Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Comment on the Comments

I should clarify that we do have "mod cons"--its just that anyone outside the city limits has to haul water and fill cisterns.  There is an old well on our property [err--it was our property until Friday morning!] and we originally hooked into that.  The water was abundant but of a harsh quality which left my long hair feeling like a horses' tail, left streaky white deposits on the dishes and glassware and clogged the dishwasher and built up on all the faucets.
So, J. installed the cistern and we have hauled water.
We have been careful in our use and a tank lasts a week, with daily showers, the laundry, using the dishwasher every other day with two of us.

Friday, February 26, 2010

A Task That Won't Be Missed!

Waiting in line at the "village pump," the town water station. The water comes from higher in the mountains, passes through a purifying/chlorinating system, then runs to the water station or to homes in town.  Living out of the village, most everyone hauls water to a cistern. There are also several big tanker trucks who deliver water if a household has a large cistern.
The tank we have is a common size, about 450 gallons.
Most everyone carries their own home made device to attach to the hose assembly.  J. uses a piece of threaded PVC pipe to poke down into the mouth of the water tank.
Quarters have to be fed into a slot on the side of the water station, then a lever is lifted to start the flow of water.
Actually, a blast of ice cold water is more like what happens.  The water comes out with great force, thus the dangling rope to hold the nozzle steady.

Mostly men do the water hauling although we occasionally see a stalwart ranch woman roaring in with a pickup truck and tending the detail herself.  I tried it on my own--only once.  J. was away for two days and I was driving the red diesel, which happened to have the tank on board.  I figured if other women could do this I needed to give it a try.
At the time J. hadn't made an extension for the spigot.  I hauled down the hoop, climbed into the truck bed and fitted the collar over the tank opening, held the rope taut and clambered down.  It was a big stretch to reach the coin box and I was slightly off balance when the water whoosed forth.
The spigot jerked from the tank and before I could shut off the flow, I was drenched in cold water.  I'm sure those waiting in line, including one of the tanker drivers, had a good laugh.  By the time I had driven the four or five miles home my teeth were chattering with cold. I parked the truck in the garage, dashed into the house, squelching and dripping, shedding clothes as I headed for a different kind of shower--a very hot one.
Once in a while I ride along when J. is getting water, and I get out to feed the quarters into the slot.
Our water useage is very conservative--no luxurious long showers, a constant remembering not to waste.
It will be a treat to live again where it rains and water is more naturally abundant.

On The Way

The closing went smoothly, an hour behind schedule. Then a trip to the courthouse to file some papers, a trip to the bank to deposit the check [!!!] and a stop to eat at a local restaurant--our buyers were also there eating.
Back to the cabin to load up suitcases and the inevitable paraphanalia and for me to part sorrowfully with the cats.  The cats have hardly recovered from their change of abode and are very suspicious of boxes and heaps of untidy belongings which are clogging the small floor space of the cabin.
We turned over the house in spotless shining order, thanks in part to daughter G. and grandson D. who decided helping us on our way was more important than a school day.
I meant to have another session at the computer setting up some blog posts and answering some mail, but returned from errands in town to find that SIL had helpfully dismantled the computer.
Just as well.  It had been a very long day.
I took a photo of our entourage ready to head out.  It consists of "Snort'n Nort'n" with the truck bed loaded with a riding lawnmower and a 4 wheeler.  Tagging behind is the car trailer carrying our car, which we will leave in Kentucky parked at the home of friends of J's brother. [What a lot of  prepositions in that sentence!]
We have made it across Wyoming and over the Nebraska line before J. decided to make an early evening of it.  He is prone to driving half the night as a rule, but even he is ready to admit that we are tired.
The eastern part of Wyoming had less snow than at home.  We saw antelope by the hundereds grazing the frosty sagebrush plains, and every other fence post sported an eagle or a hawk, scouring the landscape for prey.
Thank you for all the encouraging comments.
The saga of the house search and move will continue as I have internet access.

Morgan Horses

Waterford's Lady Tasha
A liver/chestnut Morgan shipped to Heidi from Vermont by her father.
Tasha's bloodlines are of the Equinox and Lippett Morgan strains.

I lived for many years a half hour's drive from the Vermont Morgan Horse Farm.
No Vermont school child has missed reading "Justin Morgan Had a Horse" the somewhat fictionalized story of how the Morgan breed came about.
It is traditionally accepted that the sire of the first Morgan colt was a Thoroughbred stallion belonging to Captain deLancey.  The horse was stolen when it was hitched to a tavern railing while the good captain was inside having a meal.
A descendant of Captain deLancey was my boss for a number of years.  He and his wife are still our dear friends.
I found the following lengthy article on-line several years ago when I was researching the Rising family lineage.  Rufus Rising, the "prosperous farmer of Hague, NY" was my g-g-g-grandfather.

Ethan Allen

by Joseph Battell

Reprinted from American Morgan Horse Register, Volume I

Published in 1894

Ethan Allen, harness record 2:25 1/2, to pole with running mate 2: 15, champion of the world at four years, champion of the world to pole and champion trotting stallion of the world when his records were made, was a bright bay with star and a faint, irregular stripe a few inches long extending upwards from between the nostrils; full, flowing, black mane and tail; both hind feet and the right fore foot white to just above the pasterns. He stood a trifle less than fifteen hands and weighed about one thousand pounds. His body was long for his height, and his proportions very symmetrical; head handsome and carried high; ears delicate; neck fine, of good length and clean cut in the throttle; shoulders deep and oblique; back and loin strong, coupling excellent; hips long, and quarters powerfully muscled. He was foaled June 18th, 1849; bred by Joel W. Holcomb, Ticonderoga, New York; got by Black Hawk, son of Sherman Morgan: dam, a gray mare bred by John Field, Springfield, Vermont, got by Robin, or Red Robin, a horse owned by Moses G. Bates of Springfield, Vermont, pedigree unknown; second dam, dark brown, bred by Mr. Bemis of Baltimore, Vermont; a mare of Morgan build and appearance, said to be Morgan; third dam, a chestnut mare brought to Chester, Vermont, by Dr. Chandler of that place, from Tunbridge, Vermont, and said to be by Justin Morgan.
Ethan Allen was one of the best horses of any age or clime. As a colt he was family pet. "You couldn't get him by the window but that he would put his head in to get a piece of cake ", says Mrs. Holcomb. "Of all the horses that have been favorites with the American people, no one has ever approximated the popularity of Ethan Allen. His remarkable beauty, his wonderful speed, his perfect action, and, above all, his kind and gentle disposition, made him the admiration and the pet of everybody", writes Mr. Wallace (2 Wallace's Monthly, 456). "No one has ever raised a doubt as to his being the handsomest, finest-styled and most perfectly gaited trotter that has ever been produced", writes Mr. Parlin of the "American Cultivator". "Grand old horse! Others have beaten his time; a few others (and very few) have beaten his stud career, and other families have risen to greater popularity than his; but in all the course of trotting history no other stallion ever gained and held such wide-spread admiration from the people, or was ever so taken right to the public heart. What words can picture his grace of action, his perfect poise and animated glow! He carried the magic wand that commanded admiration. To see was to admire. They loved him for himself. Long after he shall have passed away, the brightest encomium that can be paid to the action of a trotting horse will be that he is gaited like old Ethan. That compasses all. It is the end of the law". (" Hark Cornstock" [Peter C. Kellogg ] in 1873.)

A half interest in Ethan Allen, when a colt, was sold to Orville S. Roe of Shoreham, Vermont, and during the earlier years of his life he was owned jointly by Holcomb and Roe. During these years he was kept for service mostly at Larrabee's Point, Shoreham, Vermont, and some seasons at Cambridge, Massachusetts; but he was used on the track, more or less, nearly or quite every season, trotting many races, the most of which he won. In 1862 he was sold to Frank Baker, who, after a time, sold him to Dan Mace and I. D. Walton. In 1866 he was purchased by J. E. Maynard of Boston, who sold him to Eph. Simmons, but afterwards bought him back, and again sold him, November 5th, 1868, to Wesley P. Balch of Boston, who in turn sold him to Col. H. S. Russell of Milton, Massachusetts. In 1866 and 1868 he was advertised to stand in Boston at one hundred dollars the season. In 1869 he was kept at Mystic Park, Medford, Massachusetts, at one hundred dollars the season, and in 1 870 at the same place at two hundred dollars the season. He was finally sold, October 17th, 1870, to Col. Amasa Sprague of Providence, Rhode Island, for seven thousand five hundred dollars. Col. Sprague kept him at Providence for a time and then sent him to the Sprague and Akers stock farm at Lawrence, Kansas, where he passed a serene old age in peace and comfort, and died on the 10th of September, 1876, in his twenty-eighth year. He was buried at the entrance of the trotting park, and there a suitable monument was erected to his memory. His skeleton was afterwards exhumed and now stands in the Museum of Natural History at Lawrence. Perhaps no other horse has ever done so much service both in the stud and on the track, the same seasons. It appears that all his trotters with fastest records, as well as all his most noted sires, were got during the period while he was kept at Shoreham. Born the same year as Rysdyk's Hambletonian, he sired up to 1872 a precisely equal number of 2:30 trotters; and it would appear not unlikely that had he staid upon the stock firm at Shoreham, as his great competitor did at Chester, and, like him, been used solely for stock purposes, he would now have to his credit as full a 2:30 list, and that many other such sires as Daniel Lambert, Holabird's Ethan Allen, DeLong's Ethan Allen, American Ethan, Bacon's Ethan Allen and Honest Allen, would have been left to fill the country with the finest race of roadsters and some of the fastest trotters known to the world.

All that was known of the origin of the dam of Ethan Allen prior to our investigations was that she was owned by Rufus Rising of Hague, New York, about 1835; that he said he got her in Vermont, and that she came from over the Green Mountains. After a long and expensive investigation we succeeded in tracing her to her breeder, and learning her entire history, which is this:

In the year 1834, Frederick A. Leland (until his death, in 1891, a substantial and reliable citizen of Middlebury, Vermont) was working for John Field, a farmer of Springfield, Windsor county, Vermont, and was present when Mr. Field bred his dark brown or black mare, known as the Burns mare, to the Moses G. Bates horse, Robin or Red Robin. This was frequently stated by Mr. Leland while living.

The produce, foaled in April, 1830, was a mouse-colored filly that became gray; Mr. Leland was the first to see the filly after she was foaled. Leland's time was out, and he went away the same April, and engaged in peddling, and returned to Mr. Field's when the filly was four years old, traded with Field for her and took her to a place he had in Sherburne, Vermont, where she was wintered the winter of 1834-5. In the spring following Mr. Leland took her over the mountain to Middlebury, put her in a new peddlar's wagon that he had made there, and drove her to Albany, New York, where he got a load of goods; drove from there to Fair Haven, Vermont, and there met I. C. Shaw, who was engaged with him in the business. Shaw took the gray mare and drove his route with her, which was along the lake, including, on the New York side, the towns of Hague, Schroon, etc. Leland, with another team, peddled on the Vermont side, and they came back and met at Whitehall, New York. Here the gray mare, a nervous animal, got frightened and ran away, doing no damage, but convincing Leland that she was not steady enough for that business. She was afraid of the bearskin that was used over the withers, so that it could not be used with her, and she was frightened whenever goods were taken from the cart. Thereupon Leland directed Shaw to sell or trade the mare; soon afterward he heard from Shaw that he had a customer for the mare, and a meeting was arranged at Apollos Austin's in Orwell. Leland went there, and the customer was introduced by Shaw as Rufus Rising of Hague; the mare was there traded to Rising for a gray gelding, and Rising took her away. This was early in July, 1835. The next year Mr. Rising was in Middlebury with the mare; Mr. Leland met him there and went to the stable of the Middlebury House and saw the mare. Leland was acquainted with J. W. Holcomb, and, in 1848, saw Holcomb with the gray mare at David Hill's, and saw the mare bred to Black Hawk. It had been talked over several times between Leland and Holcomb that he had the gray mare that Leland traded to Rising.

The above is the substance of Mr. Leland's statements as taken in his lifetime. It is remarkably corroborated in all its essential points by a large amount of evidence concerning the mare that we had gathered previous to meeting Mr. Leland.

Rufus Rising, a well-to-do farmer of Hague, took the mare home and kept her one or two years, and bred a colt from her; and then, at the place of Curtis Baleore in Hague (who also testifies to the fact), he sold her to George Johnson of Hague. Johnson kept her till the fall of 1838, when he sold her to Warner Cook of Hague for sixty-five dollars. George Johnson's brother, Hoyt Johnson, with whom we have talked, knew this mare from the time she was brought into Hague to the time of her death. The delivery from George Johnson to Warner Cook was made in the presence of Hoyt Johnson and his wife, Rebecca, and they both recollect it perfectly, and fix the date by the birth of one of their children that was born two or three months before. Mr. Cook, who was a man weighing two hundred pounds, used to ride the mare that fall, and Gustavus Wicker of Ticonderoga, who had a little trial of speed with him, says the mare would trot close to a three-minute gait with Cook on her back. The next season, Warner Cook, who lived near Lake George, sent the mare down to his son William H., who owned the present Rev. Joseph Cook place in Ticonderoga, and he used her until he sold his farm and moved back to his father's place to take charge of the old gentleman's affairs, in October, 1840, taking the mare with him. These facts are attested by Mrs. W. H. Cook, who is still living; by the record of the deed of the farm, and also by other witnesses. The mare was put to heavy work on a team and got a spavin, probably the next winter. She was put to breeding and produced in 1842, 1843 and 1844 three valuable colts by Young Sir Charles (Burge Horse), and was sold by William H. Cook, in the summer of 1844, to George Weed of Ticonderoga, with her last foal by her side, for fifty dollars, which was paid in boating. Weed kept her till fall, and swapped her to J. W. Holcomb. In 1845 she produced a bay filly by Young Sir Charles; in 1846, the black mare, Black Hawk Maid 2:37, by Black Hawk; in 1847, Red Leg (a gray colt with a red leg), a fast trotter, by Black Hawk; in 1848, a chestnut filly that died at three years, by Wicker's Sir Walter; in 1849, the bay colt Ethan Allen by Black Hawk; in 1850, missed to Black Hawk, having produced for eight consecutive years; and in 1851, died in foal to Black Hawk.

The following descriptions of this remarkable mare are given in the language of the persons named:

Hoyt Johnson, who knew her first when Rising had her, describes her at that time (1835) as "a small, low, thick-built mare, kind and good to work. She had good full mane and tail; was iron gray when I first knew her. She was a handsome mare, handsome made, round all over; good roadster; long hips; square behind; smooth, handsome limbs; not very long neck ".

Justus B. Rising of- Ticonderoga, a nephew of Rufus, who knew the mare at the same time and used to see her in his uncle's pasture (1837) with a colt by her side, says: "She was not a big mare; probably in good condition, ten hundred pounds. She was a regular jumper; couldn't keep her anywhere. She was a good-bodied mare, chunked; that is, there was a good deal of her; about medium height, good head and neck; a good traveler, never knew of her being fast, but active. She had good mane, and tail nearly down to the ground"

Azro M. Bailey, late of Ticonderoga, who long kept a livery stable, was a keen judge of a horse, and knew the mare from the time Warner Cook got her (1838), said: "She was not very large; would weigh nine hundred and fifty pounds in good flesh; pretty long body; pretty long, slim neck; carried her head up well. She was a screamer on the road. I once drove her to Weybridge, Vermont, by the side of a chestnut mare. I never drove a better team. I think this was in 1842. She was sound. She was full fifteen hands; pretty good chest; pretty broad; shoulder good; hind leg rather crooked; you would call her a little leggy. She had a very good back; long hip; legs rather fine, not heavy. She had a splendid ear, slim, thin, pretty good length, stuck them right up; handsome mane and tail, good length, but not what you would call heavy or bushy; long slim head, wide between the eyes; not a Roman nose, a mare-faced head, a little inclined to be dishing; a first-rate eye, large and bold-looking, a mare of great intelligence. She was as fine a roader as you ever sat behind; ambitious, full of vim all day long". Mrs. W. H. Cook describes her as a very spirited animal when they first had her, and so much afraid of a buffalo robe that it was difficult to drive her with one in the carriage. Mrs. Cook frequently drove the mare when her husband had her.

Rev. Joseph Cook, who is a son of William H. Cook, says: "She had a long hip, fine limbs, rather long neck, and was very graceful. She was neither slim nor stout; she was very docile and intelligent, rather nervous. She had the graceful shape of a high-blooded horse; she had the look of an aristocrat."

Concerning the origin of this Moses Bates horse, Robin or Red Robin, sire of the dam of Ethan Allen, the most searching investigation leaves us in doubt. Mr. F. A. Leland draws his picture thus: "Red Robin was as handsome a bay horse as ever you saw; a playful horse, supple as a fox; as handsome as Ethan Allen, who looked like him." Mr. A. Litchfield of Springfield, Vermont, who knew Robin well, says he was a round- made, nice, pretty, bay horse, not a large horse; would not weigh over ten hundred pounds, a beautiful horse; a nice traveler and a trotter. He was also a good draft horse, and they used to drive him on a team to Boston. He was about the size of Gifford Morgan; had a longer hip; a very pretty horse, with mane and tail about as near right as could be. Mr. Bates gave the horse to his son-in-law, James A. Grimes, who lived on the Field farm in Springfield. Mr. Litchfield has an impression that Robin came from the Gills. The Gills and the Bates were related. Thinks he may have been by a Gill horse.

Mr. Parker of Springfield, Vermont, born in 1811, says: "Robin was a Morgan-built horse, about fifteen hands; thick set; he had the go in him. If it had been the trotting days, he would have been a sporting horse; he went right to the ground, and carried his feet behind outside of his forward ones. My father raised a colt from him, that did wonders down country. Sold at a high price and became a trotter ". Mr. Parker thinks Moses Bates or the Gills raised Robin.

Mrs. Gill of Springfield, over ninety years old, remembered that previous to 1819 her husband's father, Amos Gill of Springfield, had two red horses, one, she thinks, a son of the other.

Mr. Howe of Springfield, an old gentleman, thinks Amos Gill had a stallion before he had Black Prince. He says that Robin was a full-grown horse, owned by Moses Bates, in 1820.

Abiaer Bisbee of Springfield, Vermont, says: "I think Moses Bates raised Robin, a small bay horse. When I first knew him, the horse was perhaps two years old. I was a boy then, ten or twelve. I was born in 1806. Mr. Bates kept him a number of years and used him as a stock horse. I should call him about nine or ten hundred pounds; a very pretty horse, not very thick set, not very slim; just about as good-shaped a horse as you could make him, and a good traveler ".

David Lockwood, Springfield, Vermont, says: "I went to live with Moses Bates when I was eleven years old; I was born March 7th, 1816. I lived with James A. Grimes, Moses Bates' son-in-law, the fall I was fourteen; Mr. Grimes had Robin in his possession the summer before. That winter after I was fourteen, 1830-31, Robin went to Shipton, Canada. Robin was about my age. He was a dark red, smooth and handsome as a dollar, about ten hundred pounds. He wasn't a tall horse, a good fair-sized horse, and a good-built horse. I am pretty sure Mr. Bates raised him from a colt and presume he was his when foaled. Have heard him tell of his running at the stack and getting the straw on him when he was a colt. Always called him old Robin. I should think he was of Morgan descent. He was a Morgan-shaped horse anyway".

George W. Morrison of Rockingham, Vermont, writes: "I knew very well the Robin horse, but cannot tell you much about him. Charles Sherwin of Weathersfield had a pair got by Robin that he sold to Parker of Ludlow for about four hundred dollars. Parker sold those horses to go South, for sixteen hundred dollars; a fine pair."

E. W. Bisbee of Moretown, Vermont, born at Springfield, Vermont, a gentleman of high character and intelligence, in a letter written us November 29th, 1891, thus describes Red Robin: "He was a good-looking horse, and a good-feeling one when in condition; a bright bay color, heavy black mane and tail, white hind feet and a star; long-bodied, and heavy, flat limbs; foaled 1816; weight, about ten hundred pounds, and fourteen and one-half hands high; a little sway-backed, but not so much as old Sherman. Is not that a good description of an old-time Morgan horse? It is correct. I find by the books that old Justin was owned, about that time, by Joel Goss of Claremont, New Hampshire, only about three or four miles from the Bates place. I give the age of the horse on the statement of Mr. Bates that the horse in 1830 was fourteen years old".

Mr. Bisbee, on another occasion, wrote: "I have investigated the matter, and come to the honest conclusion that he [Red Robin] was a son of old Justin Morgan". Mr. Bisbee writes again, November 22nd, 1892: "I knew Red Robin well from 1825 to 1830. Saw him often, and have a vivid impression at this distant day of how he looked and appeared. I am strong in the belief that he was of Morgan blood, foaled about the year 1816 and sired by the celebrated old Justin Morgan horse ".

We have given the substance of all the evidence which we have been able to get relative to the history of Red Robin. It is probable that he was foaled in 1816, and that he came into the hands of Moses Bates before 1820. Possibly Moses Bates bred him. It is more probable that Amos Gill was the breeder. At best, his breeder and breeding are purely matter of conjecture; but the opinion of Mr. Bisbee, who knew him well, that he was by the Justin Morgan, is very probably correct. It certainly is sustained by the character and appearance of the horse, and by the fact that the original Morgan horse stood near where he was begotten, and not improbably included in his circuit the town of Springfield itself, in 1815, the year that Robin is supposed to have been bred.

Ethan Allen was capable of great bursts of speed. Darius Tallman, the eminent New York horseman, says: "He could outspeed at the score even Flora Temple herself ."

Gen. U. S. Grant, when making his tour, in 1874, after enjoying a ride behind Ethan Allen, commissioned Mr. Akers to buy two brood mares and breed them to him.

One of the most graphic sketches of Ethan Allen ever written was by John H. Wallace, then editor of the "American Trotting Register ", and published in "Wallace's Monthly" of April, 1877. The parts of the article describing the horse and his most famous victory are here given entire:

"On the 21st of June, 1867, on the Fashion course, it was my good fortune to witness the crowning event of his life. Some three weeks before, Ethan, with a running mate, had beaten Brown George and running mate in very fast time, scoring one heat in 2:19. This made horsemen open their eyes, and there at once arose a difference of opinion about the advantage to the trotter of having a runner hitched with him, to pull the weight. This resulted in a match for twenty-five hundred dollars a side, to trot Ethan and running mate against Dexter, who was then considered invincible. As the day approached, the betting was about even; but the evening before the race, word came from the course that Ethan's running mate had fallen lame, and could not go, but they would try to get Brown George's running mate, then in Connecticut, to take the place of the lame runner. As the horses were strangers to each other, it was justly concluded the change gave Dexter a great advantage, and the betting at once changed from even to two to one on Dexter. Long before noon the crowd began to assemble, and sporting men everywhere were shaking rolls of greenbacks over their heads, shouting, 'Two to one on Dexter'. I met a friend from Chicago, who sometimes speculates a little, and when he told me he was betting 'two to one on Dexter', I took the liberty of advising him to be cautious, for I thought the team would win the race, and that its backers knew what they were doing. Before the hour arrived, I secured a seat on the ladies' stand, from which every foot of the course and the countless multitude of people could be taken in at a glance. The vehicles were simply incalculable, and the people were like a vast sea. The multitude was esti mated at forty thousand!

"Upon the arrival of the hour, the judges ascended the stand, and rang up the horses, when the backers of the team came forward, explained the mishap that had befallen the runner, that they had Brown George's mate on the ground, but, as he and Ethan had never been hitched together, they were unwilling to risk so large a sum, and closed the race by paying one thousand two hundred and fifty dollars forfeit. When this announcement was made, there was a general murmur that spread, step by step, through all the vast multitude. The betting fraternity were just where they started, and every spectator realized a feeling of disgust at the whole management. As soon as this had had time to exert its intended effect upon the crowd, the backers of the team came forward again, and, expressing their unwillingness to have the people go away dissatisfied, proposed a little match of two hundred and fifty dollars a side, which was promptly accepted by the Dexter party; and when it was known that there would be a race after all, the shout of the multitude was like the voice of many waters. This being a new race, the betting men had to commence again. The surroundings of the pool stands were packed with an eager and excited crowd, anxious to get on their money at two, and, rather than miss, at three to one on Dexter. The work of the auctioneers was 'short, sharp, and decisive', and the tickets were away up in the hundreds, and oftentimes in the thousands. But the pool stands did not seem to accommodate more than a small fraction of those anxious to invest, and in all directions, in the surging crowd, hands were in the air, filled with rolls of greenbacks, and shouting, 'two to one on Dexter'! I was curious to note what became of these noisy offers, and I soon observed that a quiet-looking man came along, took all one party had to invest, and then quietly went to another of the shouters, and then another, and so on, till I think every one who had money to invest at that rate was accommodated. The amount of money bet was enormous, no doubt aggregating a quarter of a million in a few minutes.

"When the horses appeared upon the track to warm up for the race, Dexter, driven by the accomplished reinsman, Budd Doble, was greeted with a shout of applause. Soon the team appeared, and behind it sat the great master of trotting tactics, Dan Mace. His face, which has so often been a puzzle to thousands, had no mask over it on this occasion. It spoke only that intense earnestness that indicates the near approach of a supreme moment. The team was hitched to a light skeleton wagon; Ethan wore breeching, and beside him was a great, strong race-horse, fit to run for a man's life. His traces were long enough to fully extend himself, but they were so much shorter than Ethan's that he had to take the weight. Dexter drew the inside, and on the first trial they got the 'send-off', without either one having six inches the advantage. When they got the word, the flight of speed was absolutely terrific, so far beyond anything I had ever witnessed in a trotting horse that I felt the hair rising on my head. The running horse was next to me, and, notwithstanding my elevation, Ethan was stretched out so near the ground that I could see nothing of him but his ears. I fully believe that for several rods at this point they were going at a two-minute gait.

"It was impossible that this terrible pace could be maintained long, and just before reaching the first turn, Dexter's head began to swim, and the team passed him, and took the track, reaching the first quarter pole in thirty-two seconds, with Dexter three or four lengths behind. The same lightning speed was kept up through the second quarter, reaching the half-mile pole in 1:04, with Dexter still farther in the rear. Mace then took a pull on his team, and came home a winner by six or eight lengths, in 2:15. When this time was put on the blackboard, the response of the multitude was like the roar of old ocean. Although some distance away, through the second quarter of this heat, I had a fair, unobstructed side-view of the stallion and of his action, when going at the lightning rate of 2:08 to the mile. I could not observe that he received the slightest degree of propulsion from the running horse; and my conviction was then, and is now, that any such propulsion would have interfered with his own unapproachable action, and would have retarded, rather than helped him. The most noticeable feature in his style of movement was the remarkable lowness to which he dropped his body, and the straight gliding line it maintained at that elevation.

"The team now had the inside, and in the first attempt they were started for the second heat, but they did not appear to me to be going as fast as the first heat. Before they had gone many rods Ethan lost his stride, and Dexter took the track at the very spot where he had lost it in the first heat. The team soon got to work, and, near the beginning of the second quarter, collared Dexter, but the stallion broke soon after, and fell back, not yards nor lengths, but rods, before he caught. Incredible as it may seem, when he again got his feet he put on such a burst of speed as to overhaul the flying Dexter in the third quarter, when he broke again, and Mace had to pull him nearly to a standstill before he recovered. Dexter was now a full distance ahead, and the heat appeared to be his beyond all peradventure. I was watching the team in its troubles very closely, and my idea of the distance lost was the result of a deliberate and careful estimate at the moment; and the query in my mind then was, whether the team could save its distance. At last the old horse struck his gait, and it was like a dart from a catapult, or a ball from a rifle. The team not only saved its distance, but beat Dexter home, five or six lengths, in 2:16.
"In the third heat Mace had it all his own way throughout, coming home the winner of the race in 2:19. The backers of Dexter, up to the very last, placed great reliance on his well-known staying qualities; but the last heat showed that the terrible struggle had told upon him more distressingly than on the team. It is said by those who timed Dexter privately that he trotted the three heats in 2:17, 2:18, 2:21.

"If ever there was an honest race trotted, this was one, but there was such a specimen of sharp diplomacy, of ' diamond cut diamond ', in the preliminaries, as is seldom witnessed, even on a race course. It is not probable that Ethan's intended running mate fell amiss at all, the evening before, as represented; and if she did, it was not possible to send to Connecticut for another horse, and have him there early the morning of the race, as was pretended. This was a mere ruse put out to get the advantage of the long odds. The backers of the team knew just how the horses would work and knew they had speed enough to beat any horse on earth. When the race was called, and they came forward and paid forfeit, it was merely to give the 'two-to-one-on-Dexter' money encouragement to come out. It did come out most vociferously, and was all quietly taken. It was said John Morrissey was the manager-in-chief, and that his share of the winnings amounted to about forty thousand dollars.

"After witnessing the second heat, and studying it carefully, I am firmly of the opinion the team could have gone the first heat in 2:12 if it had been necessary."

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

We Are Slogging On

Yesterday just before noon our Mexican friend, Nuco pulled in driving his new truck. For a number of years he worked for J. doing both carpentry and mechanical work. Like many men he was lured by the wages for working in the oil fields and has spent the last several years working in Sheridan, WY which is about 3 hours away.  [Every place in Wyoming is about 3 hours from everywhere else.]
He doesn't always return to Lander on his week off and it had been several months since we had seen him. We were concerned that with the haste to be off house hunting we wouldn't see him.
Just about the time that we remark his long absence he arrives.
He seemed not at all astonished to learn we had sold the house and were venturing off on a retirement caper.
He immediately insisted that we get in the truck and he would drive us to town to eat at the Mexican restaurant El Sol.
Kind man that he is, he spent the afternoon after lunch helping J. to move tools and equipment out of the garage and down to the old barn where it will have to remain until we come back from our house search.
While the men labored outside I continued to empty closets and kitchen cupboards, filling box after box.
Today, daughter G. had a dental appointment so was off work.  She appeared and began directing the sorting and cleaning of the kitchen, telling me, of course, that I have "too much stuff."  Grandson D. is off school early on Wednesdays so he was also recruited to help.
G. has taken my plants to her house to care for while we are away.  D. and J. hauled out boxes, removed all but a few sticks of furniture into the van.  G. found a home with one of her work mates for the sewing cabinet I don't want to move.
The excess of clothing, shoes, oddments, canned goods and such have been laboriously stashed in the cabin where we and the cats are climbing over them.
The cats!  A stray cat wandered onto the porch at 4 A.M. and several of our resident vigilantes went into siren mode---singing cat war songs up and down the scale.  J. lept from bed, his big flashlight already in hand and shone it out the door onto the big tiger tom who was now sitting in the drive. 
I stayed out in the living area, trying to calm the cats while J. went back to bed.  Finally, convinced that the felines were "over" the intrusion, I crept back to bed.  I had just gotten warm and sleepy when the outcry came again with even more of the cat tribe adding their voices.
Resignedly, I got up, put on the coffee.
It has been a long day!
I got all the kitchen cabinetry wiped down inside and out--a big job.  Now merely [!] to sort the odds and ends, clean the floors and we'll be ready for the closing early on Friday morning.
I have to pack a suitcase, make sure I have reading material sufficient for the journey.
I must remember to read the electric meters, have the phone cancelled.
I think I must keep my "eye on the prize."
I have a post or two scheduled to share later.
I expect to suffer bloggers' withdrawal.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Uncle Bill

William Edward Lewis as a toddler, circa 1916.
He was named for both his grandfathers: William Lewis who died shortly before his birth and for his maternal grandfather Edward [Eddie] Ross.
A handsome little boy, dressed for a visit to relatives in Hague, NY.
He was very ill as a child, probably spinal meningitis.  His mother, herself unwell by that time, fretted over his frailty.  My mother said of him later that he had inherited the "Davis strain" of reclusive tendancies.

Uncle Bill, July, 1954, standing with the farmhouse in the background.

We always knew my uncle was a little odd.  After all, he talked to himself, a sure enough sign, muttering on, arguing with some unseen companion as he shook out dusters, swabbed the kitchen floor, carried out ashes. On occasion he would suddenly, perhaps thinking himself alone, sing at the top of his tenor voice [the Ross tenor] his versions of arias from Strauss and or Handel.

The door to his room was usually closed upon his treasures: books and curios, stacks of National Geographics.  We didn't go in there unless, rarely, we were invited.  Then we touched with care, stroking the bearskin laprug with tentative fingers, tracing the convolutions of the shells on the dresser.

As he aged his eccentricities deepened. His hoard finally overflowed his bedroom.  How he came to have some of these things we didn't know.  Perhaps he went through the home he tended salvaging an overlooked tidbit here, rescuing some endangered object there. His dark colored jerseys frayed at neck and wrists, the faded Carhatt work pants sported tipsy patches anchored with white yarn. Still yearly in the spring, he aired his good clothes.  Handsome tweed jackets, worsted trousers, jiggled briefly on the lines in the drying yard before, pockets plumped with mothballs, they were rushed back to hang in dark closets redolent of cedar and camphor.  He owned a raccoon coat, full length.  It had obviously been fashioned for a far bigger man, one with both height and breadth.  Where he acquired this impressive garment he never said.

Once we actually saw him wear it on a cold winter evening, undertaking a short outing with a friend.  He appeared in the front hallway, already enveloped in fur nearly to his heels, his meager neck swathed in a heavy silk muffler, smoothing leather gloves over his lean, small hands.  Even then I sensed that though he should have seemed at least faintly ridiculous in his finery, something about his dignity was immense and unbreachable.

He had once learned to drive, but never got a license, and would sometimes regally commandeer the services of my mother or the hired man or a neighbor to convey him to the dentist or the optometrist or even to the barbershop.  He carried cash or a check signed by my grandfather.  When he made a purchase he offered no explanation, but asked the shop clerk to make out the check [a foible which immensely irritated my mother!]
He never married, though sometimes in a mellow mood he would speak of a woman he once admired.  His social contacts were limited to the visits from relatives, at which times he brought out white table cloths stiffly pressed, aired fine wool blankets for the guest beds.

Once a year, on Palm Sunday, magnificently arrayed in tweeds and starched white shirt he rode to church with us to stand at the choir loft rail and sing the solo verses of "The Palms."

Over the decades he took on various household duties, presiding over the old Maytag wringer washer every Monday, filling the kitchen with the sharply clean odor of bleach and Oxydol soap powder, followed on Tuesday by the scent of crisply pressed linens which he ironed with a "mangle."  He picked currants from the ancient bushes at the bottom of the garden, put up jars of jelly sealed with paraffin caps. He beat up gallons of sourdough for endless morning pancakes, perked strong coffee in a shining dented pot.  He made light yeast rolls and abominable macaroni and cheese.

He tended his flock of hens, his grey and white Toulouse geese.  He fussed over the peonies and his dahlias.  In summer he cut the grass with the old reel mower, muttering and singing as he clattered back and forth across the lawn.  He scoured the milk dishes, clanging about with brushes and disinfectants, his songs echoing eerily in the small dim space of the milk house.  He met the bread truck in the dooryard twice a week, choosing bread, cupcakes for us children, donuts for the breakfast table.  He ate by choice alone at the pulled out shelf of the Hoosier cabinet, bowls of cereal mushy with milk, crackers, endless cups of coffee, canned soup.

When we children were small and always under foot, he bandaged bruised knees, extracted splinters, applied iodine vigorously to our wounds.  If we quarreled or "talked back" he threatened our bottoms with a wooden clothes brush or suggested that we might have to go home [next door] until we could behave.  When we came in cold from winter sledding he bundled us onto kitchen chairs, draped us in wool blankets and propped our nearly lifeless feet on the open oven door of the black range.  He taught us to play Rummey.

When I had learned to play the piano reasonably well he appeared with a stack of old sheet music and several well worn hymnbooks which had belonged to his mother, my grandmother who had died when her children were young. Sometimes as I labored at some piece popular years ago he would come to stand at my elbow and sing a verse in that ringing tenor which was now sharpening with age.

He survived my grandfather's death by only two or three years, reveling in his lonesome occupation of the big old house he had tended for so much of his life.  He phoned us at odd hours demanding brusquely that we turn off our radios; he phoned the local banker asking for the balance on accounts which didn't exist.  He was fine, he insisted, needing nothing from any of us except a ride into town for groceries.  Asserting himself at last he ordered partitions torn down in the farmhouse, doorways boarded shut.

My sister found him on the floor one summer morning when she made her daily visit.  The autopsy confirmed Alzheimers disease and suggested that he had at some time in his twenties or thirties suffered a stroke.  We buried him in the family plot in final white-shirted dignity.

When we opened his bedroom door a few days after his passing, we found that part of the floor had sunk with the weight of his assorted treasures.  We delved through trunks and boxes, bringing to light bedding--woolen blankets preserved in moth balls, a pristine crazy quilt of silk and velvet, china, old pictures in ornate frames.  Tucked in the corner of one trunk were the long-missing letters sent home from the first World War by my great uncle.  We turned the crisp, yellowed pages with reverent fingers reading this long ago chronicle of a life cut off by the Second Battle of the Marne.

We sorted and listed for days; an antique dealer arrived.  We parceled, bundled, saved and discarded, sometimes marveling, sometimes fuming.  The house was sold, remodeled.  Then one windy March day it burned to the ground.

Memories survive like the red peonies on the front lawn.  Memories of a small man who clattered and cleaned with mops and buckets, bleach and Oxydol; who killed snakes by the stone wall, who came back from his rambles into the pasture with blackberries in a pail. The memories linger of a man who once a year donned  his best to sing at church, who cherished his mother's music and his uncle's wartime letters.
He was, my mother said, a "blighted being."

He was a man who cleaned up after cats and children, kept a supply of cupcakes in the pantry; a man who read his books late at night in the stillness of my grandfather's house.

Sharon D. Whitehurst
Wentworth, New Hampshire
Writer's Retreat

Monday, February 22, 2010

Staying in the Cabin

J. and Raisin his cat, huddle rather morosely on the futon this morning after a poor night's sleep. 
Teasel took the move to the cabin quite badly.  She has never lived anywhere but in the main house with us.  She, along with Chester, Jemima  and Mrs. Beasley, fled to the bedroom when the men began to carry out furniture on Sunday afternoon.   They soon advanced to dismantle our huge lodge-pole pine bed frame, which left the cats feeling defenseless.  They dashed in here in a panic and flung themselves through the open closet door.
Daughter G. prudently shut them in.  I plopped Charlie and Maisie into the big cat carrier as they were all too interested in getting under the big clumping feet of the menfolk.
The carrier was then too heavy for me to lug, so grandson D. took them to the cabin and unceremoniously decanted them.
Eggnog is so upset by cat carriers that I simply scooped her up and headed out the front door carrying her.
J. took his precious Raisin down at my request, then G. and I dealt with the closet cats.  Jemima was burrowed in a blanket which remained on the closet shelf, Chester, Mrs. B. and Teasel were in a hot trembling pile behind a box on the floor.  G. insisted that she was going to carry Teasel, while I carted the weighty Mrs. B.  [Teasel detests G. who loves to stalk her, but she was so traumatized that she barely twitched a muscle.]  We got all the cats transferred to the cabin without incident.
When I went down a few hours later, the three older girls were obviously remembering that they had lived there before.  Charlie and Maisie spent several weeks there when I was fostering them for Pet Connection.  If you picture Onslow of "Keeping Up Appearances" you have a profile of Charlie.  I could just imagine him strutting about demanding that someone produce a snack and see him comfortable in his new space.

Teasel and the "kittens" didn't put in an appearance until we went down for the night and collapsed with our respective books on the futon.  The rooms were rather chilly, so I put my boots back on and crunched up through the snow to find some fleece throws which had escaped the packing frenzy.
I also fetched the ratty rug which the cats love [and which they scratch!] and a handful of dried catnip. 
After a snort or two of catnip and a wallow on the rug, feline nerves were somewhat restored.  The cats alternately piled on our laps for reassurance and got up to explore their new abode.

It was not, sad to say, a restful night.  A double bed is no fit size for two adults and 8 cats.  The cabin's little bedroom didn't feel familiar any more. The traffic on the road below was more audible than at the main house.
J. has just gone down for the night with the wistful remark that he hoped our fellow boarders would feel more settled tonight.  I expect that is a vain hope.

It is cold and bright.  It was below zero F. last night and early this morning, so cold that the snow squeaks underfoot. When I plunged off the porch yesterday with Eggnog in my arms the snow was up to my knees and somewhat over my boots.  A good many trudges back and forth created this narrow slippery path.
You can see my meandering trail through the drifts and around the side of the cabin to the steps.
Standing at the end of the porch [shivering] I zoomed in on Pebbles having her breakfast hay.

The packing goes on.  I hoped to have the entire kitchen finished and ready to clean, but there are still oddments to be stuffed in cartons. Why on earth do we need so many skillets, kettles, mugs, ranks of glass canisters and stacks of baking dishes and casseroles of every description?
A rhetorical question, no doubt.

I am reading my favorite blogs in harried snatches, without much time to leave comments.  I do appreciate the comments left here, and during my time without internet will feel that I am absent from true friends, just as much as I will be missing those friends who are part of my physical home.
J.'s laptop is going for service on Wednesday and on Thursday, our last day in the house, mine will go to our tech man's shop to be cleaned and upgraded while we are away.
Hopefully we will stay at motels with internet access along the house-seeking journey.
I'm still hoping to snatch time to create some posts which can be scheduled for a later day.
Just so you don't forget me!

The Foolishness of Men

J., son-in-law M. and his friend, T. with grandson D. in tow have been loading the heaviest of our furniture into the van.  Some transaction required a trip around to the old barn, and J. decided to check out the worthiness of his new snow tires.
I was first aware of this adventure when I glanced across the pasture as I was trudging to the cabin with an armload of clothing. It seemed like a good photo op.

J. and T. discuss just how stuck the car is.

M. sits at the wheel.

It has been discovered that a computerized system on the complicated innards of the 08 Toyota Rav 4 causes it to go to a low idle when the wheels begin to spin.  J. is quite disgusted by this.  He says had the car not dropped to an idle it would have gone through the snow.
When I asked him why on earth this manuever needed to be attempted, he glared beligerantly and said he "wanted to see if it would go!"
Two weeks ago as we drove home from church J. spied D. and his friend G. in the snow outside the barn.  A closer look revealed that the boys had J.'s new-last-summer riding lawn mower out in the snow and had it stuck.  He drove around to the house and went stumping across the pasture to inform the boys that the lawn mower wasn't meant to go in snow and the undercarriage would be damaged.
Reminded of this I said, "So this sort of experimentation is a genetic defect?"
"Not at all the same", replied J. indignantly, "The car is meant to go in snow, the lawn mower isn't."
After some digging with a snow shovel, some pushing and heaving, the car was turned around, trundled back through its tracks to return to the house by way of the road.
I can only call this sort of thing a testosterone-fueled showing off!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Icicles and Snow

It has snowed a good deal of the time since Wednesday evening. 
Today brought blue skies and sunshine and the end [for  now] of white flakes piling up.

Fantastic icicles have formed all around the eaves of the house and garage, almost worthy of that scene in Dr. Zhivago.
Another shot of the ice fringe from inside the bedroom window.  In the background is the van J. is loading with our motley goods.
As the sun warmed the icicles they began to drip with audible plops into the snowbank beneath.  Raisin the Cat observes.
Grandson D. broke off a magnificent ice specimen and brought it inside for me to admire.
D. is 6 ft tall and figures the icicle measures about 4 ft.
Behind him, free of charge, is a view of the disheveled great room.
In the midst of uproar and clutter the last bowl of paperwhites blooms in fragrant and snowy loveliness.

The Guest Cabin

The guest cabin is only yards from the main house. A short trek from the end of the front porch, across the yard and around the corner of the building,,under some small trees and there are the steep steps to the snug little building.  Its a longer way round to go out through the garage and down the gravel drive that borders the pond.
The cabin is built on the foundations of an earlier building which we dismantled when we bought the property in the spring of 2006.
We salvaged the vintage metal sink cabinet and a tall metal cupboard which sits to the right. I scrubbed both units and used a white enamel spray paint to freshen them. Although we chose to have the cabin very simple as a temporary residence while we built the main house, it could be gussied up with modern cabinetry and a fancier floor covering.  It could also be used as a home office or [lovely thought] a "studio."
The cabin has a main room with the kitchen and living area, a small bedroom and a tiny bath with shower.
A friend of ours owned the property in the 1950's when the old house here was fit for family quarters.  In the old barn we found several photo albums from the time of the next owners.  The acreage became the repository of items saved by a man who owned a salvage business. 
I first saw the property after a week in bed with flu, during which time J. learned it was for sale.  It was a daunting sight: I sat shivering in the truck gazing at rows of rusting appliances, old cars, upended bathtubs, a barn, sheds and two "bunkhouses" all tipsy and toppling. The roof of the old house had leaked in places, and we picked our way in through piles of sodden abandoned household plunder, hoping that the floor wouldn't give way beneath our feet.
J. was not intimidated by the scope of the clean up needed before the land could be sub-divided  and turned into the site of attractive log homes.  He and his crew worked at the clearing up for nearly two months. A scrap metal dealer came  to haul away old vehicles and the assortment of stoves, ancient washing machines and rusted bedsprings.  There was a huge pit on the property into which J. bulldozed burnable scraps, including the weathered remains of several tumbledown buildings.
Two elderly men stopped by to recall when the property had been decently kept during their boyhood years.  Several neighbors expressed pleasure that a long-standing eye-sore was being tidied.
With the worst of the mess cleared, and having sold ourselves out of two houses in two months, we moved over in a 5th wheel camper in the first snowy days of April, 2006.  In less than two weeks it became clear that the camper was going to be very claustrophobic during the several months it would take to build a house.  J. had the bright idea that we could build a small, simple cabin on the now bare spot where the original house had been. By early May the cabin was up and liveable. 

The cats delighted in the large beams which formed the supports for the roof.  They soon learned they could leap from the sink to a shelf and from the shelf onto the main beam.  It became a feline game to walk the beams, especially at night when part of the fun was to leap heavily from the beams onto our sleeping forms.  Raisin carried the process one step farther and would suddenly appear over the bathroom partition when I was in the shower.
Our daughter and her family took over the cabin, squeezing a family of four into the small confines while we built their house on an adjoining lot. 
The cabin has provided comfortable quarters for visiting friends and family.  Twice it has been rented.
Our buyers have graciously agreed that we may use it until we have purchased a place in Kentucky.  This will provide a cozy and safe place for the cats while we are away and a temporary habitation during the few weeks before a closing will be possible in Kentucky.
It will seem that we have come full circle.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Muddle of Moving

I have been trying to avoid the nostalgia of "I"m doing this for the last time here," yet it seems inevitable.  The last batch of bread baked in my beautiful kitchen.
I seem to have been sorting and packing for weeks now, yet no one room is cleared.  Empty boxes are stacked in the living room with more in reserve in the garage.  Charlie and his tribe are enamoured of the boxes and crash in and out of them, playing hide and seek.
J. is nearly done with the renovation of the attic into an extra bedroom and bath. The bedroom is finished, an appealing space, rustic in nature, a quiet little retreat--which we will not get to enjoy.  He painted the bathroom this evening and has the floor to finish while our son-in-law, the plumber, finishes installing the fixtures.
Raisin, who has a rather neurotic nature, has decided in the midst of the muddle that she needs more attention.  Eggnog and Mrs. Beasley tend to stay out of the way, Eggnog in the comparative peace of the master bedroom, Mrs. B. under the bed.
Teasel is distressed by the confusion of the house.  She is Head Cat in Training [Raisin has held the dominant position for many years] and has to keep track of what goes on in her domain. She appears suddenly to twine about my ankles if I sit down, patrols anxiously and has rather more to say than usual.
Our quilt group is making a quilt to donate to a Habitat for Humanity house in town.  The woman who suggested the project chose blue and cream for the colors and star-themed blocks which we can make in 3-6-9 or 12 inch blocks. I discovered these scraps of dark blue and cream prints lurking on my sewing desk, although my fabric collection and all my quilting tools were among the first belongings I packed.
I took my scraps to the quilt shop and enjoyed the company there while I cut these pieces, then spent a pleasant evening hour making the blocks.  I could almost imagine that it was a "normal" past time--that is until I looked around at the curtainless windows, empty bookshelves, and the stark disorder of the room.  Hopefully I will see an e-mailed photo of the finished quilt some weeks from now.
It began to snow [again!] on Wednesday night and has continued at intervals--heavy wet stuff that clings to the roof and the trees.  The roads were horrid on Thursday morning when we had errands in town early and I had a mid-morning appointment to keep.  The ABS brakes on our Toyota Rav 4 are very touchy and I don't enjoy driving it in snow.  I was content to be delivered to my appointment and retrieved by the professional driver of the household.
I followed J. into town Friday morning on slightly better roads.  "Snort'n Nort'n" the 92 Dodge, went for a new windowshield and I puttered along behind in the red Dodge to pick up J. at the glass shop.

I very laboriously scrubbed all the kitchen dining area tile floor on Wednesday--bucket and brush, hands and knees method.  It was one of those jobs which has "wanted done" and I've been putting it off with token moppings.  I have made a trail of cardboard squares for us to walk in and out in the vain hope of leaving the floor clean for the buyers.
The plan is that the furniture will go into the van tomorrow.  Oh joy!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Oregon Buttes in Winter

Oregon Buttes seen from the road near the Continental Divide.  This is the route of the Oregon/Mormon Trail.  For those travelers whose destination was Oregon, South Pass marked approximately the half way point in the journey from Independence, Missouri. 

"A major landmark, the Oregon Buttes marked the passage beyond South Pass into the Oregon Territory. In this region, many emigrants felt a sense of disappointment. Having reached one of the key destinations, they were now struck with the seemingly endless trek still ahead. Theodore Talbot in 1843 probably expressed this sentiment best when he wrote: "Today we set foot in Oregon Territory, the land of promise. As of yet it only promises an increased supply of sagebrush and sand."

About twelve miles southwest of Oregon Buttes lies the Tri-Territory site where Spain, France, and Great Britain all had a common boundary as the Mexican Territory, Louisiana Purchase, and Oregon Territory converged."

For more on South Pass and the Oregon Trail, go Here.

Red Canyon looking toward Lander, WY.

Saturday afternoon we drove over South Pass and on to Pinedale to visit over night with Howard and Heidi.
It is amazing to see the herds of antelope grazing on the high desert in the middle of winter.  Tufts of brown frosted grass poke up through the sagebrush dotted snow.  It hardly seems a landscape that would sustain animals through the cold and bitter months.
A bald eagle kept watch on a power pole near Farson, hawks of several varieties hunted their small hapless prey.
"Springtime in the Rockies" is nearly three months away.  The only sign that the year is slowly creaking toward the vernal equinox was the fact that when we reached our destination a bit before 6 PM there was still daylight.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Stray Cats

The pink flush of sunrise back-lights a cat half-hidden in a tangle of branches.

The cold morning is not still dark, but not full daylight.  I balance clumsily on the snowy bank which plunges down to the frozen pond, fumbling with the buttons on the camera, trying to hold it steady.  It is dark enough to activate the auto-flash, turning the cat's eyes into glaring flat disks.
Daughter G.'s bumptious Tarbaby has come down from the tree, but is giving the intruder a piece of his mind.

When I was growing up, a country child in a small New England farming community, the term "feral cat" hadn't been thought of.  Every farm had "barn cats"--darkly striped tabbies, gingers, calicos, the dominant pie-bald cats of black and white.  Barn cats knew their place and their job.  They clustered in the barn twice a day at milking time, waited for the farmer to drag a battered dirty tin from a cubby hole, slap it down on the dirt or concrete floor and slosh it full of warm milk.  Cat food as such was unheard of and table scraps went to the dogs.  Cats were meant to catch and consume the ever-present mice who got into the grainery and tunneled into the hayloft.  The cats were not spayed or neutered nor were they inoculated against distemper or other ills. 
The feline population waxed and waned.  Kittens were born in the loft or in the woodshed "chamber" and lugged to the back porch of the house where they tumbled about in the summer sunshine, plump, enchanting balls of fluff.  I held them, loved them, named them, but each year most sickened of distemper and died, with perhaps only one of a litter surviving to adulthood. 
Some of the most personable familiars might become "house cats", but hardly in the sense of today's indulged darlings.  A house cat, usually a female, might come in during the daytime to drowse on a sunny windowsill, or curl near the kitchen range, might even be given a tidbit, but there was no litter box, and come nightfall out she went, to hole up in the woodshed or pick her way back to the barn.  The years of these cats' lives were measured by the round of coming into heat, bearing kittens, nursing them, weaning them if they lived, then, still lean flanked, coming again into season and entertaining the toms.
The tomcats were another matter.  They might call a particular farmstead "home", but from adolescence onward they ranged about the neighborhood, taking their favors where they could, invading another tom's territory, returning home at last with battered ears and bloody noses, maybe even a scabby wound or an injured paw.  Many a summer night in childhood we woke to the sound of feline voices keening, high-pitched, up and down the scale, breaking at last into the snarls and screams of engaged battle.  My father would shuffle into his slippers, take his flashlight and stomp down the stairs to wrench open the side door and curse the nocturnal visitors. If they were within range he might brandish a broom, or chunk stones at them.  Like as not, about the time we were falling asleep again the warriers' duet resumed.

Over the years there were a few memorable strays.  The wary tiger who was missing part of a hind leg, who showed up at our home for three winters running during the late 1980's.  I first became aware of his presence when he rootled into a garbage bin and got his head stuck in a savory smelling tin.  We didn't want him there, he didn't much like us, but it was cold so we put out food. He usually disappeared as spring arrived, but the last year that we knew him, he visited during the summer.  He hung about on the edges of the garden or hovered at the end of the porch, clearly wishing that we would go away and leave him in solitary peace.  We didn't go away, and sometimes he crept near to where I sat shelling peas or snipping string beans, darting nervously into the rectangle of shade beneath my lawn chair.  A few times he unbent sufficiently to allow a tentative stroke across his unkempt head and down his bony back.  On such occasions a rusty purr burbled for a moment before he recalled that he didn't care for humans and backed away, ears flattened and tail twitching.  The next winter he vanished.  I learned early not to question the end of such cats.

When we moved to Wyoming twelve years ago this May we brought with us our resident cats. [Of course!]  Within weeks we had adopted  Siamese kittens born to a stray Mom-cat who found our niece's tack barn just in time to give birth.  With our feline household running over, we were dismayed only days later to find a black cat and two kittens lurking by the garage.  Both kittens were females, one a rusty black like her mother, the other a sturdier little body with a white bib, a white smirch on her nose and white-patterned leggings.  The frail black kitten sickened and died, her sister lived. Seeing that mother and daughter were there to stay we caught them and took them to the vet.  When the matted-furred Mom was spayed we learned that she was already pregnant again. 
We caught glimpses of the mom-cat only intermittantly.  She resisted attempts to befriend her, finally disappeared.  Her daughter, Cindy, lurked about the back porch, sometimes came inside only to be taunted and hissed into a corner by the arrogant Siamese royalty.  Cindy, the same age as the Siamese hussies, went with them to be spayed and innoculated.  J. contrived an insulated coop for her on the back porch, a domicile sometimes invaded in cold weather by a succession of hungry strays.  Cindy didn't like to be picked up, but she rubbed about my ankles as I pegged laundry on the line, came to lean companionably against me if I sat on the back steps with a mug of tea.
We caught Cindy and brought her with us when we moved to the first of our properties in this area.  It was January and I installed her for several weeks in a small camper we had, visiting her each day to change litter and feed her.  Later when she had been liberated I often found her in the old horse trailer, viewing the world from the top of stacked boxes, cozy on a tattered horse blanket. 

We sold ourselves out of house and home in the spring of 2006 and bought the acreage we will be leaving in a fortnight.  J. began the laborious process of moving tools and equipment, including the old horse trailer still crammed with oddments.  While I packed and cleaned [we've done this too often] he called me one morning on his cell phone, distraught, demanding that I drive immediately to the barn on the new property.  He had pulled the horse trailer over and when he came to a halt at the barn, a terrified Cindy had leaped from the back and dashed up the slope behind the pond.  We both called, coaxed, slogged through mud and melting snow for more than an hour, but Cindy was gone.  We alerted neighbors, the couple moving into our former house.  As days and then weeks passed, I resigned myself to the realization that Cindy was likely dead.  I hoped it had been swift.

This morning as I shivered by the window, watching the sky turn from grey to pink, it was Tarbaby's hulking form which I spotted perched in the straggling cottonwood by the pond.  He was very intent on something and as the light grew I saw that another smaller cat hunched immobile behind a lattice of branches.
I hauled on my Carhartts and boots, wound a scarf around my head, stuffed the camera in my pocket.  Crunching and slithering on the frozen snowy ground beneath the tree, I gazed upward and had my first clear look at the second cat.  "Cindy?" I said, disbelieving.  Could it possibly be Cindy after four years---four long harsh winters?  The short cobby body seemed familiar, the smudge of white on the chin and the white bib.  I remembered the wound on her back leg that I had treated, finding her one day during that first year with the leg slashed and festered, drawn up stiffly under her belly.  Half wild creature that she was, she had allowed me daily to hold her down, clean the wound, press the foul matter from the abcess and dose her with penicillin.
"Cindy, " I repeated, "Cindy, is it you?"  The little cat stared from the branch, shifted slightly, clinging to the frosty bough.  Tarbaby thumped to the ground, marched possesively around the tree trunk rumbling and hissing.
I hurried to the house, filled a pan with kibble and went back to the tree, shooing Tarbaby, coaxing the small cat, who remained inscrutable.  I booted Tarbaby away, went around the buildings to feed Pebbles the Horse.
When I returned, the tree was empty and no small black and white form was to be seen climbing the bank beyond the pond or melting into the sallow rushes around the eastern edge.
If the cat is indeed our lost Cindy, she would be coming up on twelve years old--the same age as Eggnog and Raisin.
In the time we have left here, measured now in days, will I see this cat again? 
My mind sifts the possibilities--of a cat living wild for four years---of Cindy, if it is indeed she, lurking in the neighborhood, but never spotted until now?
I accept that I likely won't know, could never get close enough to be sure even of the cat's gender, let alone to run my fingers lightly along that white-splotched back leg to feel for the old scar tissue.
Somewhere in the photos I packed away this week there are likely one or two of Cindy as a kitten.  Weeks from now, in a place new to us, I may unearth them and compare them to the early morning shot of a small black and white cat, staring me down from her defensive position in the cottonwood.
I think it was Cindy, destined to finish her life as a stray cat.  But I'll never know.