects, clear mind, his open heart.

The Gods Are Bored—Anne Johnson’s blog is always a joy.

The Wild Hunt—Jason Pitzl-Waters is consistent, posting each day. With a level head, he covers current events concerning Pagans. He has an intelligent and caring readership who contribute with thoughtful comments.

The D’Alliance—keeping us informed on the follies and tragedies of the “Drug War.”

Morehead’s Musings—John Morehead is representative of the anti-stereotype in religion and reminds us not to cubbyhole religious people into fanatic cubicles. All Catholics are not rabid anti-abortionists. Moslems are not terrorists. Mormons are not all polygamists. Fundamental Christians are not all ignorant, and so on. There exists within American faiths an inter-faith movement, which not only embraces established religions, but explores the beliefs of minorities, such as the Pagans. Hail tolerance, the path to peace.

Inspirations and Creative Thoughts—Written by MysticSaint, poet, artist and mystic, this blog is an (almost) daily sermon in love, self-exploration, peace and the divine. Wonderful music.

Earth House Hold—This link is most unfortunately broken on my blog list. I’ve tried deleting and adding it again, but without success, so the post date doesn’t update. It will always say “1 year ago,” but don’t let that fool you. It updates every week or so and well worth a look. Currently, Chet is lamenting America’s gross materialism, and I share his grief. Dear Lord, America, just stop shopping! Is it really that difficult to stay home from Wal-Mart?!

Blog of the Grateful Bear—While Bear sometimes goes long stretches without posting, his posts are rich with his gentle nature, and it gives me a warm feeling to keep in touch with him.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Bring the Wood in Early

Preparing for Sunday football. I must remember to bring wood in early while it's sunny and warm, if I want a fire when the temperature drops about 20 degrees, wind starts howling and light (the most dangerous kind) freezing rain begins in the afternoon.

Wichita, Sunday Forecast, Dec. 13
Mostly sunny in the morning...then mostly cloudy with a 20 percent chance of light freezing rain or snow in the afternoon. Windy. Highs in the mid 50s. Temperature falling into the lower 30s in the afternoon. Southwest winds 20 to 30 mph becoming northwest in the afternoon. Gusts up to 35 mph.

Sunday Night
Mostly cloudy. A 20 percent chance of snow or light freezing rain in the evening. Breezy. Much colder. Lows near 10. [!] North winds 15 to 25 mph with gusts to around 30 mph.

[Dad, please do your outdoor chores early, then snug in for a cozy afternoon and evening of NFL. If you need groceries, go in the morning. Call me if you need someone to drive. Thinking of you always, Dad...always.]

Friday, December 12, 2008

Lots of Pots

Here is my shame and, simultaneously, my treasure hoard. This small building was first dubbed the gardening shed; it has become the "toss everything garden related" bin. I've decided to clean it out. *grooooaaan* During the summer months, I avoid this chore by claiming spiders and snakes. During the winter, I avoid it by claiming cold and bad weather. But the day has least to begin.This is the type of treasure one might find in my gardening shed. I discovered this fantastic object in the dirt yesterday while straightening out the wood piles. I will add it to my collection of perfectly useless and perfectly wonderful.Here's the result of the first stage of cleaning out the gardening shed: plastic plant containers. Sadly, I didn't even make a dent inside the shed by pulling all this out. What now?

Obviously, no one needs this many salvaged plastic pots, but it's hard to toss them out. They're so USEFUL. For example, when I want to send home a plant division or share some iris rhizomes with my mom, I scrounge in the shed until I find the right size pot for it, then off it goes to Mom's house, and I don't have to mourn the loss of a container. Indeed, I couldn't pull out all the plastic pots because they're busy being storage for a host of items; nylon string, fertilizer, wooden stakes, flags, hose connectors and more. Besides the fact that I find the pots useful, there's my reservation about filling the landfill with all that plastic. I hate to throw out plastic. While I stew it over, mentally preparing myself for the big throwaway, I'll bring around all those pots I have stored in the greenhouse, not as many as here, but a substantial lot.
I've finally come up against it, the GRAND ASSESSMENT, and I've got to decide how many plastic pots a woman truly needs to be content.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Stand By Me

Thanks to my uncle in Arizona for finding this incredible work.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Family Pictures

Autobiography of Rev. J. M. Ragan

I was born in Morgantown, Tennessee, December 17, 1832. My father was a Methodist class leader, and my mother was a Cumberland Presbyterian, having been converted under the preaching of Revs. Aston and Lansden, the first Cumberlands that preached in Monroe County. I was baptized at the age of six weeks, and in after years was well instructed in the design of that ordinance. August, 1847, at the age of fifteen, I was converted at a camp-meeting at Old Concord in Knox County. I had been so well taught the doctrines and polity of both churches that by the time I was twelve years old, I made my choice. After my conversion, it was my father’s wish that I join with my mother. I was pleased to have his approval.

When only nineteen years old, I had impressions to preach. Like many others, from Moses down to the present time, I began to make excuses, but the Lord followed me up, and the impressions grew stronger until I felt I would be responsible for lost souls. Now after sixty years in the ministry, I thank God that I did yield, and my good “sword” shall never be sheathed until called to lay it down to receive the victor’s palm. In 1852, my father having moved to Missouri, I was received as a candidate for the ministry by Platte Presbytery. My circumstances were such that I could not attend Presbytery regularly, so was not licensed until September, 1855.

I made my first effort to preach in April, 1853. Then I was often sent by the old preachers to fill appointments and visit vacant congregations. After I was licensed, I took regular work. I was ordained by the Chillicothe Presbytery over my protest in October, 1863. Have never been without regular work until the last three years, and then only through the winter—not able to go out through the cold weather, being eighty-one years old December 1913. But through the summer I preach almost every Sabbath.

The Lord has done great things for me in leading hundreds of souls to the Savior. And when at last I come to lay at His feet my gathered sheaves, I know there will be much chaff, brambles and bitter weeds, and “though the full ripe ears be sadly few, He will accept not what I did, but what I tried to do.”

Of course, when I started out this was all pioneer country, and the people believed in a free gospel—and that was what they got if they got any—I had a great many severe trials and risks of my life to get to my appointments, or my family, in crossing swollen streams, sometimes swimming my horse. But trusting in the “Rock of my salvation,” I did not falter or grow weary of my Master’s service and to Him be all the glory.

When the Union question came up in the Presbytery, the basis was money and popularity. My conscientious convictions led me to oppose it. All the preachers in Chillicothe Presbytery went except myself. Thank the Lord he does not depend on big crowds to accomplish His work.—“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world, and they that dwell therein.” “A tent or a cottage, oh! Why should I care? They’re building a palace for me over there; Tho exiled from home yet still I may sing, All glory to God I’m a child of a King.”

Source: Our Senior Soldiers: The Biographies and Autobiographies of Eighty Cumberland Presbyterian Preachers. 1915 [To make it more readable, corrections and paragraphs added by moi.]

J.M. Ragan is James M. Ragan, my mom’s great- uncle, if you can imagine that. His brother, Elbert, was also a Presbyterian Minister. One of their sisters married the man who was to be my great-great-grandfather. What fascinates me is the thin, precious thread that connects me to J.M. Ragan, that is, my mother’s fading memory of her grandfather, who everyone knew as “Lum.”

Lum was the nephew, you see, of James M. Ragan. As such, when J.M. Ragan speaks of “many severe trials and risks of my life to get to…my family,” it’s to his wife or mother or sister he travels, maybe even among these, his nephew, Lum, whom my mother knew and remembers. Along this thin filament I travel to J.M. Ragan. Once having reached him, he then serves to lead me to his father and mother and their parents before them. Before you know it, I’m in England or Ireland, Holland or Denmark, even to Zurich of Switzerland, where Adam Glattfelder and Verona Segi had a son, Johannes, in 1571, my very great-grandfather.

Although I now present this relatively coherent, family picture, before I found the above autobiography, I possessed only fragments, which I was laboriously piecing together. 1) I had my mother’s memory (fading). 2) I had census records of a Ragan family, which appeared to have originated in Tennessee and migrated to Missouri. 3) I had the maiden name of Lum’s mother, Ragan. With hope and glue, I had put the fragments together, but without any real proof. Yesterday, I found the autobiography and the obituary of my great-great-grandmother (in which the names of her parents, husband and children were all provided), which painted the picture in whole and supported all my conjectures. It was a triumphant day.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Quail Nuggets

Cooking game is a specialty art within the art of cooking. While I can't claim to have mastered it, I have become cognizant of the problems and gained an appreciation for what can be achieved...with practice.

Years ago I was served the baked dry and shot-filled product of a quail hunt and knew there had to be a better way to prepare these little birds. After much trial, I found it, and it's the only game dish I claim to cook well.

Begin with the torso (minus head and legs) of fresh shot quail, stripped of skin and feathers. (This part is done for me by the hunter, so I have only the bone-in breast when I get the meat.) Starting at the keel, run a knife under the breast muscle and free it from the bone--two sides, two breasts. You'll have a larger piece of meat and a smaller. I cook both.

After producing these boneless breasts, I wash them again individually, checking each one for shot and feathers. There is nothing more disgusting than cooked feathers. It's also unpleasant to bite down on shotgun shot. Stripping the breast meat from the bone is the only way I know to guarantee no unpleasant surprises, and this method was my first breakthrough in making a good meal out of the hunt. Now, as the oil in the pan heats, I lightly dredge the breasts in flour, salt and pepper.

Next comes the finesse part. You have to cook these little "nuggets" just long enough to cook them through thoroughly, but not long enough to let them toughen or dry out. The oil should be hot enough to sizzle when you place the meat in it. Add all the breasts at nearly the same time, turn them once when they're golden-brown, not tan-brown, but golden, bordering on dark. The second side cooks faster, because the oil (and the nugget) heat up. Remove just as soon as the second side is light golden and drain them on paper towels. They're small, so they cool quickly. I invert a plate over them to keep them warm while I assemble the rest of the meal.

Serve with mashed potatoes and gravy made from the pan drippings. (Bless you, Mom, for teaching me to make gravy.)

The same procedure can be used for pheasant, but the last time I did, the meat was slightly tougher than the quail. I think I needed to cut the meat into smaller portions, so it would cook through faster, and I could get it off the heat before it dried out. I'll know better next time...perhaps tonight, since my hunter is in western Kansas right now with both pointers, the old dog and the pup.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Pretty Day

Today, robins in flocks and a Carolina wren searching a basket in the rafters of the garage.

Friday, December 5, 2008

You'll Enjoy this Musical

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Ducks in Winter

From my back windows, I look down the bank onto the river. In all seasons, ducks are up and down, mallards mostly, but not exclusively. The last few years we've even had a few Canadas, since the sandbar on the far side grew larger.

Ducks in winter *think* differently than ducks in summer. First, there's no gender between them in the winter. Groups are random, without regard to male and least that's what I've noticed. Secondly, ducks are happy in the winter. The colder it is, the happier they seem. And bring on sleet along with the frigid wind, they're in a joyous tizz-dizz.

Silly ducks.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Burning Wood

I haven't heard the furnace kick on since I started a fire in the woodstove a couple hours ago.

The silence is music to my ears.

Big Winds

Forecast for Wichita, KS, Dec 3:

Winds N at 20 to 30 mph. Winds could occasionally gust over 40 mph.

Wind Advisory remains in effect until 3 PM CST this afternoon. Sustained winds of 30 to 35 mph... with gusts to around 45 mph can be expected through mid-afternoon before gradually diminishing to 10 to 15 mph this evening. A Wind Advisory means that sustained winds of at least 30 mph and/or wind gusts over 45 mph are expected. Winds this strong can make driving difficult... especially for high profile vehicles. Use extra caution.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Preparing for Christmas

Over the weekend, I prepared for the holiday. I dusted and vacuumed the living and dining rooms, and I rearranged the furniture. I also spread a pretty, red plaid, throw blanket across the arm and back of the sofa. I replaced the dark statue on the piano with two, tall, burgundy candles in smoky, glass candlesticks. Decorating done. No dusty boxes of ornaments. No tangled lights. No shopping. Gifts will be the family heritage book I'm preparing, copies for everyone on Christmas Day.

Peace now reigns in my home, and I can honestly say, my friends, that less is better.