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Archive for the ‘Historical’ Category

img_1495On a recent November morning, members of the Elmhurst Garden Club gathered in one of the meeting rooms of the Elmhurst Public Library for a viewing of a cautionary tale; From Billions to None.

This is the story of the passenger pigeon, which once blanketed the skies from Canada to Florida, breeding, nesting, and passing through more than half of North America. These pigeons were revered by indigenous Americans for their beauty and an abundant source of food. Early settlers, ornithologists, keen observers, and notables documented the billions of passenger pigeons that swarmed the skies in such large numbers that they would block out the sun for two or three days. The fluttering of so many wings would cause drops in temperature. The tons of excrement left on the fields enriched the soil. Their iridescent feathers adorned hats and they became a seasonal commodity in markets throughout the continent.

Until September 1, 1914 – and then there were none!

From Billions to None is the story of the extinction of the passenger pigeon, with the documented death of Martha, the last of her species, who died on that sad September day at the Cincinnati Zoo. It is a fable about the passenger pigeon and what happens when greed, disrespect for nature, what we today might call over harvesting, and how, in the end, there is nothing left. It is the documentation and, hopefully, illumination, of what and how fast extermination of a species can happen. It brings to mind the near demise of the buffalo and the American eagle, and our over harvesting of fish and fowl, and the cause massive outcomes of deforestation.

Joel Greenburg, who is central to this film, went on to write “A Feathered River Across the Sky: the Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction”. The image at the top of this post is from Greenburg’s book, which goes further in the documentation of this event. The book can be found here.

We watched the film, at times with a collective, audible gasp at photos of enormous hills of dead passenger pigeons, and how business manipulated political sentiment to continue the practices of killing thousands upon thousands of these birds. Some of you may have seen this documentary on your public television stations. I would like to encourage you to watch this short trailer, and consider asking your local library to purchase From Billion to None as well as  “A Feathered River Across the Sky: the Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction”.

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safe_image-phpIt was a hot time in our old town last night (and today, and tomorrow . . . )

Thank you, Chicago Cubs!

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Once upon a time, in land not so far away, a man with a goat invoked a curse of some renown.

Like many tales, in the telling of the details, words were lost and words were gained, but, the essence of the story remains the same.

In 1945, during the fourth game of the World Series, Billy Sianis’ goat was ejected from Wrigley Field. Insulted at his goat’s harsh treatment, Mr. Sianis uttered a curse. “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more,”

What actually happened is lost over the span of seven decades, but, the legend of the Curse of the Billy Goat lingered. For 71 years, the Chicago Cubs have never won the National League Pennant, and never advanced to baseball’s World Series, in spite of many efforts to break the curse.

Whether you believe in curses or fairy tales, for 71 years avid Cubs fans, some two or three generations deep, would hoot and shout and get their hopes up, only to have them quelled at season’s end. Loyal to the core, they waited – and waited and waited – until next year!

Like the magical moments in fairy tales, next year finally came, and with it something special happened – the curse of the Billy goat was broken.

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After 71 cursed years, the Chicago Cubs won the National League Division and are now in the World Series, which they have not won since 1908. Cubs fans the world over are elated, with shirts and caps and big “W” flags flying on pillars and posts and prominent buildings. There are Chicago Cubs caps on the venerable lions guarding the Art Institute of Chicago, and extra-large Cubbie t-shirts on the Field Museum dinosaurs.

These expressions of appreciation, encouragement and hope are important, but, something more meaningful, more magical, more wondrous has happened and it is coming from the hearts and souls and reminisces of people. It started to show, then to grow, on social media, in newspapers, on television and radio and has gathered fans and their ancestors together like a mother bear leading her cubs home.

Whether calling in or writing, texting or phoning – the stories of Cubs fans past or present are pouring forth. A common theme seems to have arisen. While fans of the Chicago Cubs have been on Cloud 9, it is their mothers and fathers, uncles and cousins, great-grandmothers, aunts and uncles whose memories are invoked with the hue and cry of

    ”           is celebrating in heaven!”.

A local television station, WGN, has encouraged everyone to send in their stories of loved ones who have passed on and their relationship with the Chicago Cubs. The stories keep growing and filling the air with a wholesomeness that is sincere and welcome in these otherwise uncertain times. There is no barrier, it seems, to who a Cubs fan is; no matter the gender, skin color, religion, ethnicity, political affiliations age, or education – there is no box to check off on the roster of rooters as so many people reveal their heartwarming stories of the decades of fans; fans that continued to wait until next year.

Whether or not the Cubs win the World Series is yet to be determined, but, in my humble view, they have already won the World Series of Human Spirit.

I have shared a story in the past of Tom and Ron Santo, which you can read here.

Championship sign is from the Cubs.

Goat photo is mine.🙂

 

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dairy-farmwalking-to-barnThe way to the barn was a well-worn, rutted path, uphill and scenic, past acres of pasture on a Illinois Centennial Farm, now in its 5th generation of dairy farmers. As we trudged up the path, we noticed most of the herd in the distance, congregating companionably under a brilliant sky. We headed toward one of the farm buildings. This was our third stop on the McHenry County Farm Stroll.

I first heard about this free event from a University of Illinois Master Gardener publication, which caught my attention. This year, 12 private farms would be opened to the public. The properties included orchard, vineyards, dairy farms, hobby farms, and the Loyola University Retreat and Farm campus.

Tom and I marked our calendars and bookmarked the event, intrigued by all the options available, familiar with the rolling hills and farmland in McHenry County, and knowing the wide and well-informed network of the University of Illinois Extension Services and Master Gardeners, as well as the McHenry County Farm Bureau.

We knew we would not be able to see all 12 farms, so, selected 4 that we were most interested in,  mapped out a route and off we went for a Sunday stroll.

This dairy farm was our 4th stop and different from the others. We soon found ourselves observing the cows and their bairn eating in the barn, followed by a very informative mini-lecture on hay and straw, how hay is harvested and stored, the often “iffy” reliance on erratic weather in the midwest. Our docent in the hay stall was from the Farm Bureau and she was a gifted and knowledgeable speaker who had all ages of visitors engaged in her subject matter.

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One of the farmers also walked us through a typical day of milking the cows with insight into small dairy farms versus large conglomerates, how he knows the names of all of his cows, and reminding us to check out his Guernsey cows and a calf just born who were just outside the barn.

I did take a few photos of the newborn Guernsey, which did not show well. It was not yet 24 hours old, curled into a brown ball of body and big eyes. If it had some spots I would have thought it was a fawn. Mom, however, was close by, keeping her eyes on the intruders passing by.

 

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So it was on this enlightening leg of our Farm Stroll, that we wandered back down the path, rutted with decades of use. Onward we went, headed toward our car. We stopped as we departed to thank the volunteers stationed there who asked how our visit was – and we were given a choice of carton of milk.

White or chocolate?

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We chose wisely.

 

 

 

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Just after the reverberations of musket fire and the resounding boom and hazy smoke of a cannon’s call,  shouts came, proclaiming

 “the voyageurs are coming“.

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This was once the clarion call heard up and down rivers, lakes, and waterways from the Atlantic Ocean to the Rocky Mountains and down to the Gulf of Mexico. It signaled the approach of canoes bearing goods from the French-Canadians. Goods to be traded with native Americans and with the settlers along the water routes. This water bound trade route opened the way for exploration that followed.

These voyageurs, as they were called, paddled up to 70 miles a day; powerful men singing songs that kept them rowing and set a cadence to match the pull of oars in the water.

Alouette, gentille alouette,
Alouette, je te plumerai.

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This weekend, we witnessed a reenactment of voyageurs disembarking on the banks of the Des Plaines River and we saw settlers and traders welcoming them as they came ashore. They were greeted and asked for their “papers”, which seemed to have fallen overboard. No problem, for there was liquor to proffer instead.

 A River Thru History – The Des Plaines Valley Rendezvous is an interesting and historical reenactment of the early trading and lifestyles in the Des Plaines Valley during the 1830’s. The rivers and rowers were the rapid transit systems of their time and predated the City of Chicago.

We have been meaning to go to the Rendezvous for several years and decided that it was time to make it happen. Busses shuttled visitors from an expansive free parking area to Columbia Woods, a Forest Preserve in Cook County, not far from our life here on the Cutoff. The Woods follow the river and are a scenic spot for fishing, canoeing, and birding – except on the second weekend in September, when it becomes an encampment for blacksmiths and tanners, weavers and potters, local historians and history buffs – and modern-day voyageurs of time.

As we disembarked from our 21st century means of transportation, we saw an expanse of 17th century tents, tools, wares and costumes. Campfires held that welcoming allure of being outdoors (or pretending to be in the wilderness) and we strolled around seeing what was to be seen.

img_0385img_0386img_0419img_0446img_0421img_0426It was fun to watch children attempting to make toothpicks and a potter turning her wheel, the milking of goats and the blessing of landing on soil by a priest. It was especially fun to hear our names called out in greeting as a relative who we haven’t seen in a decade recognized us. I love when these chance meetings occur, don’t you?

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Voyageurs.

We are all voyageurs, are we not?  So goes life here on the Cutoff.

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Simple Things

Paper.

Scissors.

Pencil. 

Glue. 

Simple things we didn’t have.

Simple things once taken for granted. 

Stolen. 

Bartered.

Traded.

Simple things brought great risks. 

Zlatka, page 258, “Paper Hearts” by Meg Wiviott

A book, written in poetry, just broke my heart. I closed it, felt a heaviness clutch my soul and wondered at how the human spirit can shine through the very worst of times..

I first heard of “Paper Hearts” through an interview of Meg Wiviott on El Space – The Blog of L. Marie. As with many of L. Marie’s posts, an author and book captured my attention. Based on a true story, “Paper Hearts” has been sitting on my book pile for many months – until the other day. I don’t know if it was the sad passing of Elie Wiesel, or maybe the terrors in the world right now and the unsettling political rhetoric, but, something compelled me to pick this book up and read it – and it is yet another book of this summer that I could not put down.

Told alternately in the voices of Zlatka and Fania, we follow each girl from the Pruzany and Bialystok Ghettos, into packed cattle cars to concentration camps. Auschwitz. Ravensbrück. The Malchow armament factory. Forced marches. Starvation. Fear. Atrocities. Disease. Death.

In the midst of all the despair, Zlatka does the unthinkable. She makes a small, heart shaped book, sewn together with a thread here, another one there, crafting pages that fold inward. Friends secretly pass the heart shaped pages to each other, writing birthday sentiments. Zlatka’s small creation becomes a book of birthday wishes for Fania’s twentieth birthday. Any one of these 51w829OOxIL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_things, if discovered, would be reason for execution. The little heart book unfolds to greetings, such as

When you get old, put your glasses on your nose, take this album in your hand and read my signature again, My love Fani, Mina.” 

Zlatka’s action was a remarkable act of sacrifice for a friend, as it was for each of the girls who wrote a birthday greeting to Fania. Forbidden acts punishable by death. Fania is deeply touched by her friends’ acts of caring, kindness, and creativity and doubly surprised by the birthday cake Zlatka makes, using rations of moistened bread formed into the shape of a cake. Fania carries this little book with her, also an act of defiance, keeping it hidden, close to her heart, under her flimsy dress.

“Paper Hearts” is a moving novel, based on a true story of courage in unthinkable, inhumane conditions in German concentration camp during World War II. Reading it during in real-time, when rounding up people because of their religion, ancestry, and any number of reasons, brought to me a heightened feeling concern.

 While I enjoy poetry, I will confess that I wasn’t sure how reading “Paper Hearts” in poetic form would feel. I can tell you that it feels quite comfortable and does not distract from the prose at all. I can also tell you that each and every poem, chapters in “Paper Hearts”,  stand on their own. Simple Things, quoted at the beginning of this post, is an example. This is a young adult book, but, it is a book for adults as well. I encourage you to read it, perhaps share it with a young person in your life, and never forget.

“Paper Hearts” comes with an extensive glossary and bibliography.

The real Zlatka’s testimony can be found here. Click on Solidarity.

The image above is Fania’s real birthday book, which is on display at the Montreal Holocaust Memorial and Centre. More information can be found here and here .

Image is from Simon & Schuster Canada here

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A book often finds its way into the hands and the heart of a reader at just the right moment. It can sit, unattended, for months, balancing chapters on a TBR pile, gathering IMG_9159dust or jockeying for a place higher up in the queue. It can rest inside a large, canvas tote filled with wrappers, receipts, and to-do lists,  intended reading over a latte, or a companion to pass the time in the waiting room of the doctor’s office. Books are always patient and kind awaiting their grand opening. So it was with Tyra Manning’s compelling memoir, “Where the Water Meets the Sand”.  I found myself opening its pages on a hot, humid summer afternoon and closed it a few days later with tears in my eyes and hope in my soul.

In the summer of 1970, a very young Tyra and her husband,  First Lieutenant Larry Hull. holding their baby daughter, bid farewell as he boarded a plane destined for Viet Nam. Before being deployed, Larry, a pilot, bought a trailer home for his young family and encouraged Tyra to continue her college education and become a teacher. They made plans for when he would have some R&R in Hawaii; they would meet where the water meets the sand. As he prepared to leave, Tyra promised Larry that he would be buried at Arlington National Cemetery if he was killed in the war.

On February 2, 1971, First Lieutenant Larry Hull’s plane, on a secret mission under heavy enemy fire, went down in a jungle in Laos. Tyra was notified that her husband had died instantly. His body was not found. Devastated, Tyra called her mother and made plans for Larry’s funeral.

At the time of Larry’s death, Tyra was being treated for clinical depression at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. Her doctor came to her room at the clinic to deliver her the horrible news.

As her father slowly faded from heart disease and her mother and father were often away for long periods of time,  seeking out doctors and treatments, Tyra and her brother were cared for by relatives and friends. Her father’s early death was overwhelming and vivid in Tyra’s memory. Tyra experienced even more heartache and loss early in her early years, leading to a rebellious teen and underperformed scholastically, acute depression, addictions, and an overwhelming fear of loss. Immobilized by fear and depression and fearing the safety and well-being of her young daughter, Tyra bravely sought help at the famed Menninger Clinic, her daughter being cared for by others, much as Tyra was as a child.

Tyra eventually earned her teaching certificate, became a principal, and then a well-regarded school superintendent. A champion for children, she raised her daughter, and conquered her illnesses with courage and determination.

Her personal journey is much more, however. “Where the Water Meets the Sea” is a beacon of hope for those who battle mental health issues, bulimia, binging, purging, cutting, alcoholism, drug addictions . . . Tyra Manning’s journey is one in which there IS a light at the end of the dark tunnels of life. It is also a touchstone to those adults, myself included, who have lost a parent early in their life and a recognition of how many carry that loss with them long into adulthood.

Dr. Manning’s story is also a testament to the burden of military families, as well as of veterans, who often bear their wounds and scars in ways we cannot see. SPOILER ALERT  Tyra Banks gives us a personal perspective of the uniquely heavy loss of a loved one whose body is never returned, as well as the “what if” should one’s remains be found.  Larry’s remains were located more than three decades after he was lost to war. It was not just a journey for Tyra, but, for the men in his unit as well, many of whom Tyra later meets and hears, first hand, of how Larry died, when he is finally laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. Their own sadness at not being able to return his body is expressed and Dr. Manning seems sensitive to in her writing.

For every adult who still carries his or her inner child who lost a parent at an early age, this is a book to read.

For every family member of military whose loved one never come back from war, this is a book to read.

For everyone with immobilizing fears, anxiety, depression, and mental health issues, this is a book to read.

For you, dear reader, this is a book to read.

Thank you, Dr. Manning. Your courage to seek help and your courage to tell your story is inspiring and, in spite of the sadness and pain, your story is a gift, especially for the millions of people who seek that spot where the water meets the sand.

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Juliet Batten

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