Tuesday, July 31, 2012

"Gather," a poem by Rose McLarney

Some springs, apples bloom too soon.
The trees have grown here for a hundred years, and are still quick
to trust that the frost has finished.  Some springs,
pink petals turn black.  Those summers, the orchards are empty
and quiet.  No reason for the bees to come.

Other summers, red apples beat hearty in the trees, golden apples
glow in sheer skin.  Their weight breaks branches,
the ground rolls with apples, and you fall in fruit.

You could say, I have been foolish.  You could say, I have been fooled.
You could say, Some years, there are apples.

Poem from The Always Broken Plates of Mountains, published by Four Way Books

Sunday, July 29, 2012


On Friday, Mom went back out on the Independence Route of the Oregon Trail and finished practicing to be a tour guide.  She took her camera along again, and now I have some more pictures to show you.  The first place Mom stopped was the Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop and Farm Historic Site.  Mom did not tour the house or the museum because (1) she didn't want to take the time, and (2) she will get to do that when she is there on the bus tour.  So mostly Mom just hung out and took a few pictures.

The house is made out of stones, and it was built by James B. and Lucinda Mahaffie in 1865.  It was actually on the Westport Route of the Trails, but it got included in the Independence Route tour because the people on the Westport tour have plenty of other things to see.  The Mahaffies had a contract with the Barlow and Sanderson Stagecoach Line to feed the stagecoach passengers while fresh horses were busy getting hitched up.  Mrs. Mahaffie, her daughters, and hired helpers sometimes served between 50 and 100 meals a day to stage passengers who were traveling between Fort Scott and Fort Leavenworth.  The basement of the house was built to be a dining hall, and there was a kitchen down there, too.

J.B. and Lucinda Mahaffie

Anyway, while Mom was standing around, taking some pictures, she was shocked to see a real stagecoach drive out of the stable area.  Some people came out of the museum and got in the coach, and then it drove by.  This stagecoach was pulled by two draft horses, but usually, in the old days, teams of four regular horses were used because they were faster.  Or at least that's what you always see in the movies.

At the Mahaffie farm, the corn is really green and tall, at least in the middle of the field.  This is how the corn is supposed to look at this time of year, but most places it looks all dried up instead.  The Mahaffie people were watering their corn, which Mom could cleverly tell because she saw water shooting up high on the other side of the field.  And that is the reason this corn looked way better than all the other corn she saw on Friday.

The next place Mom went was called Lone Elm Campground.  This was a place where lots of people  stopped to spend their second night on the Trail.  Back in those days, this area was called "the treeless prairie" because of the fact that there weren't any trees, except maybe you could find some by a river or stream.  At this campground, there was just one big old elm tree that might have been 100 years old or something like that.  But finally somebody chopped it down to use for firewood, and after that, the Lone Elm Campground was more like the No Elm Campground.

The newest Lone Elm

Anyway, a few years ago, the City of Olathe, KS which is near the place where Lone Elm Campground was, bought a bunch of farmland so they could make a park.  Part of the park has fields where kids can play soccer and baseball, and then there is also a 40-acre area where the old campground used to be.  And that part has a picnic shelter and some historical markers and a few hiking trails.  They even planted a new lone elm tree there, except that it died, so then they had to plant another one. So far, it is still alive, but it is not very big yet.

Near the shelter house, there are some flowers called Black-eyed Susan.  But if you don't like that name, you can also call them Brown-eyed Susan, Brown Betty, Brown Daisy, Gloriosa Daisy, Golden Jerusalem, Poorland Daisy, Yellow Daisy, Yellow Ox-eye Daisy, or by their scientific name, Rudbeckia hirta.  These flowers are in the aster family, and they are native to most of North America, so that's probably why they have so many names.

After that, Mom went to a place called the Gardner Junction.  This was a very important spot on the Oregon, California, and Santa Fe Trails because it was where the Independence Route finally joined up with the Westport Route.  And also, this is where the Santa Fe Trail split off and went south.  At this spot, there is a special little park now, and it has several historical markers, which the people on the tour will be able to get off the bus and go read.

Meanwhile, the Real, Exact Spot where the two routes came together is only maybe a couple of hundred yards away, on somebody's farm.  If you look up this dirt road to the top of the little hill, you will see the Real, Exact Junction, because that's where it was.  Also, you will see a field of dead corn, which is how all the corn really looks everywhere except at the Mahaffie farm.

In fact, if you want to buy 50 acres of dried-up corn for yourself, here's some that is for sale.  You could make fodder out of it, and then plant some corn again next year, and if there is any rain, you might have better luck.  Or maybe you could plant soy beans, since that is a crop that is still green.  At least so far.

Of course, the reason everything is so dried up and dead is because of The Drought, which I told you about in a previous entry.  Mom took a picture of a big crack in the ground, and she put her foot in the picture so that it's easier to see the size of the crack.  Luckily, there aren't any cracks yet that are big enough for a person or dog to fall into, but that could still happen, if we don't get rain pretty soon.

Lanesfield School

Here's a photo of Lanesfield schoolhouse, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.  This school cost $1,000 to build in 1869.  The enrollment started out at 69 children, in all different grades.  After a few years, the town of Lanesfield moved two miles away, so it could be closer to the train depot.  This turned the school into a rural school instead of a town school.

Inside the school

Lanesfield School stayed open until 1963, and then it was closed.  But some people wanted to save it as a museum, and that's what they did.  In 1967, it opened up again as part of the Johnson Country Museum.  By 1987, the building was getting really run down, so it was repaired and made to look like it had back in 1904.

The outhouse, which has two seats

Lots of kids in the 4th and 5th grades visit Lanesfield School every year, and they get to find out what it was like being a student in a one-room school back in 1904.  When Mom was there, she didn't go inside the schoolhouse because it wasn't open, but she walked around and looked in the windows.  At least that's more than the bus tour people will do.  They just have to stay on the bus and gawk out the window.  But a lot of those people are old, so they have probably seen a one-room schoolhouse sometime in their lives already.

And finally, here is a marker that the Daughters of the American Revolution put up to show that the Santa Fe Trail went through the town of Lanesfield.  The DAR really likes to put up markers, and you will see these markers at all sorts of historic spots.  Mom could join the DAR if she wanted to, because she has at least one ancestor who fought in the Revolution, but Mom thinks maybe she has enough groups to worry about already!

Friday, July 27, 2012


Five years ago, all the way back in 2007, there were these two basset hounds named Allie and Bama, and they had a happy home in Murfreesboro, TN.  Then suddenly one day, the two dogs vanished from their yard.  Their mom and dad, Brenda Travis and Tom Shields, looked everywhere for them, for a whole year.   But they never found a single trace of their beloved basset hounds.  Finally they decided that the dogs had been stolen, and they would never be seen again.

After a while, Ms. Travis and Mr. Shields moved to Wichita, KS, and they had a baby.  Then last week, a totally amazing thing happened.  Ms. Travis got a call from a woman at a shelter in Dallas, GA, and she said Allie and Bama were there at the shelter!  Someone found the two dogs in the parking lot of a tractor supply store on July 5.  Bama has a microchip, and there were three phone numbers on it.  Only one of the phone numbers still worked, and it was Ms. Travis's cell phone number.  So that's how the shelter called her.

A bunch of friends got together and started something named "Operation Sweet Allie-Bama," and they had a Facebook page and everything.  They all worked together to figure out how to drive the dogs from Georgia to St. Louis, where Ms. Travis and Mr. Shields came and picked them up.

When Allie and Bama saw their mom and dad, they ran right up to them because they remembered them and were very glad to see them again.  No one knows where the basset hounds were for the five years that they were missing, but they stayed together somehow, and they were fat and happy-looking when they were found.

©Brenda Travis

Now they are living in Wichita, and they are sure to have a good life there.  I just love stories with happy endings, don't you?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


O. decaryi in habitat

Today I'm going to tell you about the Jabily tree, which is also called Operculicarya decaryi.  In my opinion, this scientific name is way too long and hard to spell and also hard to pronounce.  Not that anybody asked me, but I'm just saying.  Sometimes the Jabily tree is called "elephant tree" because it has a fat trunk like an elephant's leg, but there are other trees that are also called "elephant tree" so if you use this name, it can be confusing.

O. decaryi in a pot
Anyway, the Jabily tree comes from the southwest part of Madagascar.  Its trunk can be a meter in diameter, and the whole tree can be 9 meters tall, which is something like 30 feet.  The first person to describe the tree in a scientific way was Joseph Marie Henry Alfred Perrier de la Bathie, in 1944.  And I would like to describe Monsieur Bathie as a man with way too many names!

Mom's first O. decaryi
The reason I am telling you about this tree is because Mom has two of them, but they are not 9 meters tall.  They are only maybe a foot tall, and they live in pots.  Mom used to only have one Operculicarya, but then at the cactus conference, during the auction, she bought another one.  The one she bought used to belong to Aunt Barbara, but Aunt Barbara couldn't figure out how to grow it for sure.  Sometimes when she entered it in a show, the judges said it needed more "training."  And other times they said it was a wonderful plant and gave it a big award.

The one Mom bought
at the auction
So Mom bought it, and she is going to try to "train" it.  Plus she might try to "train" her first Operculicarya a little more.  I thought when Mom said she was going to train her plants that she meant she would teach them to sit and stay and heel, like you train a dog.  But it turns out that this is not what you train a plant to do.  What you train a plant to do is grow into interesting shapes or to wrap its roots around a rock or something like that.  And all this training stuff is called bonsai.

Mom doesn't know a whole lot about bonsai, but she is going to try to learn.  When you are trying to make a succulent plant  grow in a bonsai way, the idea seems to be to make the plant have a big, fat stem with only a few branches and leaves.  At least that's what it looks like to me.

At the cactus conference, there was a show, and Mom entered her Jabily tree.  She had not really trained it to do anything, except that she kept it pruned back so that it didn't have a lot of leaves.  This made the stem of the tree get fatter and bumpier and more interesting-looking.  Mom was not sure if she was doing the right thing with this plant, but she got a 4th place in that class, which had a whole bunch of plants in it.  So she was really happy.

O. decaryi flowers
Anyway, some Jabily trees have knobby bark, like Mom's do, and others have smoother bark.  There are male trees and female trees, and if you want seeds, you have to have one of each.  Mom doesn't want seeds, so she doesn't really care if her trees are boys or girls.  The flowers are really small, and they are kind of a reddish-brown color.

The new O. decaryi trying to
tie itself into a knot!
That's about all I know to tell you about the Jabily tree.  I tried to find out if there are any animals that like to live in the tree or eat the fruit, but I couldn't find that information during my 15 minutes of in-depth research.  Maybe I can talk Mom into taking me to Madagascar, because if we went there, we could see a bunch of interesting plants and also funny-looking animals such as lemurs.  And I think that would be fun.  Especially the lemurs.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


Yesterday Mom was gone for hours and hours, but finally she came home.  And what she was doing was she was practicing to be a tour guide for the Oregon-California Trails Association convention that will be in August.  This is the same convention that Mom has been doing all the spreadsheets for.  When this convention is over with, we will have survived the worst part of The Year From Hell, and we hope we can have a normal life again!

Mom sets out on the Trail
Anyway, it wasn't just the Oregon Trail that Mom went on yesterday.  It was also the California Trail and the Santa Fe Trail.  All of these trails started out here in the Kansas City area, and they all started from the Missouri River.  So it depended on where you got off the steamboat which route of the trail you took, and the main routes were the Independence Route and the Westport Route.  Mom is supposed to be a guide on the bus tour for the Independence Route, so that is what she was practicing yesterday.

Luckily, Mom took her camera along, and she made a bunch of pictures for me to use in my blog.  So now I am going to show you the pictures and tell you about them.

One of many informative trail markers
This first one is a historical marker on the bluff above the Independence river landing.  The real landing isn't there anymore, and you can't even go down to the river to see where it used to be.  So the best you can do is read a bunch of markers.  But the people who go on these tours seem to like reading markers and also taking pictures of them, so that's good.

The Missouri River, which you can
just barely see past the tops of the trees
A butterfly bush
Anyway, after going to that place where you can't see the river very well, the tour goes to downtown Independence, and the bus kind of winds around through the streets and past the courthouse.  The tour guides will talk about President Harry S Truman, who lived in Independence for many years, except not so much while he was busy being the president in Washington D.C.  Also, the guides will talk about how people bought wagons and oxen and supplies in Independence to get ready to go west.

This house has nothing to do with the Trails.
Mom just thinks it is pretty.
Mom didn't really take any pictures in Independence, except for that one of the house.  Mostly, she was too busy looking at street signs and trying to figure out where to turn and stuff like that.

Rice-Tremonti House
This is a house a few miles from Independence where some of the travelers stopped and camped for the night.  You can see the cabin in the background where the family slave, Aunt Sophie, lived.

The Santa Fe Trail signs were only put up
a few years ago.
One of the things that people who study the Trails really like to look at are swales.  A swale is a low place in the ground that still shows where all the hundreds of wagons and oxen went over the land and wore it down.  There aren't very many swales left around here because they all got paved over or plowed up or had buildings put on top of them.  But there are still swales left in a few places.  It's hard to take pictures of them because they are not deep, sharp ruts like you might see out west, but Mom did her best.

This is how some swales look from the bottom of the hill.
It's a little easier to see them if you look down the hill,
especially where the grass got mowed.

Another trail marker

Some metal cutouts on a hill near a school

A boarded-up house that has nothing to do with the Trail

The first river that the wagon trains had to cross was the Big Blue.  In those days, there was no bridge, and sometimes the river was high and fast and hard to cross.  Later on, a bridge got built, and it was called Red Bridge, because it was red.  A year or so ago, a brand new Red Bridge was built, and it is very pretty and modern-looking, but it's not very red.

The new Red Bridge
The new bridge has a bunch of pictures of famous pioneer types of people.

Kit Carson
Here is the old Red Bridge.  It will be used for a hiking and biking trail.

The old Red Bridge

In my opinion, the Big Blue River does not look big, and it doesn't look blue.  In the spring, when there is a lot of rain, the river can get big and it can even flood.  But right now, with the drought going on, it does not look very big.  It would be pretty easy to cross it with a wagon now, but what would be even easier would be to just drive your wagon across one of the two Red Bridges.

Back before the new Red Bridge got built, if there was a train coming, you had to wait for it to go by before you could drive across the tracks.  But the new bridge goes over the train tracks and also the river, so there is no more waiting.

A very long freight train
While Mom was standing on the new Red Bridge, a train came along, and Mom took a couple of pictures of it.

Graffiti on the train.
I hope it doesn't say something nasty!
After Mom went to the Red Bridge, she just stopped at one more place, and it was a little cemetery.  This cemetery is in a place that used to be called New Santa Fe.  Now there is nothing much left of this little town, except for the cemetery.  Of course, Mom thinks cemeteries are interesting, so she took several pictures.

This is maybe Mom's favorite grave ever in any cemetery.  We wish we knew the story of the horse thief, but we don't.  Probably what happened was that some man was trying to steal a horse or a bunch of horses, and he got shot while he was doing it.  But then nobody knew who he was, so the only thing they could put on his gravestone was "The Horse Thief."  It's kind of sad that a person has to be known forever by this one thing he did, and not by his name or age or anything else.

Here's a grave of a Confederate soldier who was in a sharp shooter unit.

And here's a woman whose first name was Missouri, which seems a little odd.

These 3 children didn't even have names, probably because they all died when they were born.

And this stone might be the saddest of all, because of all the hopes that got buried.

Okay, well, I don't have any more photos to show you because Mom got tired of doing the tour thing, so she came home and took a nap instead of finishing it.  Now she will have to go out next week and do the last part.  I don't know if she's going to take her camera or not, but if she does, I might have more photos to show you.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

"The Meet at Blagdon"

It's time for me to write about another one of those placemats that Mom bought at an estate sale.  You know the ones I mean:  the placemats with fox hunt prints on them.  Anyway, today's print is called The Meet at Blagdon, and it was painted by a man named John W. Snow.  The engraver's name was Thomas Lupton, and he dedicated his work:

To Sir Matthew White Ridley Baronet 
This Engraving from the Original Picture 
In his possession

In this scene, we see a few riders and lots of fox hounds.  Some of the riders and dogs got chopped off at each end of the picture on Mom's placemat, so here's what the whole print looks like:

The hounds in this picture are all hanging out, wondering when the hunt will get started.  Some of them seem patient, but others are trying to play with each other.  And there's a hole or a mud puddle or something like that right in front, so maybe some of the dogs have been digging there.  Except that none of them look very dirty.  And far away, in the middle of the scene, there is one of those big English country houses, and it turns out that this house is called Blagdon.

When I first started doing my in-depth research on this print, I discovered that there was a town called Blagdon in the county of Somerset, which is kind of in the southwest part of England.  I was learning all kinds of interesting things about this town, and I found out that blagdon probably came from Old English and it meant "black down," which is how a moor or "down" looks with blackish heather growing on it.

Blagdon Hall with squirrel

But then I was shocked to realize that I was chasing the wrong squirrel, so to speak, and that the Blagdon in the hunting print was actually a manor house all the way up in Northumbria, not too far from Newcastle-upon-Tyne.  I am glad I got all this important information straightened out before I wrote about it in my blog, because otherwise, I could have been very embarrassed.


So it turns out that Blagdon Hall has been owned by the White Ridley family ever since 1698.  Many generations of men with the last name White or Ridley have lived there, and most of these men had the first name Matthew.  At first, the Whites and the Ridleys were Baronets, which is the lowest rank of nobility you can have, but people still have to call you "Sir."

After a while, one of the Ridleys got promoted to Viscount, which is one step up from Baron.  I don't know how these things happen because the whole British nobility thing is very mysterious to me.  But I do know that many of the Ridleys served in Parliament, which made them pretty important.

Blagdon Hall without squirrel

I couldn't find out any information about Mr. John Snow, who painted this picture.  And I couldn't find a date for when it was painted or when the engraving was made.  Also, I couldn't figure out for a long time which Sir Matthew White Ridley was in the painting.  But then I found a website for Blagdon Hall, and there is a history of all the generations of Whites and Ridleys.

It turns out that the man in the painting was Sir Matthew White Ridley, 3rd Baronet.  He lived from 1779-1836, and he was the fifth generation of the family to live at Blagdon.  When his father resigned from Parliament, the son took his place.  Also he was into banking and the family's coal mining business.  But in the end, the 3rd Baronet was more interested in doing fun stuff in the country than he was in doing business.

Sir Matthew White Ridley, 3rd Baronet

So he put together a pack of fox hounds in 1815, and he appears in the painting with two of his sons.  I think he is probably the man on the dark brown horse, to the right of the center.  On Mom's placemat, this horse looks black.  I think this man is Sir Ridley because he looks like the most important person in the picture.  Sir Ridley also owned a famous racehorse named Fleur-de-Lys, which he later sold to the Prince Regent.

In 1803, Sir Ridley married Laura Hawkins, and they had 10 children.  When they moved to Blagdon in 1813, they added a large dining room to the house and also a wing with 10 small bedrooms for their children.

Anyway, the family home kept being passed down through the generations of White Ridleys.  The man who lives there now, Matthew White Ridley, 5th Viscount Ridley, was born in 1958.  He mostly goes by the name of Matt Ridley.  He is a scientist and a journalist, and he has written several popular books about science.  His first book, which was published in 1993, was called The Red Queen:  Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature, and the latest one, in 2010, is The Rational Optimist:  How Prosperity Evolves.  Also, Sir Ridley writes a weekly column for the Wall Street Journal called "Mind and Matter."
Matthew White Ridley, 5th Viscount Ridley

I wish I knew whether the Ridley family still keeps dogs at Blagdon House, but I could not find the answer to this important question.  Of course, fox hunting is illegal now in Great Britain, but I like to think that there are still some dogs living very happily at Blagdon.