07 November 2011

Rio Blanco

Sunrise light and ribbon wire

When I add up the score for 2011, the year is going to have a lot to answer for. Too many dear ones have been ill, injured, lost, or caught up in disasters, and it's not over yet. But it has also been a year of reconnecting, reunions, finding the dearest of old friends and reminding myself who I have always been. In October, a few of us gathered for a reunion at Camp Rio Blanco in Texas, where I went as a Girl Scout camper and worked as a unit leader. It was a bittersweet reunion to celebrate our lifelong friendships and grieve a deep loss. It is a pocket oasis in the Texas Panhandle, green even in a fierce drought. It is a source of quirky magic and spectacular landscapes.

If I can face a storm with awe and wonder, take a moment to appreciate brilliant light, keep a group happily together, sing when it would be easier to snap, make fun of myself (especially singing), step aside for the tiniest wildlife, tie a knot that holds, have a Plan B (C, D....X) in mind at all times, fix what is broken, override panic in a crisis, laugh often, use a folding knife with no trips to the ER, give from the heart, give everyone second chances, sleep peacefully under the stars, know what those stars are, be comfortable with being alone as much as with being in groups, listen deeply to what is important, teach what I know and learn in the process, hear both sides of the story, use a hatchet with no trips to the ER, pitch in to help without being asked, appreciate wildness and wilderness, know when to lead and when to follow, and light a decent campfire with no more than two matches (and no lighter fluid) with no trips to the ER, I owe it all to this place and the people who made it wonderful.

The gate in autumn sunshine

It's West Texas. This decor is normal. 

View from the second floor of the Lodge

Scissortailed flycatcher seemingly perched in space.  I miss seeing these.

Wild turkeys on a stroll

The camp bell

It rings with as true a tone as ever

Sunset behind the Caprock

Junipers at sunset

Arrowhead Mesa, a popular hike 

Crescent moon over the flagpole

Velvet ant 

Ammonite in the fireplace of the Old Lodge. This probably started me on my warped path. 

Old wagon bed

Swinging bridge over Big Sandy. The first person across in the morning still gets the spiderwebs . 

Sign on road crossing Big Sandy. 

Framework for the covered wagon tents, in need of rescue. 

Many dreams under the canvas here. 

I would just like to point out for the record, though, that I still flunk braiding lanyards. I still think that my interest in natural history developed when the arts and crafts leaders looked at my work and asked me gently if I wouldn't rather go outside to look at bugs. Or anything that would get me out of there.

We are working on a history project for Rio Blanco now. Stay tuned for details.

Lakota signs

Two famous trails....

Driving from Rapid City to Pierre on the back roads (which I always do, so that I can scare my passengers as I zip around farm equipment, shooting barns and sheds), I am finding a series of road signs unlike anything I've seen before. Someone told me that they have been put in place by some of the Lakota tribes as a way of getting their history out there. Now I'm scouring the roadsides for these, too, as I drive, which makes riding with me even more fun, I'm sure. Any information is appreciated. 

Oldest Indian trail, 1

Oldest Indian trail, 2

Plum Creek waterhole

Deadwood Trail sign (old)

Deadwood Trail sign (new)

Sitting Bull birthplace

Old Black and Yellow Trail, new sign. Love the GPS coordinates.

06 November 2011

Clorinda and Harriet

Montgomery County, Arkansas, a long way from New Jersey

Working my way through backlogged genealogy posts, quilting projects and any other displacement activities I can come up with to avoid thinking about the next few days at work (which promis to be very hectic, with the installation of another compactor system for one of our big collections)…I am reminded of the two mystery women in my direct line. 

One on my father’s side, one on my mother’s, both a long way from home. 

Interestingly, both are great-great grandmothers, so they show up at the same tier and approximately the same time in the family history.

It’s hard for us to appear and disappear without any apparent ties in this time, in this society, but they managed it in the 19th century. I have not tracked down so much as a photograph of either of them.

What intrigues me about both women is that they were Northerners who moved to the Deep South before the Civil War. I do not know why, and I wonder how appallingly difficult that conflict was for their dual loyalties.

My family lines are very Southern—I could chart a broad-brush sweep of generational movement from the East Coast through the Appalachians, on to Arkansas and Oklahoma, on to Texas, on to California—and there are a lot of hard-core Confederates in there. What on earth did the Yankee grandmothers think as the country tore itself apart, as the gulf broadened between their old homes and their new ones?

I’ve mentioned Clorinda before. She shows up in the record books in 1850, when she was 32 and living in Newton, Mississippi. She married Benjamin Johnson there in 1839, and went with him to Montgomery County, where she spent the rest of her life and where she is buried. Her lovely name shows up in 3 of her descendants.

Clorinda’s birthplace is listed in the census records as New Jersey. Rural Mississippi and Arkansas—very, very rural Mississippi and Arkansas, especially at that time—could have been on another planet from New Jersey, even then. What took her to that wild green country before she was 21?

It is possible her father’s name was James, but it’s equally possible that it was not, and nothing comes up in the records for anyone else from her family of origin. I have found records for the Clorinda Fowler Tract in New Jersey, one of the areas producing spectacular fluorescent minerals near Franklin and Sterling. Is there a connection? I haven’t turned up anything so far.

Clorinda Fowler Johnson's gravestone, Caney Cemetery, Arkansas

On the other side of the family, we find Harriet Adeline Perkins, who also shows up in the 1850 census, married to George Washington Keese and living in Caldwell, Texas. She was 27 at that time, and according to the records was born in Vermont. I find this bewildering. I’ve been both places, and they also might as well be on different planets. There is no information whatsoever on her family of origin.

G. W. Keese was the younger half-brother of some of my Confederado relatives who left the US for Brazil forever at the end of the Civil War. Obviously the family’s sympathies were passionately Confederate. How did Harriet cope?

I don’t know, because she vanishes from all records after 1860. Her youngest child was born that year, and Harriet in still listed in the Caldwell census records. After 1860….nothing. 

G. W. Keese died in 1870 and is buried in the Old Prairie Lea cemetery at Caldwell. A number of the Keeses moved to Marion County in East Texas, possibly with the promise of jobs as the railroad came through Jefferson. (It never did, but that’s another story.)  Harriet is not buried at either place. Harriet is not anywhere that anyone can find. Did she leave? Did she die?

I don’t know what brought either woman to the South, and I cannot imagine watching as the horrific conflict shredded everyone it touched. Clorinda stayed in Arkansas, at who knows what cost, but what happened to Harriet when the war broke out?

Would I have stayed, or would I have gone, with family on both sides of an irreconcilable war? 

Their stories are almost completely unknown, and may be unknowable, and that haunts me. 

02 November 2011

Dia de los Muertos

It’s November 2, very chilly. Frost on the windows, cottonwoods blazing, migration winding down…quiet after the frantic rush of October, with 5 full weekends and me in a different place—a different state—for every single one of them. More on those a bit later, as I catch up on the writing.

Yesterday was Dia de los Todos Santos, the Day of All Saints. Today is Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. In spite of the name, Dia de los Muertos is a day of celebration of the lives of those who have left us. For many years, it has been, and continues to be, one of my favorite days, a point to stop and take stock of the meaning that loved ones bring to all our lives. It is more pivotal, more deeply personal, than the more commercial holidays of the season.

This year, most of our friends here are out of town at yet another meeting, so no big party. But there will be candles lit and remembrances made. There has not been a month this year without a loss, an illness, a disaster. Everyone I know has been affected by sadness. And yet, and yet, it has also been a year of deep and even joyous reconnections, of survival against the odds, and of celebration.

Here is a passage that best captures the feeling of the day:

“Día de los Muertos is on November 2nd, with celebrations beginning on November 1, Día de Muertos Chiquitos--The Day of the Little Dead also All Saints Day, and continuing on November 2, All Souls Day. It is a joyous occasion when the memory of ancestors and the continuity of life is celebrated. It is believed that at this time the souls of the departed return to visit the living. It is not a time of mourning since ‘the path back to the living world must not be made slippery by tears.’”

Here’s to the continuity, here’s to unbroken bonds, to friends, family, ancestors, memories, everything that makes us who we are and ties us together, here’s to…us.  I hope that you are lighting your own candle.