Every autumn I look forward to lighting a bonfire and tossing onto it things that are no longer useful to me like an old rag rug Mom made that even the dogs won’t use anymore, and outdated income tax forms more than 7 years old, and a small note describing a relationship that is no longer helpful, or even a portion of the relationship that needs to stop. Smoke removes negative things and purifies them, and us, so the ancient stories tell.
Smudging is similar and it doesn’t require such a huge flame. It can be done indoors. I try to smudge the guest room between guests, even if I only burn incense. I felt it’s time now to really smoke the negative energy out of that room and my home so I studied up about crafting my own smudge sticks and took myself on a gathering walk outside my door.
For this smudging to remove negative energy I bundled a section of a mullein seed stalk with sage from my garden and dry pine needles. The sage was fresh and the mullein damp. I didn’t give the bundle time to dry so it was hard to keep it smoldering yesterday when I held it by hand and whooshed the smoke with a group of feathers. Today I initiated a rescued cast iron cauldron that Rusti Shilling discarded. I swear on a stack that’s her name.
My ideas was to kindle a fire and let it settle to coals to keep the smudge stick smoking. I collected some twigs from beneath a pine tree in my yard but they weren’t as dry as I thought. Crumpled gratitude notes from my gratitude jar flamed easily but not enough to keep the twigs burning. So let’s try 3 tea candles. Three is a good number and I shaped them in a triangle. That did the trick.
I got the smudge going outdoors on my deck then brought the cauldron into the guest room and set it up on an inverted iron pot to protect the floor, keeping it well away from bedding. I’ve washed sheets and bedspreads and I left all the bedding unfolded on top of the bed. I also opened the closet doors and the adjoining bathroom door, and opened the window a bit. All the while I was telling the unwanted energy and spirits to go away, they are not wanted, they are not useful today, they are free to go. Repeating it over and over as I walked and wafted the smoke through the area.
This method sustained a lot more smoke and I hadn’t thought to disable my smoke alarms ahead of time. I discovered how sensitive they are to even a little smoke not even in the same room and that’s assuring. I let a little smoke out of the guest room into the rest of the house and then closed the door so the smudge would work most effectively in the areas most used by guests. If you’ve been a guest, don’t take offence. This is something I do to prepare the room for the next guest and I prepared it for you, too. I like the energy of some guests so much I don’t smudge the room for a long time so I can feel the good vibes longer.
Finally I placed an inexpensive item on the smudge stick that was left by a guest who experienced a really negative energy, intense but brief, while staying here. I expected it to smolder and put out the tinder but instead it flamed up. For safety I took the pot outdoors and let it burn up most of the remaining elements.
I’m all about safety from fire at my place since I live out of town and no fire truck is able to get here in time to save my home. Rusti gave me this cast iron lid, too, which doesn’t fit the rusty pot but it worked wonderfully to smother the fire.
So now I have released negative energy from the new-to-me cast iron cauldron and my home. Tommorrow I will burn lavender, holy basil, rosemary, and mint to bring healing, protection and calming. I feel like this iron pot will be a handy and safe “fire pit” for me, and I like that it’s portable. Some years, like this one, I haven’t had a bonfire because it’s too dry and grass fire is still a danger. This year I’m starting a new tradition for smudging my home at least once every autumn.
Ax grinding was a necessity 70 years ago. A well sharpened tool made work more satisfying. Skill in ax honing was an art. The man or woman at the grinder peddled foot pumps to turn the grindstone. Notice the grinder’s posture as he leans against the tree and holds the blade at a certain angle. He looks fully focused on the task, perhaps in mindful meditation as he listens to the steel and grindstone in harmony with the motion he creates using his body.
When I feel nostalgia* for times gone by, like this sort of work that was part of rural life before I was born, I wonder if people really felt satisfaction from such tasks. Certainly life moved at a slower pace for most before all our modern conveniences, but was it any more pleasant or annoying than our lives today?
*Nostalgia: a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition. (Mirriam-Webster Dictionary)
By the way, that’s my Great Grandfather Barlow grinding the ax in this image from family archives. He was known for this skill and for growing bountiful vegetable gardens. And this image is my response to this week’s photo challenge: nostalgia.
For a beautiful photograph of a blade sharpener in a different culture click here. The photo tells a story.
A photo of my focaccia bread on my FaceBook page got many “likes” and several requests for the starter and recipe. So I made starters from mine and promptly gave them away. Here’s the way to make your starter from scratch, care for it, and then make whole wheat sourdough bread that almost never fails me. Yes, I fail sometimes. Only the gods are perfect. My dad taught me to fail, to admit I fail, and to learn from the failure so I don’t repeat the same mistake. Some fails take a few repeats to really get it right.
To start with, you need a sourdough starter. I’ll give you my grandpa’s recipe passed down from his youth in about 1912 as the summer cook in our family’s sheep grazing camps in Idaho’s Seven Devils Mountains. As a young man in 1927 he rescued the diamond drill bit for his mining company by mixing up a tacky dough and sticking it to the end of the drill, then lowering it down the shaft. The drill bit stuck to the dough and was easily pulled up. The mining operation was only briefly down that day. Here’s the story about the mine.
This is how Grandpa taught me to make a new starter. <!–more–> Boil a potato (we live in Idaho, right?) and save 1 cup of the boiling water. Eat the potato. Cool the water to room temperature. In a glass jar stir 1 cup flour with the 1 cup potato water. Cover it with a loosely woven towel to keep dust out but let microscopic yeast in. Leave it on the counter several days. It will ferment, get a lovely sourdough aroma and it may develop a grayish liquid hooch floating on top. Stir the hooch back in or poor it off, no matter. Here is a delightful version of the story.
The potato water has natural sugar and starch in it. Yeast lives in air, just about everywhere on Earth. It is a living organism that feeds on the protein in flour and multiplies. That’s how it expands or rises. It’s a process of fermentation. Yeast will find its food in the jar and dive in. After you’ve trapped the yeast all you have to do is keep it alive and you’ll be able to make bread that rises, no need to purchase dry or cake yeast. In 3-4 days up to a week, you’ll need to add 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup warm water to offer more food, stir it in, put a lid on the jar and store it in the refrigerator until you want to use it.
Another way to make your starter is to get some from a friend or buy a mix from a store. You can even put a cup of flour and a cup of water in a jar, cover it with a light cloth and leave it on the counter several days until it ferments. I did that in my classroom whenever we read a Jack Londong story.
Keep the starter thriving: You have to occasionally feed the starter to keep the yeast alive and active. For making bread and buscuits I use a much thicker starter. It rounds up on a table spoon. The theory and practice is that you start your sponge with less living yeast and more flour to feed them. They multiply better, don’t run out of food and stop reproducing, and therefore the bread and biscuits rise higher from the gas produced by the abundant lively yeast. Your bread will have nice high air bubbles in it and it won’t be a dense brick. For bread, reduce the amount of water you use when feeding your starter until you have it thick enough. Then, every 1 – 2 weeks stir in ¼ cup flour and 1/8th cup water to the starter to keep it fed. Feed more often if you are depleting the starter to less than ¼ cup. I keep only ¼-1/2 cup on hand. It only takes 1 tablespoon to make a sponge for bread so I don’t keep a large amount of starter ready.
Keep it capped in the refrigerator. Some cooks keep another jar of runny starter to use in pancakes and other recipes. If hooch (stinky liquid) forms on top, you can pour it off or stir it back in. This happens if the starter has not been fed for too long, no matter, it’s still good starter and you’ll know it wants to be fed.
Sponge for bread or biscuits: When you want to make bread you start by making a sponge, or getting the yeast excited and active. Mix a sponge the night before you plan to use it or early morning if you want to use it for dinner biscuits. I use the same 1/4 cup tool for all the measurements so instead of saying 1/2 cup, you will see 2/4 cups.
In a glass container or small crock mix gently
¾ cups flour (bread flour is best but all purpose if fine)
2/4 cups lukewarm water
1 heaping tablespoon starter (the thick starter)
Cover with light cloth or a loose fitting dish that lets a little air in. Let it stand (or sit) on the counter over night or at least 6 hours.
The sponge will increase its volume, rise higher in the crock, and then settle back down so you could see a line to where it expanded. That’s fine. It should look bubbly.
Note: If you leave the sponge too long the yeast critters will have eaten all the flour protein and start to die and lose strength for making bread rise. They will need more food so, only in this case, add 2/4 cups more flour and ¼ cup water and let it eat a couple hours longer to form enough gas needed for rising. If I added more flour in this case, I subtract it from the amount needed for my bread recipe.
The recipe for 1 big loaf of bread, no knead method. OK, so you know about the starter, how to keep it thriving, and how to make a sponge hours before making your recipe. Now, let’s make the dough.
1st evening: make the sponge (above). I use bread flour for this. 3/4 cup flour, 2/4 cup warm water (not hot), 1 table spoon starter.
Next morning: add 2/4 cups bread flour and ¼ cup lukewarm water, gently stir it in. Cover crock with a dish again and let it set out all day. Doing this really boosts the energy for making bread rise!
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2nd evening: With the flour you added this morning, the sponge has expanded and gas has formed bubbles like the photos above. Use the sponge now and mix dough. You want a total of about 2 cups flour. You have already added ½ cup to the sponge this morning so that counts as part of the total flour you will need. Now you need to add 1 and 1/2 cups to make the 2 cups needed. You can use all white bread flour or mix with whole wheat, oat flour, or other grains. The more whole wheat and other grains you mix in, the more chance it won’t raise well. The more white flour, the better it will raise. I am able to get half the flour as whole wheat, after learning from many fails. Try changing your ratio of white and wheat flours if you have trouble. Try your first loaf with all white flour for success.
In a large glass bowl, mix dry ingredients.
¾ cups whole wheat flour
¾ cups bread flour
½ heaping tsp. baking soda (makes it form nice big gas bubbles)
½ tsp salt
optional Add up to 1/4 cup wheat or oat bran or other grain and 1 T. flax seed. The more I add, the less rise I get. Experiment to see what works for you.
Mix wet ingredients into the sponge in its crock, gently. First, I start with the water in a glass measuring cup with a pour spout, and add the oil next into the water. Oil coats the spoon so molasses slides off easily. Add the molasses then stir with measuring spoon. Then pour it all into the sponge in the crock and mix gently. It doesn’t all mix in and that’s fine. The sponge will deflate a little when you stir it.
½ cup lukewarm water
1T. olive oil
1T. molasses (optional but I like its color and flavor and I feel it helps feed yeast)
Add wet mixture to dry ingredients in the bowl, stir to mix it, no kneading unless only slightly if the color is not mixing into the dough. The color doesn’t all have to mix in; it will eventually mix and come out fine. Dough will be quite wet and sticky, that’s a good thing. Cover the bowl with a dish or lid. I use a dish as the lid to my big Pyrex mixing bowl. Leave it on the counter overnight. You can put it in the fridge a couple days for a slower rise and more sourdough flavor. If you do that, just take it out and let it warm to room temp slowly before the next step.
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Stir just enough to mix. It will look uneven but it all mixes and rises overnight.
Next morning: Stretch, don’t knead the dough. Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a lightly floured counter or board. Yes, it’s wet and may be kind of runny. Sort of scoop it up in a pile and invert the bow over it. Set your timer for 15-20 min., I use 20. Go drink your coffee or do yoga and let it rest. In 20 min. lift off the bowl and stretch the dough gently on one side, then the opposite side, then one end, then its opposite end. Flour it and flour your hands as needed so you can handle it. It will resemble pizza dough. Fold one side onto the middle part of the dough. Fold its opposite side onto it forming a long pile. Then fold each end up the same way into a heap, turn it over onto the floured board, cover with the bowl and let it rest 15-20 min. again. You can look at some video examples below. Try not to let it tear, you are stretching the dough to let it form gas, those nice big bubbles we like in sourdough bread. If it tears a little it’s firming up. Do this for a total of 3 rests and stretches after the initial rest. After the last stretch, let it rest up to 20 min. before forming the loaf.
Scrape out of bowl, cover with bowl, rest 20 min.
Stretch, cover with bowl, rest 20 min.
Stretch, cover with bowl, rest 20 min.
Stretch, cover with bowl, rest 20 min.
You might like this video demonstration. This baker puts the dough back in the bowl between stretches and waits longer. I like my method better but I stretch the dough the same way. Each time I stretch it, the dough gets thicker and higher until it’s ready to form the loaf. Here is another video demonstration for stretching dough. His dough is as wet as mine often is, he uses a scraper, but he only stretches dough once for a different effect. Again, he starts with very small amount of starter. You really don’t need much.
Form the loaf: Shape the loaf and then put in into an oiled loaf pan or on an oiled baking sheet, and let it rise at least an hour or until double which may take a half day or longer. Whole wheat takes longer to rise. I use my 3 qt. cast iron sauce pan, oiled on bottom and sides all the way up. It usually rises higher than the sides of this pan. Or I use my clay bread loaf pan. Or I form a long baguette or Italian loaf or ciabatta rolls and put them on a baking sheet. Usually it’s the cast iron sauce pan, no lid. Cover with light cloth to rise. To avoid drafts I let it rise in the oven. No heat in summer oven but in cool seasons I heat my oven to 110 degrees, or as cool as I can, turn it off and let bread raise in the slightly warm oven. If the oven is too warm it kills the yeast so be careful. 110 is just right.
Baking: Remove bread from oven while preheating to 400. You can leave it in during preheating if you like but I don’t. Bread will have an “oven spring” usually, rising even more. Bake 20 – 25 min.. It should be nicely browned and sound solid when you thump it with your fingers. Cool on rack. Mine usually pops out of the pan without too much work. I run a butter knife around the edge to be sure it’s loose. “Completely cool it before cutting as it will keep cooking while it cools.” That rule never works at my house! We eat it warm, turned on its side to cut, with butter and honey. A round loaf gives you lots of chances for crusty heals.
I’ll post my recipe for focassia bread in a future post. Remember, if your bread turns out flat you can always call it flat bread, slice it horizontally for sandwiches or use it for dipping bread or thin crusts with spreads. When bread gets dry I make croutons or grind it for panko.
My favorite sourdough recipes are here. I’ve reworked and modified his recipe for 5 loaves to make the 1 loaf recipe you just read. The biscuits on his site are the best! Scroll down to find them in the link. Have fun and let me know how it works out for you!
“My pet theory about the success of Fight Club is that it provided a structure for people to be together. People want to find new ways for connecting. Look at American Quilt and The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood and Joy Luck Club. These are all books that present a structure, making a quilt or playing Mahjong, providing a structure that allows people to be together and share their stories. All these books are short stories bound together by a shared activity.”
“The world is made of people telling stories. . . . Any long story, any novel, is just a combination of short stories.”
“Instead of wasting more time or money on another crappy book or movie, how about you take a stab at the job? I mean, why not?”
From Chuck Palahniuk in Stranger Than Fiction, a collection of essays and journalistic pieces that prove that real life has imagination beaten cold in the strangeness and wonder departments.
I’ve been nominated by incahootswithmuddyboots for the 3 Day Quote Challenge. Check out her blog. Impressive photographs! My first day’s quotes are also about writing or story telling, by Neil Gaiman and Susan Strauss. See them here along with who I nominated yesterday.
The rules to this challenge are:
Post on 3 consecutive days
Post one to three quotes per day
Challenge three different bloggers each day
Today I nominate these bloggers for the 3 Day Quote challenge. Check out their blogs!
Every winter I unpack the Tom and Jerry mugs and Grandma’s recipe. I don’t always make the warm drink but today I will. It feels like I should have a large group of family or friends to share the event. In our family tradition preparing and drinking this is a community event and even though it’s most often done at Christmas or New Years celebrations, I truly feel making and drinking Tom and Jerry is an event in itself and should be celebrated through all the cold darkish winter months.
It’s not simply tradition, it’s family revival, bringing to life again the warmth and friendship and security of times when I didn’t know the other edges of family life, the dark things family can do to one another. We need to revive the kind of nourishing memories we may have buried within us. We need to live in the light of loving experiences as often as we can. Tom and Jerry can do just that. If it’s new to you, think about starting your own family tradition or revival, if you will.
I remember asking Grandma for the recipe in about 1975 when I was visiting her. I was married and had 2 children by then and as a young home maker, I wanted to be able to share this recipe with my friends and carry on the tradition in my own home. She wrote it for me from memory, asking Grandpa for validation, and gave me the paper. I’ve kept it in my recipe box, and more recently in my trunk full of Christmas decor, until it has yellowed. Reading her handwriting is like hearing her voice, and her laughter, and breathing in the aroma of home and family.
I know there are other ways of making and serving Tom and Jerry’s but I like it this way the best. A recipe is not just what’s in it, it’s the way of preparing and serving the drink. As children Tom and Jerry is one grow-ups drink we were allowed, though I’m not sure we really had alcohol in ours until maybe we were teenagers, if then. Today I’m going to try to portion it down to serve 2, trying for 2 eggs. I wonder why Grandma used 11 eggs to serve 12 drinks. I’m sure my grandparents used their experience in determining the amounts for ingredients.
The mug bottoms are stamped “made in Japan”. Many types of pottery and mugs were made in Japan after WW2 when the US helped rebuild the nation we had feated. Imagine the artisans working in factories hand painting the gold guilded letters on each mug. I tried it once and I was far too unsteady to manage a small lettering brush on a rounded surface. Each mug in my set appears to be uniquely lettered, not stenciled or stamped. I may be wrong about that. I broke the punch bowl in clearly more than 100 pieces moving it from Idaho to Wyoming sometime in the 1970s. No matter, I use only the mugs anyway since I keep the yokes and whites in different bowls for Grandma’s recipe.
I’m always curious about were words or terms and names originate. I like this version found in an article published in “The Atlantic”:
“The Tom and Jerry’s origin is a bit of a mystery. Ted Haigh, author of Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, says it was probably invented by Pierce Egan, a British journalist who lived in the 1800s and wrote the popular novel The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, Esq. and His Elegant Friend Corinthian Tom (hence Tom and Jerry). Egan is said to have named the drink after his characters as a publicity stunt. Others hold that a famous American bartender, “Professor” Jerry Thomas, concocted the Tom and Jerry in the 1850s. The recipe credited to him calls for 12 eggs and is served with hot water rather than milk; yet another version suggests mixing the booze and batter with coffee. The only Tom and Jerry certainty is that there is no connection between the drink and the cartoon.
However it began, for about a hundred years, the drink was extremely popular in the United States. So popular that you could buy Tom and Jerry sets, with a large bowl for the batter and matching mugs with “Tom and Jerry” written across them in cursive gold. My family owns two of these and you can still buy the mugs on ebay. People could also order a Tom and Jerry when they went out: throughout the winter, bartenders would whip up a mug to warm a chilled patron.”
Here is another version of the recipe, one in which the yokes and whites are mixed together in the punch bowl before serving. This recipe uses a combination of brandy and rum mixed into the punch. I like my grandparents version instead. They let each drinker decide if they wanted whiskey, brandy, or rum and prepared each drink individually.
Do you drink Tom and Jerry? Please tell me your story and share your recipe.
In the Depression Harv moved around. He didn’t have his own home. Harv stayed with different relatives. He’d stay on one ranch and help them out. Then he moved on to another kin’s place and helped them do chores and fix things. He tried to be handy, but he was more in the way than useful. He stayed a couple of months usually. He wasn’t always appreciated, but he was family, so folks let Harv live with them to help him out. For a while. Harv made the rounds living with one brother or sister, then the next, and that’s how he got by in those days. After several rounds of putting him up, Fred had had enough of his mooching brother . You see, Harv drank a lot and wasn’t at all helpful.
Fred liked to get up early and get at the chores. There was a skating rink in the town and Harv would go there every night and drink himself blind. He came home, Fred and Letha’s home, when the joint closed and slept it off until late in the morning. Every day. One morning when the shadowed edges were beginning to darken into things we know, Fred took Harv’s knife while he lay sleeping. He walked to the chicken pen in dim lantern light and selected a young hen. He twisted her head until he felt her spinal cord snap and then he cut her throat with the blade. Then he plucked out her feathers , dressed her out, and sliced her in pieces. He dropped the pieces in a pail hanging on the side of the hen house. He tossed the slick innards into the hog pen. And then Fred carefully slipped back into Harv’s bedroom and put the bloody knife back where he found it. Letha came humming across the yard to the hen house swinging a basket for fresh eggs, the way she did every day. She folded up the bottom of her apron forming a pocket and held it tightly in one hand. Then she picked up the bloody chicken parts and dropped them into the fold. She carried the flesh into the kitchen, rinsed them in the sink, and put the pieces in a bowl in the ice box next to the new eggs. They’d have chicken dinner tonight.
When the sun was well up, Harv sat in a kitchen chair waiting for his breakfast the way he did every day. Fred poured a cup of weak coffee for each of them and looked down at his brother. “Harv”, said Fred as he set the cups on the embroidered table cloth, “Were you at the skating rink last night?” “Sure I was” said Harv. “Every night.” Fred looked at Harv for a long silence. “Harv, the Sherriff was here this morning. He wanted to talk to you. Said there was a fight at the skating rink last night and a fellow got stabbed. He didn’t think he’s gonna live. Sherriff wanted to ask you if you saw the fight, if you know anything about it.” Harv looked at his steaming cup for a long silence. He didn’t remember any fight the night before. He didn’t remember much at all from last night. Harv left Fred and Letha’s ranch that day and he never came back. That’s the way Aunt Jewel always tells it about Harv.
About this story: Duree Shiverick, Eagle, Idaho, told me this story in her shop January 22, 2015 while she replaced the string attachment cord on my antique violin. I was wandering the shop examining imaginatively carved fiddle heads while she spoke. And then I sat on a beautifully upholstered chair opposite her while she worked and gave me the tale. I asked her permission to embellish the story and use it in my storytelling bag. Harv’s name is real but I created the others. After telling the story several times it will change. When I am telling stories to an audience, that’s often when the language emerges by itself and makes a better fit. Repetition of words and phrases like “every night” is common in storytelling. I tried to keep the language simple and straight forward. I am putting more dark or magic or mythical elements in my story making since taking a writers workshop last year in a http://www.mccallarts.org/cabinfever program sponsored by the McCall Arts and Humanities Council, and in anticipation of the Horror Writers Workshop in Transylvania this summer.
How this story originated. After I published this story I was contacted by Miki Odendahl who says she is the original author. She says she wrote it in a high school creative writing class. Duree, who gave me the story, is her mother. I put my own storytelling style to it and the tale above is the result. Stories change over time when they are passed down orally. I want to give credit to the young lady who first composed the plot. She owns the story, though her version is much different from this. I am grateful that she came to me and set me straight, and allows me to publish it here.
In the original author’s words:
Duree is my mother. I grew up in Eagle, Idaho–first on Pimlico Drive, then in the cul de sac on North 2nd Street where she now lives with my 96 yo grandmother, Velma.
The story about Harvey was originally written for my creative writing class at Meridian Senior High School, about my own rabbit in the guise of another, and was a tribute to my friend, Valerie Harvey’s, brother who drowned when we were in grade school at Eagle Elementary. Yes, my mother can spin a yarn, and does so often, especially about me (according to her, I’m a serial killer, too), but this particular story was entirely mine.
Your story was forwarded to me by one of my childhood friends, who knows this story well.
About this photo: Someone took this photo of my nephew on either his family ranch near Sweet and Ola, Idaho, or in Wyoming. I adjusted curves and gave it a shape blur in Adobe CS4. I think it gives a ghostly image illustrating Harv leaving that day, although it’s a sunrise shot. Memories and stories retold have a blurry quality, rather dreamlike and that’s the mood I was trying to capture in this photo.
I’ve been working on this vintage photo, late 1950s, for a couple of years to make a Christmas card. Haven’t settled on it yet. I decided I can’t eliminate the flash reflected in the window and that’s OK. It shows the technology and amateur nature of the moment. I’m trying some photo filters to see how they effect the mood of the photo. Our memories are filtered, coloring some pieces more than others and holding out unneeded or missing chunks, highlighting and projecting forward other ideas and feelings. Only some parts remain and we have to choose to keep them or modify them until our reality shifts and rests where it will, still pliable. Memories can change over time. Maybe that’s why I keep returning to this photo. It shows in black and white a moment in time.
My parents no doubt made this shot before we got up and discovered what Santa left. One of those sets of wooden skis is my first pair, just a strap over the boot, dangerous and exciting. They decorate my home now, one with a tip broken off. My grandfather made the doll bunk bed cribs for his daughter, my aunt, and now they were handed on to me. I handed them on to my daughter when the time was right. My uncle crafted the spotted horse for my little brother. Notice the springs that attach it to the frame; it bounced magnificently! We didn’t care that the paint ran on the spots. The giant shiny red wagon was for my older brother. In summer we caught multitudes of wiggly tadpoles and put them in it, with water and a great big toad. Mom called us to lunch and we pulled it home and parked it in the shade of a willow tree. When we came back to it only the toad was there. We always had maps on the wall and I still do. Living in a small rural town we were curious about the rest of the world. My grandparents brought the maracas for Dad when they went to Mexico. Mom played that huge upright grand piano. It’s in my music room now. Our living room was small, but the piano belonged there. We belonged there, cozy together in a time when everything was right for the children and we hadn’t a clue what our futures would be like, and it didn’t matter. We made our dreams and they evolved as we grew. We lived in the moment then. I try to live in the moment now, too. I realize many people don’t have pictures from their childhood and many did not have an extended family, active in their upbringing. I know I am lucky beyond measure.
Here’s an excerpt from one of the Cat Rock letters in which Frank writes to Edith, who he is courting, about his Thanksgiving day.
Dec. 14, 1918
“You asked me how I spent Thanksgiving. Well, I worked on the track all day but we had a nice supper at Edith’s [his cousin] after the day’s work was over. We didn’t have Turkey but we had chicken, 3 of them, and cranberries, cakes and pies. We expect Oscar home for Christmas and will celebrate it at Mrs. Vaughn’s or the section house. They haven’t decided that yet. I hope you all [have] a happy Christmas and merry new year, and many of them.”
This is out of sequence in the series of courtship letters, but it applies to this week’s Thanksgiving holiday in the U. S. when turkey, cranberries, and apple or pumpkin pie are traditional dishes. I’m sharing an excerpt from one of Frank’s letters to Edith. He writes her from the railroad section house at Cat Rock where he lives and works. His cousin, also named Edith, and her family have been living at the section house with Lewis (you’ll meet him in another letter). Frank said they “have been here for some time.” By now the section house has become home to quite a few workers and families, including Frank’s brother Tom and their mother. Oscar, another brother, is in the army in World War 1. I need to research the section house floor plan. Maybe there was more than one building where people lived.
I found a book. It hasn’t yet been written. But it has begun. And I am the writer. After Mom died in 2006, I emptied her house and put it up for sale. She had tons, really tons, of clutter. Sorting took months. She kept everything! I found some treasures in the slow thorough process.
In her basement I uncovered her desk, the one she used for her church secretary work. It was heaped with papers and file folders and books, a knitting project, plants, and too much more to remember. Inside a deep drawer, in an unlabeled folder mixed with church papers, I found photocopies of letters.
They were written in 1918 and 1919 by my grandfather, courting my grandmother. I found the beginning of their relationship right up to the day he married her. I found the story of families living in the Pacific Northwest during World War 1, haying with horses, building the railroad, and joining the army. I found a book to write, based on the courting letters.
The letters document the influenza epidemic, boats stuck in the river by deep ice break ups, barn dances, a locomotive derailed by a mud flood and much more. Most importantly, they reveal human hopes and struggles, concessions, forgiveness, and celebrations.
The storyline moves along the tracks of the traditional plot diagram. It has complexity in its conflicts. The action rises to the turning point and ends with resolution. It’s so ready to write.
My problem is how to develop the details, how to bring the characters and setting to life for modern readers. How do I write the story so readers will care and get a deeper understanding of their own lives from the book? Each letter gives enough information to inspire creative writing. What is really the story behind the story? How can I tell it?
I am a storyteller, a performing storyteller. I know a lot about folklore weaving magic into tales. I teach writing, literature, and history. Now, I have a book to write, one letter at a time. I’m scared. Can I practice the crafts I teach? It’s a challenge I give myself, to write creative non-fiction. How do I even categorize the genre? Could it be a novel of poetry telling the story like Out of the Dust? Will I write chapters? How about short vignettes? How will I link the ideas together? How long will the book be? Will anybody be interested in reading the story, the little stories within the stories?
I have a lot of research to do. How did men work hay fields with horses when tractors were just emerging into the industry? What was the sphere of devastation by the influenza pandemic in the Pacific Northwest? What was transportation like then? The letters stand in place of telephones and texting.
How can I show, don’t tell, the depth of humanity revealed within the letters? I’m going to need a lot of feedback as I progress, a lot of help. I am asking you to follow my postings as I write this story. Please tell me what you think of my writing, what changes I should make, what’s written just as it should be. How is the story affecting you?
This is the first piece for a book. When my mother died, I found a series of courting letters from my grandfather to my grandmother. The letters began after their meeting at a dance. They end with their marriage. I am using each letter to inspire vignettes of what Grandpa wrote about. I use their real names for the book. Cat Rock is a rock formation that resembles a cat overlooking a river. Grandpa worked and lived at the railroad section house at Cat Rock when he wrote the letters.
July 5, 1918
The First Dance
Edith reached for her paring knife from a group of them behind the sink. This one fit her left hand the best. She began skinning a large lumpy potato but her mind was not on her work. She was reliving last night’s dance, twirling and reeling cross the hard packed barn floor. Her chore was familiar and the brown peels flew into the wash basin while her heels and toes tapped the kitchen floor boards. Bouncing, jigging, hopping, she danced to the lively rhythm that pulsed in her mind. Dancing made life spin by with abandonment. When she felt the music and let her body move with it, she knew she was in tune with all that gave freedom to that moment. She tossed the slippery peeled potato in the air, caught it and flipped it into the bowl with a thud. She picked up the next potato and took the knife in her other hand.
She hummed and swayed in time with her peeling. What was the song? The fiddler had played it as if the instrument was dancing with her, guiding her moves. She heard it for the first time at the dance but it seemed like she had always known it, had danced to it often. And the fiddler. The fiddler. She knew he watched her swinging to the music he played, the jigs, waltzes, fox trots, and reels. Something in the way she caught him looking at her, when she had tried to steal glances at him, made her smile as she worked at preparing dinner. His name was Frank.
He had brought her home after the dance with his brother, Tom, on a big hay wagon drawn by two sturdy black horses. The wagon was packed full with her two chatty sisters and their husbands and a party of people who were staying on for the long ride home to Middle Valley. It was late when she got off the wagon with her family at her father’s farm. Tonight she would make his favorite fried chicken dinner to thank Papa for staying home with her baby.
Hugh Addington, born in 1894, began cooking sourdough biscuits and hot cakes for his family’s sheepherding trips in Idaho’s Seven Devils Mountains when he was a boy. He continued using sourdough all his 84 years. A staple in the camp box, and later in his kitchen, he kept his starter fed and ready. If he ever ran out he made more with this recipe.
I am his grand daughter and I won’t tell you how many years I have been making more than biscuits and hot cakes with his starter. If you want some of my favorite recipes for what to do once you have the starter, just ask.
What you need:
small glass jar with lid
pot for boiling potatoes
small crock or glass mixing bowl
1 or more potatoes
1 cup reserved liquid from boiled potatoes
1 cup flour, all purpose flour will do but you could try whole wheat flour or bread flour
What you do:
Boil the potatoes until soft, making sure you will have at least a cup of water left when done. Leave skins on if they are organically grown. Drain, reserving liquid. Use the potatoes for any recipe you like. Cool to room temperature the reserved liquid that the potatoes have been boiled in.
When liquid has cooled to room temperature, measure 1 cup of it. Stir the cup of liquid into to the cup of flour in a small crock or glass mixing bowl. Don’t use a blender or mixer for this, stir by hand.
Cover the crock or glass bowl with a paper towel or light dish cloth and let it sit on the counter for 24 – 48 hours. It will gather yeast from the air and begin to ferment. You will probably see the hooch form on top of the batter. Hooch is the fermentation, rather ugly and brownish.
Gently stir the starter, pour it into the glass jar, put on the lid and store it in the fridge until ready to use.
To use the starter, take it out the night before. You have to make a “sponge” or “freshen” it. Put a half cup of starter in a crock or glass mixing bowl. Stir in 1/4 to 1/2 cup warm, not hot, water, cover it lightly and let it sit for 6 hours or longer.
Feed the starter every week or two. I feed mine almost every time I use it so I don’t run too low. Add 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of water to the starter, stir it in to mix. Or take some of the sponge and stir it back into the starter. Store it in the fridge until you are ready to use it again. If you don’t use the starter within 2 weeks, add flour and water to keep the little yeast organisms alive.
The story of sourdough, and all the recipes, fascinates me. I could write too much about it. Search the web and you will find plenty of help. Here is my source for learning more about starters and recipes. If you click the link at the very bottom in this source, you will find really good easy recipes.
Hugh Addington, born November 24, 1894, was the mine mechanic at the Red Ledge mine on the Eagle Bar in Hell’s Canyon, Idaho. The Red Ledge and associated mines, Landore, Peacock, South Peacock, and the Blue Jacket, operated for about two years in 1926 and 1927. Hugh was one of the first men into the mining area, setting up camp and the machinery. He was one of the last to leave, closing up the operation. A map is at the end of this post.
He was married to Mary Olive Emery Addington for more than sixty-five years. Olive coordinated education and taught at the only school the Hell’s Canyon had then. The one-room-school house, along with the mining camp and other buildings, are now under water backed up by the Hell’s Canyon Dam.
Here is Hugh’s account of the mining operation as told to me, his granddaughter, in November, 1978. Tape recordings of this and other accounts of the mine and early life in Idaho are archived at the Adams County Library in Council, Idaho.
SEPTEMBER, 1926. HORNET CREEK ON THE EAST SIDE OF PECK MOUNTAIN:
Hugh: “They sent me up on Hornet Creek on the East side of Peck Mountain to set up an engine and compressor up there. I was supposed to be workin’ for the Red Ledge and my checks was comin’ from the Red ledge. I thought there was something spooky in it but I stayed there and worked and then they sent me up to the Peacock to go to work.”
They skidded all their groceries and supplies to Snowline, a dry camp, by way of six horses pulling wagons on skids.
“See, there was no road in there at all. Morrison Knudson was buildin’ a road along the edge of the river. It was a regular Klondike deal. We lived in tents for dog-goned near a year before we got any building set up and…heh…fifty men…and I’ll tell you, when you house up fifty men, and they can’t get away from each other, you better be careful, you could get a fight any time you wanted one. Oh! They get cranky! Holy Jesus, they get cranky and ornery.
They was fifty of us there. Heh, heh…something funny happened. The man that was buildin’ the trail down there, Jess Ward, sent up to the Peacock for a gallon of oil. Frank Louzon, the superintendent at the Peacock, went up to the cook shack and went out behind there and found a Rosebud Syrup can and he took it down to the compressor house and he filled it up with Mobile A oil and sent it down there. Well, the darn thing got tangled up in the groceries somehow. So along in the winter…heh, heh…the boy that was waitin’ the tables and takin’ care of things there ran out of syrup, oil, and he didn’t know; it looked like syrup. He filled up every dog-goned pitcher with that oil. Well then, it was pretty dog-goned touchy, I’ll tell you.”
Olive: “They didn’t take it as a joke, did they?”
Hugh: “They didn’t take it as a joke! I’ll tell you they didn’t! I was sittin’ right by the superintendent eatin’ breakfast. We always had hot cakes for breakfast and, of course, I poured a whole lot of it on my plate. I heard somebody down at the other end of the table…they was three tables, long tables…say, ‘It’s oil!’. Well, I took a bite and the minute I took it I knew it was oil and I spit it out! I was sittin’ there with the MP and he took a mouthful of it and he swallowed his! And then he threw down his knife and fork and out of the tent he went. I thought, ‘Damn you. If you can eat that, I can too!’ and I tried another mouthful but I couldn’t go it. I spit her out. Finally they was just about to hang the superintendent. [ Hugh broke up laughing here.] There was an awful rumpus. Jess Ward, the mine foreman, he come to his senses and he said, ‘I made that mistake. It was a can of oil that I was supposed to have got and it got in, tangled up, in the groceries.’ Jess got the men settled down. I’ll tell you, they was about to hang the superintendent! Heh…heh…heh.
RED LEDGE MINE ON THE EAGLE BAR
“We started to tunnel into that tunnel there. Instead of startin’ that tunnel in the rock they started it into the dirt and we went a hundred and seventy-five feet into that hill. It was an eight-foot square tunnel and I’ll tell you, that dirt was heavy, before they hit solid rock. But when they hit solid rock, it was just a wall, just like a cliff. They came down in the night and got me out of bed to start the compressor and they started drillin’.
Well, we had good machinery, good drills. We had English Sawl Rand water liners for drills and they was some good hard rock miners. They set those up and put up three drills on a bar. Now, a bar is a thing that reaches across a tunnel and it’s kinda like a screw jack and you screw it into the wall good and tight and hold it. Then you set your drill on top of that. Then they run air and there’s water that goes right down through the center of ’em and down through the drill. The drill is hollow, right down to where the bit is because you’re not allowed to run a dry drill through a tunnel because you get that rock dust in your lungs. It doesn’t make any dust. It comes out and it’s all kind of a mud. They set three of those on a bar and started drillin’. That rock was hard. I tell you, that rock was hard, that old diorite. The fire would just fly when they started drillin’.
They was drillin’ twenty-four holes in the face of that thing, in that tunnel. They couldn’t pull it at first. They was pullin’ around. Now, pullin’ around is blastin’ it out. They was drillin’ five feet holes, five and six feet deep. You know, them electric caps are in what they call ‘lays’. One bunch’ll shoot. Then another bunch’ll shoot. Then another bunch’ll shoot. They was a shootin’ it with electric caps. So they drove, drilled, this wedge in there like this, in a ‘V’. Now, those are ‘best holes’; the first or the middle holes are ‘best holes’. And, then, they drilled their uppers and then they drilled their lifters. They’d shoot the best holes out first. They’d shoot that ‘V’ out and then down would come the uppers, would blast, and then the lower ones would blast. There’d be a big pile of muck there then, and they’d shovel it out. That was the only way they could pull that ground, it was so hard to pull.
It was an eight-foot-square tunnel. We were really goin’ into that mountain. We got in there seven hundred feet when she shut down. They bought a lot of street car rail in Boise and hauled it down there for rail. We had forty-pound steel and six by sixes for ties. They had an electric locomotive and eight three-ton ore cars that were on Tempton bearings and everything was a workin’ just wonderful.
They had two Butler muckin’ machines. Now, these muckin’ machines, they’d run one in, in front of the train, and then they would wedge it to the track so as to hold it. That muckin’ machine would reach out nine feet and then it would double right up and it would spin right around, it run by air, and dumped it into the car behind it. It was awful fast. The man that run it, he strapped himself to it to keep from getting thrown off.
We had two of those and two machines on a bar and two jack-hammers runnin’ outside and I could hold a hundred pounds of air with that compressor. We had a wonderful compressor. We had a two stage compressor that had high and low cylinders, low compression on one side and high on the other. A big flywheel was in between. It weighed seven tons, that compressor, and the engine weighed nine tons that run it, a diesel engine. The fly-wheel that run it weighed a ton. The belt pulley on the engine was four feet in diameter and the one on the compressor I think was seven and it was an eighteen-inch leather belt. Boy, I’ll tell you, they had a fine bunch of machinery.
They brought it there on a loggin’ truck with six horses. When they took it up the mountain they had six horses in front [pulling] and four horses behind pushin’. They had them hooked up to a pole pushin’ on the back. They were pullin’ but we called it pushin’ because they were behind, shovin’.
[Photos illustrate two pairs of horses behind the truck harnessed to a pole that ran between them. The horses pulling on their harnesses forced the pole to push the truck. To turn the sharp switch backs on the steep grade the crude road had a flat stretch at each corner where the truck would stop. The horses were unhitched and turned around. The harnesses and the pole were reversed so that the rear of the truck now became the leading wheels and the teams started up the grade again.]
That country is a pocketty deal. There’s no ledge. Those mines all through the Seven Devils and up there were in what we call kidneys. They’d find a body of ore and dig it out and they’d have to hunt for another one. There was no continuation of a ledge. That’s all that Red Ledge is, is a great body of ore sittin’ there. It’s been spewed up from down underneath in the makin’ of the world. All that whole country, Landore, Peacock, Blue Jacket mines and around there, they was all in pockets. [He explained that the Red Ledge is like a layer cake, layered with rich ore, then none, then ore, and so on.]
The man that was runnin’ the diamond drill there, Lindsey, he was paid five thousand dollars a month to diamond drill. He was down about four hundred feet and the diamond came off the end of his bit. He couldn’t drill anymore. He had to get that diamond out of there or drill another hole. He tried and tried to get that diamond out of that hole. He finally went down to the cook shack and mixed up a batch of dough, a heavy, thick chunk of dough. Then he put that on the stem to the drill and he shoved it down that hole and brought ‘er up. There stuck that little ol’ diamond right on the end. (sourdough starter) and (sourdough whole wheat bread recipe)
BLUEPRINTS FOR THE TUNNEL
That tunnel was to be nine thousand feet long when it got under Deep Creek and Deep Creek was to be nine thousand feet above it. They were goin’ to bring that water down through a shaft, bring it out and make their own electricity. Kennedy, the engineer, told me, ‘We’ll never get back under Deep Creek. That ledge is on a dip. We’ll get ore in about four thousand feet and we’ll have all the ore to run for years and years’. They had surveyed out where the mill was gonna be just about a week before they shut down.
SHUTTING DOWN THE MINES
The mines shut down because of a lawsuit. The Peacock, the South Peacock, which was never any good… We shipped only two carloads out of there in the two years that we run it. They were sellin’ stock in New York on the Peacock to develop the Red Ledge. Butler was a smart old cuss. Everybody lost their money. I never bought any stock in it at all. I was afraid of it. They got into a lawsuit and he beat everybody out of it and got away with the money. They didn’t sell stock on the Red Ledge because they didn’t want it to get tangled up. There was too much money in it.”
[According to Hugh, when the lawsuit came about, mostly mail and stock fraud, the Red Ledge was hardly involved. The mines were only open about two years. The Red Ledge is supposed to be rich in copper ore still but Butler (who may be dead now) is supposed to be so rich that he doesn’t want to waste his time with it.]
BLASTING FOR STURGEON
[The night crew threw 40 sticks of dynamite into the Snake River at Eagle Bar and captured 19 sturgeon as a result. They ate what they could and took the rest up and down the river to share with other mining camps. Hugh did not eat sturgeon because they are scavengers, “hanging around the bottom of the cliffs where we threw our garbage”.]
Red Ledge and South Peacock mines are west of the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area (dark green) and east of the Snake River. Eagle Bar and the Red Ledge (horizontal marker, the triangle) are closer to the Snake River. Blue Jacket mine is southwest of the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. The 1978 photos were taken when I hiked down Deep Creek with my dad, Bruce Addington, to visit the Red Ledge mine. We actually started our Deep Creek hike from the Peacock mine. Deep Creek runs from Smith Mt. to the west.