A Woman of No Importance

After 140+ pages of dangerous espionage, sacrifice, and struggle…about midway through the book and it’s getting to be quite the page turner.

A Woman of no Importance by Sonia Purnell.

Dorothy Ann Hobson

My husband and I recently drove to the abandoned townsite known as Valsetz, Oregon, about an hour and a half westerly drive from our house in Salem. Valsetz got it’s name by combining the two words Siletz and Valley, the name of the railroad which ran through it when the town was established around 1919. Valsetz was a company town first owned by Cobbs & Mitchell Lumber out of Cadillac Michigan and later by Boise Cascade. In 1984 Valsetz’s usefulness as a lumber town ran dry and it was razed and blazed. When I was growing up in the 70’s, I would occasionally run across someone who either lived in Valsetz or knew someone there, which is why I felt something of a tinge of sadness a few years back when I learned that Valsetz was a town no more. I always meant to visit there.

The day we drove to Valsetz was a beautiful spring day; the sun lit our way through the hour-long drive along a private gravel logging road. We drove between towering trees the likes of which I rarely see down in the valley. We drove up a mountain, back down again, and across a valley, once being very closely passed by a logging truck. We were sprinkled on a couple of times, but encountered no real down-pouring of rain, which would not have been unusual considering that Valsetz is an area which receives 140” of rain a year.

Aside from wishing to visit Valsetz because I once knew someone who worked there, a bit of nostalgia if you will, I also wanted to visit Valsetz to see the place where Dorothy Anne Hobson spent her childhood.

Dorothy Ann Hobson. Oregon Historical Society.

In 1937 the town of Valsetz was still owned by its originators, Cobbs & Mitchell Lumber. Dorothy Anne Hobson was a precocious youngster who, at the age of 9, announced that she was going to edit a newspaper for Valsetz entitled The Valsetz Star. She made this proclamation while eating in the Valsetz cookhouse, where both of her parents worked, to Mr. Herbert A. Templeton of the Valsetz Lumber Company. Mr. Templeton then offered to publish the paper for her in the company’s Portland office and the deal was struck. Dorothy wrote out her rough draft with a pencil and Mr. Templeton passed it along to his office staff who typed it up as received; no corrections in spelling or grammar and without any censoring of the subject matter. The staff then printed it up on legal sized (8.5”x14”) paper and it was distributed around Valsetz, in the Portland offices of the company, and to various business associates.

The Valsetz Star made it’s way around the country, and even to international hot spots, by way of an advertising opportunity embraced by Mr. Templeton who almost immediately began mailing copies of the newspaper to lumber dealerships around the United States and to several foreign countries. Dorothy’s wit, humor, and knowledge quickly made The valsetz Star a much anticipated monthly read.

1937: “We believe in Hemlock, Fir, Kindness, and Republicans.”

1938: “Russia and Finland stopped fighting but the cats are still fighting under our house something fierce.”

“We forgot to mention last month that we have no police or sheriff in Valsetz. Everyone just does what they please.”

1940: “We received a letter from Shirley Temple and she thinks editing a paper would be fun-but it isn’t.”

and of course, dorothy understood the business side of things, or how the paper was printed. Advertising.

“Hurry and get your order in for Cobbs & Mitchell’s nice smooth lumber. It’s going fast but it’s not too late if you order now.”

Radio stations began reading the paper on the air, The Valsetz Star had subscribers in nearly every state in the U.S., and by 1940 more than a dozen newspapers were printing excerpts from it. From the Portland Oregonian to the Denver Post, The Christian Science Monitor to the New York Herald and the Washington D.C. Post, it seemed that the little adolescent living deep in the forest was a national sensation. Even Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt quoted The Star at her regular press conferences. Counted among the famous and semi-famous people who wrote to Dorothy were Herbert Hoover, Postmaster General James Farley, Wendell Willke (Presidential candidate), and Charles McNary, U.S. Senator from Oregon.

Dorothy edited The Valsetz Star for four years, which amounts to nearly fifty issues, ending the streak with the December 1941 issue with nary a notice to her loyal readers. It seems she was going to move to Salem and attend Parrish Junior High School to “improve her education, take music and vocal lessons, and have her teeth straightened, with no time left for anything except the Parrish Pep Club.”

Dorothy finished junior high and high school, then graduated from Willamette University before marrying Frederick H. Graham in 1949. They raised three children together, then ran a hardware store, and Dorothy became involved with real estate and interior decorating. Dorothy was honored as a guest of the Valsetz High School graduating class of 1984 (a class of 9 students), probably relishing the drive on a gravel road instead of the dust or mud (depending on the weather) road she drove on back in her day of the dirt roadway. Later that year the town was demolished. Dorothy Anne Hobson Graham passed away twelve years later in 1996.

Towns without purpose always fade away. Mining towns and timber towns alike often suffer the same fate; resources become depleted, or technological advances render them unnecessary. The people move away and it is, after all, the people who made the town. Valsetz still has a few roads, some foundations to long-gone buildings, and occasional railroad beds, but it is no longer a town. The spire-like trees, trickling brook, towering mountains all around, and fields of beautiful flowers made me wish it was, but just like Dorothy Anne outgrew the newspaper industry; the lumber industry outgrew the town.

Valsetz OR

(First published in WOODS READER.)

Nien Cheng 1915-2009

Eyes Toward Heaven

Sometimes a person has so much confidence, grace, and poise, that it comes through in even something as static as a photograph. Nien Cheng (Kneen Chen) was just such a person. Some of the other adjectives used to describe her in older magazine articles, on various blogs and in the comments section of an interview with her that is posted on YouTube are; gentle, courageous, elegant, intelligent, indomitable, dignified, incredible, charming, and so on… Looking in her peaceful eyes, it is hard to believe she was a survivor of, and witness to, the myriad horrors brought about during the Cultural Revolution in China. A revolution know to claim the lives of untold millions.

Born Yao Nien-Yuan in 1915 Beijing, China to a fairly well-to-do family, Nien Cheng was not a pampered child despite her family having man-servants, maids, a cook, a gardener, and all manner of help at their disposal. Nien’s father insisted that she and her younger brother walk to school instead of being driven in one of the cars. She later said in an interview that this attitude of her father’s toughened her up and made it possible for her to endure many of the hardships which she encountered later in life.

In June of 1966, Mao Zedong gave his blessing to the Red Guards, a teacher-led group of armed youth instructed to enforce Maoist ideology (Mao Zedong Thought) all throughout China. The media proclaimed the mission of the Red Guards was to rid the country of the the four olds; old culture, old customs, old habits, and old ways of thinking. “Old,” was not clearly defined, and was a term left to the bearer’s interpretation as the Red Guards were released on Shanghai. They methodically visited each house to exact confessions, extort funds, destroy antiques, and intimidate people. Anything short of murder was allowed by the teachers who led them, for killing someone could eliminate the possibility of obtaining vital information for the Party.

At that time, no one could have possibly known that the list of difficulties which Nien would face in her life would number many, and none of them were as simple as having to walk to school instead of getting a chauffeured ride. By 1966 she was widowed, her husband having died in 1957 of colon cancer, the mother of an energetic college student of 24, and an assistant manager at Shell in Shanghai.

The Red Guards came to Cheng’s house on August 30 1966 while Meiping (Mayping), her daughter, was still at school. They all wore red arm bands as identifiers. Except for the teacher, they were all under 20 years old. One youngster towered above her diminutive form with anger in his eyes, feet apart, shoulders braced and declared, “We have come to take revolutionary action against you.”

Cheng asserted that it was illegal, against the Chinese constitution, to enter her house without a warrant. Pushing her aside, they disregarded her claim and in a flurry of adolescent, unfettered zeal, the group of Red Guards tore her house apart, cut up her clothes, smashed up some of her precious porcelain figurines, stole many of her valuables, and burnt her books.

Cheng was put under house arrest until September, when she was sent to prison as an enemy of the state. The allegations against Nien Cheng which got her put into solitary confinement at the Number One Detention House in Shanghai was a combination of having been educated at the London School of economics, being a widow of a Chiang Kai- Shek official, and working as an assistant manager of Shell, a major American corporation, which proved she was a spy against China. The espionage accusation kept her in prison for six and half years. The Maoist attitude which governed all of China’s population was to get rid of the higher class, get rid of the old, and to do everything Mao’s way. From agriculture to cooking, Mao was the do all and end all of everything any citizen of China undertook. The prisons were full of people who either actually did not conform or whose neighbor’s confessed that they did not conform. Nien Cheng was not alone in being singled out for the lifestyle she lived.

The authorities wanted Cheng to confess so they could use her declaration to attack Zhou enlai.(Cho Enlye) by accusing him of facilitating the spying on the Chinese by Shell because he was involved in the original agreement between the Shell Corporation and China in 1950. Mao wanted to get rid of some of the Chinese leaders, those less Maoist, and having them arrested for treason was how he planned to accomplish it. All the Number One Chinese of foreign banks and businesses were locked up in the men’s prison, because they arrested every single senior Chinese in every foreign company and forced them to confess. None of them did because they all knew it was a political process used to aid Mao in getting rid of the mild factions of the Communist Party leaders, those who realized that Mao’s policy was not working.

Being wrongfully charged as a spy and held in solitary confinement where she suffered isolation wore on her soul, but reciting the 23rd Psalm was a balm that softened the chafe. At one point she had to accomplish all her daily duties, including personal hygiene and eating, with her hands cuffed behind her back for three weeks straight. The cuffs carved deep wounds into her wrists that would scar her for a lifetime. In prison, the food so lacked nutrition and was so sparse, she would endure rotting gums which caused her to lose her teeth. She was routinely tortured in attempts to force a confession. What brought her through those years in prison was prayer. Nien Cheng believed in God, that He is just and righteous and had a plan for her, and what faith she must have had to endure the torture, beatings, and starvation level rations. She clung to the Psalms, encouraged by the recitation of, “Though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil,” and was reassured in prison with a heart ready to heal.

When Cheng was released, she was told her only child, Meiping had passed away. She was told that her daughter had jumped from a nine story building and committed suicide. After Mao’s death in 1976, when people began to speak without as much fear, she discovered Meiping had been beaten to death by a gang trying to gain favor with the Party.

Cheng missed Meiping every day. She felt so much grief she decided to leave Shanghai. She had sisters in both Hawaii and California and that’s where she started the journey on the road to her new life in America where she would further her education, become an American citizen, and eventually the author of the memoir, Life and Death in Shanghai. Writing the book helped her purge the demons lingering behind her eyes and encourage the generations behind her to stand strong in their faith.

Nien Cheng

Cheng, Lien. Life and Death in Shanghai, 1986, Grove Press

http://articles.latimes.com/1993-12-19/news/mn-3446_1_cultural-revolution

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/politics-obituaries/6545847/Nien-Cheng.html

MacAskill, Ewen. Nien Cheng and the Flames of Revolution, Washington Post, July, 15 1986

Lady Fu Hao, 13th Century BC

Between 1,600 B.C. and 1,050 B.C., long before the production of the Terracotta Army, the teachings of Confucius, and the importation of Buddhist thought, parts of modern day China were living among divided Kingdoms. They held religious ceremonies, and were well versed in literary application with a dictionary of over 4,000 characters. Some tribes painted these characters with brushes on bamboo slips to keep daily records.

During this time along the Yellow River Valley, near modern day Anyang, Henan Province, the Shang Dynasty flourished. The advances of bronze smelting during this period ensured that skilled craftsmen would have work, that Kings would have fine decorations and utensils, and that warriors would be well armed.

It was a time before the vast area we know of today as China was brought together under one rule. In fact, much of the area known as China today was home to approximately seven different warring tribes before being unified by its first Emperor, Qin Shi Huang (King Zheng of Qin) of the Zhou (JO) Dynasty in 221 B.C. (It was Qin Shi Huang who thought that having united all the surrounding kingdoms into one vast empire, he should be addressed as Emperor of the nation, not simply as a King. This is why he is referred to as “First Emperor.”)

The Shang culture was one of agriculture, hunting and animal husbandry, all of which sustained not only the farmers who worked the fields and raised the animals, but also the citizens who were employed by the king in the areas of bronze crafting, weapons building, being a member of the Imperial Guard, or those who made up the Armed forces. The Shang Dynasty expanded bronze making to an efficient artistic and practical craft; the foundry and workshop for bronze smelting were usually within earshot of the King’s palace and occupied approximately 36,000 square yards. With the perfection of bronze production, the Chinese began making some of the most elaborate bronze pieces ever formed which served as both practical pieces for daily use as well as artistic sculptures. Birds, horses, dragons, tigers, phoenix’ the sun, and other depictions of fantasy and reality could be found on tools, musical instruments, weapons (daggers, arrowheads, spears), and food and ritual vessels.

Pyramids had long been constructed to protect the tombs of kings in Peru, Bosnia, Brazil, and of course Egypt. During the time in which the Shang Dynasty tombs were being built in China, Moses had recently descended Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments (approximately 1446 B.C), the Hindu Scripture, “The Vedas”, was written in India, and King Tutankhamen’s body was being embalmed in Egypt.

Not only was Chinese civilization quite advanced in its artistic and technical skills during the Shang Dynasty, but their mathematical skills were becoming more sophisticated as well; the principles of the Pythagorean triangle theory were being taught as were mathematical permutations, or “magic squares.” Even with all of the intellectual and physical achievements which the Shang Dynasty instigated, their religious beliefs remained primitive and archaic, though highly structured.

It is in this society, a social structure of hard labor by males, of great thinking credited to males, and of artistic achievement and religious rites ruled by males, that we meet our first Chinese Heroine, Fu Hao (FU HOW), who found herself at the palace of King Wu Ding by way of marriage.

It was an apparently effective decision of King Wu Ding to marry a woman from each surrounding tribe in the region in order to stave off warfare. It is in this way that King Wu Ding found himself married to over sixty wives, one of which was Fu Hao, who the King discovered had a knack with both divination and the sword.

Believing that the ancestors had power over their lives was sacrosanct to the Shang and it is the King who tried to divine the intentions of the ancestors as well as seek favor of God (Tien) with the means of a diviner. Considering the great importance of the diviner to the King, Fu Hao gained the King’s great favor. She could be found almost daily conducting a ceremony by which oracle bones were inscribed with questions for the ancestors and gods.

In order to obtain direction from the deities about the weather, battles, illness, or the success of crops, the questions were chiseled into the bone of an ox or the shell of a tortoise with a sharp tool. A heated rod was then applied to the oracle bone until the bone or shell cracked, at which point the diviner would interpret the cracks in relation to the inscribed question. Thus, it can be assumed, the diviner had much power. In an age when superstition was the dominant method for explaining medical and scientific phenomenon, the diviner was an important facet of society.

Not only did Fu Hao have great ability as a diviner, a reader of oracle bones and of conducting sacrifices, she became the first known female general in the history of China. Not long after being appointed diviner to the King, she and King Wu Ding set out on a three year tour of the countryside. They may have been skirting the boundaries of the kingdom in search of ore deposits such as copper, tin, and lead to use in producing bronze. Upon arriving back from their long journey in which they formed alliances and conducted trade with many tribes throughout the region, they found that the Shang territory was being invaded by hostile enemies from the north, the Tu Fang.

Fu Hao had been trained in military tactics in her youth. Coupling that education with her experience as a ruler in the art of war to her recently acquired knowledge in geography she learned traveling around the Shang territory, King Wu Ding granted Fu Hao’s request to lead the military campaign against the Tu Fang. It is here, in Fu Hao’s first battle as a General, that the full force of her abilities as a military leader was recognized. After being routed by a female leader, the Tu Fang never again challenged the forces of the Shang.

There were more challenges coming right on the heels of the Tu Fang battle. The Qiang Fang tribe in the northwest soon came to test the Shang, but again Fu Hao would lead the Shang to victory, riding high and mighty on a grand chariot made of wood and held together not with nails but with wooden pegs and leather lashing. The complicated structure of the Shang chariots, coupled with their well-stocked armament, made them a formidable army for any contender in battle.

Soon after the Shang defeated the Qiang Fang, threats from the southeast and southwest began to materialize. It was not long before the Shang ousted the Yi Fang as a threat with Fu Hao’s military strength and wit. Fu Hao’s genius demonstrated itself again when she fought alongside her husband, King Wu Ding, and cleverly laid a trap for the attacking forces of the Ba Fung tribe in the southwest. This fourth and final battle of Fu Hao’s was so demonstrative of military prowess that she was celebrated with fervor as the most outstanding military leader of the country. At one point, Lady Fu Hao led 3,000 soldiers in battles to protect the Shang Dynasty from invaders.

Not long after returning home from battle against the Ba Fung, Lady Fu Hao became very ill. During this illness her son, Xiao Yi, died, which distressed her so much that she was not able to recover and she soon died. King Wu Ding, having been so enamored with Fu Hao, had her tomb erected near his palace where it would be safe from looters. In fact, Fu Hao’s tomb remained unmolested until it was discovered more than 3,000 years later.

The treasures buried with Fu Hao are numerous; not only many animal and human sacrifices (16 slaves), but also with her earthly treasures; 490 different hairpins, articles of opal, 755 objects made of jade: birds, phoenix’, horses, dragons, tigers, etc., ivory objects, cowry shells, bronze jue’s, and over 440 smaller bronze vessels, pottery and130 weapons; one of which was a bronze battle axe which is a symbol of her great military influence. Lady Fu Hao’s tomb was found at the Capital of the Shang Dynasty, Anyang (present day Henan Province), in 1976 and is the only Shang Dynasty tomb of a member of the royal family to have gone unmolested since its construction in approximately 1250 B.C.

Statue of Fu Hao

Dynasties of Imperial China:

Bronze Age Dynasties:

Xia (Shaw) 2070-1600 BC

Erlitou (Arleetoo) 1900-1500 BC

Shang (Shang)1600-1046 BC

Zhou (Joe) 1046-256 BC

Early Imperial Period:

Qin (Chin) 221-207 BC

Western Han (Hon) 206 BC-8 AD

Xin (Shin) 8-23

Eastern Han 25-220

Three Kingdoms 200-280,

Pei (Pay)Northern region,

Shu (Shoo) SW region

Wu (Woo) SE region

Six Dynasties 222-589

Wu 222-280

Dong Jin (Dong Chin) 317-420

Liu-Song (Lew-Soong) 420-479

Nan Qi ( Non Chee) 479-502

Nan Liang (Non Leeyang) 502-557

Nan Chen (Non Shen) 557-589

Southern and Northern Dynasties 586-589

Late Imperial Period:

Sui (Swee) 581-618

Tang (Tong) 618-907

Five Dynasties 907-960

Later Liang 907-923

Hou Tang 923-936

Hou Jin 936-947

Hou Han 947-951

Hou Zhou 951-960

Ten Kingdoms 902-979

Wu 902-937

Nan Tang 937-975/976

Nan Ping 924-963

Chu 927-951

Qian Shu (Chi-en Shoo) 907-925

Hou Shu 934-965

Min 909-945

Nan Han 917-971

Wu-Yue (Woo-You-A) 907-978

Bei-Han (beh hon) 951-979

Song 960-1279

Yuan 1271-1568

Ming 1568-1644

Qing 1641-1911

Sources:

“Fu Hao (fl. 1040 BCE).” Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Ed. Anne Commire. Vol. 5 Detroit: Yorkin Publications, 2002. 807-809. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 10 Feb. 2014.

Peterson, Barbara Bemmett ED.. Notable Women of China: Shang Dynasty to the Early Twentieth Century, M.E. Sharpe, 2000, pp. 13-16, Electronic Book, 10 Feb. 2014.

Hammond, Kenneth James, ED. The Human Tradition in Premodern China (Issue 4 of Human Tradition Around The World) Rowman & Littlefield, 2002, pp. 11-12. Electronic Book. 10 Feb. 2014

Focusing

Now that we see normal making it’s way back to us, it’s time to learn to focus our attention on things other than pandemics and vaccines. This is going to have to be a deliberate and decisive choice as the distractions have been solidly put in place via the social media we’ve spent the past two+ years gluing our eyes to.

Nearly eight years ago I decided it was time to quit smoking but was sure I’d fail if I didn’t replace it with something truly earth shattering. My dad had recently given me his old bicycle so I thought I’d take up bicycling. Being a person who needs an objective, and having recently discovered an affinity toward old barns, I decided to combine said allure with bicycling and another hobby – photography.

After a few months I learned many things: Streets are dangerous (especially logging roads!), it’s nearly impossible to focus a heavy camera while trying to catch your breath, and a heavy backpack pushes your body down onto the bike seat. Those country roads are brutal. The incident in question was on a beautiful blue sky day. I was coming downhill at a good clip passed a pasture of cattle, a deep ditch running along the side of road and virtually no shoulder when a log truck sped by so close as to give me splinters. On top of that, I was lost. Not the end of the world, but definitely enough to make me rethink my game plan. I did manage to quit smoking, but one really frightful scare got me off the bike for good and I finished out the year driving to photograph the local barns.

This one in particular was the most difficult to capture:

I spotted it coming around the corner on a busy highway. In just a second, one wee blink, it was gone, lost in brush and trees, on a hill beneath criss-crossed telephone and electricity wires. It took me many attempts to get this one in focus with my long lens looking through, around, below, and above so many obstacles. As usual, without a tri-pod ( I could never figure out how to get one on a bike), it was all about stabilizing: Take a few deep breaths, set my feet, focus the image, let out my breath, and shoot.

I think a lot of us are right here at this point in time, but I believe we will get where we need to be with a little diligence. As long as we’re able to take a few breaths, set our feet, focus, release, and shoot, we’ll be just fine.

To see some of the barns and structures I photographed during my cessation period click here.

Nana Yaa Asantewaa Queen Mother, GHana

One of the most heroic attributes of a citizenry is their ability to reclaim their history after the treasures, artifacts, and all things sacred have long been hauled away to fill the coffers and landfills of those who would enslave them. Subverting attempts of thievery at the onset can be considered an equally epic act. In 1900, the Ashanti people of Ghana would rise up and prevent the loss of their history with dauntless courage. The leader of their uprising was a sixty year old grandmother by the name of NanaYaa Asantewaa.

The Ashanti (Asante; Asa means war, nte means because of) was a tribe in modern day Ghana founded in the 17th century when, tradition indicates, a priest by the name of Okomfo Anoykye brought a golden stool down from heaven and anointed Osei Tutu as asantehene (king) of the kingdom. Osei Tutu rallied the forces of the neighboring chiefdoms against their mutual enemy, Denkyira, and these rallied forces formed the Ashanti, the ruling power of the region. The Golden Stool not only became a symbol of the king of the Ashanti people, it was also believed to hold all the souls of the Ashanti; past, present, and future.

In the 18th and 19th centuries the Ashanti developed strong trade relations with the Europeans, exchanging slaves and gold for guns and ammunition. They had always used many slaves themselves and their land was rife with gold. They soon became far better armed than the neighboring villages they fought against and greatly increased the size of their empire.

The Berlin conference of 1884 formalized the colonization of Africa and set the Europeans scrambling to seize West Africa’s many natural resources. As they carved up the continent among themselves, Ghana came under British rule and in 1886 the Ashanti rebelled against them. In 1896, like a classic move in a game of chess, the British took the King of the Ashante, Prempeh 1, and exiled him along with other powerful leaders such as Kofi Tene to Seychelles. The British had been attempting to make the region a protectorate in three previous wars, 1824 where the Ashanti were the victors, 1863 again the British lost to the Ashanti, but the 1874 war saw the Ashanti lose ground along the coast to the British, who eventually named the area the Gold Coast. With the blessing of the Berlin conference, the British were emboldened to accomplish the subjugation of the Ashanti people.

On March 28, 1900, to prove his dominance and superiority over the Ashanti, the British governor spoke at Kumasi, the Capital. “Your King, Prempeh 1, is in exile and will not return to Ashanti. “ He continued to tell them of the Queen’s authority, his power as the queen’s representative, and the amount of taxation the Ashante will be required to pay as a colony under British rule, as per the 1874 peace treaty, which the Ashante had yet to pay one iota. He also requested they forfeit their Golden Stool.

“What must I do to the man, whoever he is, who has failed to give to the Queen, who is the paramount power in the country, the stool to which she is entitled? Where is the Golden Stool? Why am I not sitting on the Golden Stool at this moment? I am the representative of the paramount power in this country; why have you relegated me to this chair? Why did you not take the opportunity of my coming to Kumasi to bring the Golden Stool and give it to me to sit upon?”

Kofi Tene’s grandmother, Nana Yaa Asantawaa,was the Queen Mother of the Ashanti. Nana signified her high position after she became Queen Mother when her brother Afrane Panin became chief of Ejisu around 1884. With the exile of so many leaders, Nana Yaa Asantewaa assumed the position of Chief. She was a courageous woman with a strong sense of integrity, and justice who did not take kindly to the governor’s proclamation that he should be brought the sacred stool, a golden representation of Ashanti strength.

Yaa Asantewaa gathered the leaders together and they hid the stool away from the invaders. The governor’s demand for the stool and payment for his self proclaimed overlordship was the last straw, she wanted to fight them and send them away from her home. While the British searched everywhere for the Golden Stool, Yaa Asantewaa noticed the solemn faces and weak wills of the fellow chiefs who seemed ready to meet the demands of the British. She stood to summon their solidarity in order to keep the stool from falling into enemy hands.

“How can a proud and brave people like the Ashanti sit back and watch while white men take away their king and chiefs, and humiliate them with demand for the Golden Stool? The Golden Stool only means money to the white man; they have searched and dug everywhere for it. I shall not pay one predwan to the Governor. If you, the chiefs of Ashanti, are going to behave like cowards and not fight, you should exchange your loincloths for my undergarments.”

With a rally cry sure to motivate even the most fearful of men toward action, Yaa Asantewaa was able to organize an army of 5,000 soldiers to confront the would-be thieves. She led a strong charge against the soldiers, killing many before all the British throughout the Ashanti kingdom, including missionaries and government employees, retreated to their heavily fortified fort in Kumasi.

As Commander in Chief of the Ashanti Army, Yaa Asantewaa ordered the cutting of the Fort’s telegraph wires and the blocking of shipments of food, weapons, and supplies. For three months they kept the captors captive. Approximately 3,500 people were living within the close confines of the fort. So many grouped together encouraged the spread of diseases such as small pox and yellow fever. With no way to leave the fort, the living were forced to drop the dead from the windows, which created an even more putrid and infectious environment.

Yaa Asantewaa made a truce to allow the women and children to leave the compound. One of the women who was released carried with her a message to the Cape Coast. A strong enforcement team was mobilized to march to Kumasi where they overtook the Ashanti on July 11th 1900.

With the capture of Yaa Asantawaa in September, the Yaa Asantewaa war, or the war of the Golden Stool, was officially concluded. Asantawaa was exiled to Seychelles where she lived until 1921. She passed away at the age of 81 surely taking pride in having won the battle, though she’d lost the war. The sacred Golden Stool never left its rightful place.

The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history. George Orwell.

The Golden Stool

“Yaa Asantewaa.” Yaa Asantewaa, http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/people/person.php?ID=175.

“Berlin Conference of 1884–1885.” Oxford Reference, http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780195337709.001.0001/acref-9780195337709-e-0467.

Everipedia.org, everipedia.org/Frederick_Mitchell_Hodgson.

The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 13 Aug. 2020 .” Encyclopedia.com, Encyclopedia.com, 27 Sept. 2020, http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/ashanti-wars.

West, Racquel. “Yaa Asantewaa (Mid-1800s-1921).” Welcome to Blackpast •, 10 Oct. 2019, http://www.blackpast.org/global-african-history/yaa-asantewaa-mid-1800s-1921/.

Salem is Hypnagogic

DSC_0534
Current Fairview property as a community.

Sometimes the reality of Oregon’s history feels deeply surreal. Having grown up in Salem so close to the State Hospital, Fairview home for the mentally disadvantaged, Hillcrest Reformatory school, more than a few prisons, only a thirty minute drive away from Camp Adair where a contingent of the US Army lived, worked and trained from 1942-1946, and the home of serial murderer Jerry Brudos, I’ve always been exposed to the things that make me ask questions.

Nissen Hut, Camp Adair Oregon

All histories have their infirm elements.

At the time Oregon became a state in the Union, it was the law to build all state institutions at the capitol city. Some of the first state buildings in Oregon were the prison, the hospital, the reform school, and so on. Salem is still the host of countless state-owned/operated structures, hosting the revenue department, the Oregon Library, the department of forestry, etc.

Many of them have been empty for two years during the pandemic.

I wonder about many things. I remember when our third grade class took a tour of the capitol building and some of its underground tunnels. I remember horsing around with friends near the state hospital and accessing a door which led us to a labyrinth of tunnels leading us under Center Street. Surreal

I’m curious – are those state buildings really empty? How about the tunnels? I don’t know why they wouldn’t be, but It’s nice to know the kid in me who wonders if such things still exist.

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This is a photo of a memorial at the State Hospital in Salem. These canisters contained ashes of the unclaimed who died while in the hospital between 1914 and the 1970’s. The ashes were removed from the more than 3,500 canisters and placed in a columbarium to await being claimed by family.

Living in the state capitol can be hypnagogic.

Perception

Some people read 1984 by George Orwell and find it boring, even so much so that they toss it aside and say, “I don’t get it.” At the risk of being shunned from such company, I’m going to admit I’ve read it.

Twice.

I’d read it again.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to use this post to go on and on explaining every nuance (though there’s not a whole lot of nuance in 1984 – it’s all pretty much in-your-face reality) or every jot and tittle in the book. I wish to share a scene in 1984 which has remained a particular favorite of mine since I first read it some forty years ago.

Our hero, or actually anti-hero – though he does try a bit to be a hero… can he NOT be a hero and that’s why he isn’t? Anyway, for the sake of this blog post, Winston Smith of 1984 is the hero. Our hero has been caught not conforming to the standards of the state (big brother) and finds himself captive on a high cot, a bright light shining in his eyes, and a representative of big brother (O’Brien) before him with a hypodermic needle. As he comes to, memories of his recent torture – beatings from five men with clubs, fists, steal rods, and boots, and also of his subsequent confessions to espionage and other state crimes- flood his thoughts.

There is a dial of pain which goes up to 100 controlled by O’Brien. At level 40, Smith feels his backbone will break under the pressure of it. O’Brien uses the pain to convince our hero to believe what he is told he sees instead of what he actually knows he sees. Alas, our hero becomes an anti-hero.

1984 Turkish edition cover.

The scene:

O’Brien’s manner grew stern again. He laid his hand on the dial.

‘On the contrary,’ he said, ‘you have not controlled it. That is what has brought you here. You are here because you have failed in humility, in self-discipline. You would not make the act of submission which is the price of sanity. You preferred to be a lunatic, a minority of one. Only the disciplined mind can see reality, Winston. You believe that reality is something objective, external, existing in its own right. You also believe that the nature of reality is self-evident. When you delude yourself into thinking that you see something, you assume that everyone else sees the same thing as you. But I tell you, Winston, that reality is not external. Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes: only in the mind of the Party, which is collective and immortal. Whatever the Party holds to be the truth, is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party. That is the fact that you have got to relearn, Winston. It needs an act of self-destruction, an effort of the will. You must humble yourself before you can become sane.’

He paused for a few moments, as though to allow what he had been saying to sink in.

‘Do you remember,’ he went on, ‘writing in your diary, “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four”?’

‘Yes,’ said Winston.

O’Brien held up his left hand, its back towards Winston, with the thumb hidden and the four fingers extended.

‘How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?’

‘Four.’

‘And if the party says that it is not four but five — then how many?’

‘Four.’

The word ended in a gasp of pain. The needle of the dial had shot up to fifty-five. The sweat had sprung out all over Winston’s body. The air tore into his lungs and issued again in deep groans which even by clenching his teeth he could not stop. O’Brien watched him, the four fingers still extended. He drew back the lever. This time the pain was only slightly eased.

‘How many fingers, Winston?’

‘Four.’

The needle went up to sixty.

‘How many fingers, Winston?’

‘Four! Four! What else can I say? Four!’

The needle must have risen again, but he did not look at it. The heavy, stern face and the four fingers filled his vision. The fingers stood up before his eyes like pillars, enormous, blurry, and seeming to vibrate, but unmistakably four.

‘How many fingers, Winston?’

‘Four! Stop it, stop it! How can you go on? Four! Four!’

‘How many fingers, Winston?’

‘Five! Five! Five!’

‘No, Winston, that is no use. You are lying. You still think there are four. How many fingers, please?’

‘Four! five! Four! Anything you like. Only stop it, stop the pain!’

Abruptly he was sitting up with O’Brien’s arm round his shoulders. He had perhaps lost consciousness for a few seconds. The bonds that had held his body down were loosened. He felt very cold, he was shaking uncontrollably, his teeth were chattering, the tears were rolling down his cheeks. For a moment he clung to O’Brien like a baby, curiously comforted by the heavy arm round his shoulders. He had the feeling that O’Brien was his protector, that the pain was something that came from outside, from some other source, and that it was O’Brien who would save him from it.

‘You are a slow learner, Winston,’ said O’Brien gently.

‘How can I help it?’ he blubbered. ‘How can I help seeing what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four.’

‘Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.’

He laid Winston down on the bed. The grip of his limbs tightened again, but the pain had ebbed away and the trembling had stopped, leaving him merely weak and cold. O’Brien motioned with his head to the man in the white coat, who had stood immobile throughout the proceedings. The man in the white coat bent down and looked closely into Winston’s eyes, felt his pulse, laid an ear against his chest, tapped here and there, then he nodded to O’Brien.

‘Again,’ said O’Brien.

The pain flowed into Winston’s body. The needle must be at seventy, seventy-five. He had shut his eyes this time. He knew that the fingers were still there, and still four. All that mattered was somehow to stay alive until the spasm was over. He had ceased to notice whether he was crying out or not. The pain lessened again. He opened his eyes. O’Brien had drawn back the lever.

‘How many fingers, Winston?’

‘Four. I suppose there are four. I would see five if I could. I am trying to see five.’

‘Which do you wish: to persuade me that you see five, or really to see them?’

‘Really to see them.’

‘Again,’ said O’Brien.

Perhaps the needle was eighty — ninety. Winston could not intermittently remember why the pain was happening. Behind his screwed-up eyelids a forest of fingers seemed to be moving in a sort of dance, weaving in and out, disappearing behind one another and reappearing again. He was trying to count them, he could not remember why. He knew only that it was impossible to count them, and that this was somehow due to the mysterious identity between five and four. The pain died down again. When he opened his eyes it was to find that he was still seeing the same thing. Innumerable fingers, like moving trees, were still streaming past in either direction, crossing and recrossing. He shut his eyes again.

‘How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?’

‘I don’t know. I don’t know. You will kill me if you do that again. Four, five, six — in all honesty I don’t know.’

‘Better,’ said O’Brien.

A needle slid into Winston’s arm. Almost in the same instant a blissful, healing warmth spread all through his body. The pain was already half-forgotten. He opened his eyes and looked up gratefully at O’Brien. At sight of the heavy, lined face, so ugly and so intelligent, his heart seemed to turn over. If he could have moved he would have stretched out a hand and laid it on O’Brien arm. He had never loved him so deeply as at this moment, and not merely because he had stopped the pain. The old feeling, that it bottom it did not matter whether O’Brien was a friend or an enemy, had come back. O’Brien was a person who could be talked to. Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood. O’Brien had tortured him to the edge of lunacy, and in a little while, it was certain, he would send him to his death. It made no difference. In some sense that went deeper than friendship, they were intimates: somewhere or other, although the actual words might never be spoken, there was a place where they could meet and talk. O’Brien was looking down at him with an expression which suggested that the same thought might be in his own mind. When he spoke it was in an easy, conversational tone.

You Never Know

Looking under rocks, atop mountain peeks, and even among the tree tops for inspiration is a pretty common thing for adventurers, artists, and creatives of all stripes. In all the years since I’ve been on the internet (since it’s inception), I’ve never written a personal blog. Why is that? I’m a writer – I have a writer’s portfolio, writer friends, a books page of favorite tombs I’ve read, more than one history blog, but never a personal blog. So much fear, I suppose. I had a great fear of putting myself out there.

Oregon Junco in the branches.

Where is that fear now?

Quite honestly, it dissipated, something inspired me when I wasn’t looking under rocks or atop mountains. I didn’t see it coming, didn’t even know I was changing until one day when I was nearly finished reading Humanity’s Grace by Dede Montgomery, I decided to purchase a domain and, as writers do, start writing. Something in the mesh of Montgomery’s book, the characters, the plot, touched me and made me ask myself why I’m not more forthright in my writing and why the novel I’m working, on, Branches, is lacking character development. Montgomery’s story was a beautiful, bold revelation of human experience – shared as a person, a community, heck the entire world with so much trust, faith, and honesty I couldn’t help but applaud her efforts and strive to emulate them. The story encouraged me to share because I know in my heart of hearts that I’m holding something back, I even know what it is but can’t figure out how to overcome it.

In one of the first scenes of Branches, Mason Bouchard finds his pregnant wife dead and covered in blood. I know the way I’ve written it falls very short of the true emotions a person would feel in that situation, and since it’s the introductory scene of Mason it colors the way the reader will see him for the remainder of the book. Montgomery’s Humanity’s Grace has helped me gain a few insights on how to better make Mason’s behavior ring true.

You really never know what will inspire you.

A local park in the fall.

WIP: Branches

Seems controversial enough, I think; getting a reader to care for a person persisting in a profession villainized by the public for forty years or more.

WIP: BRANCHES was born from my interest in local history, – specifically logging history in this case- my granddaughter’s fascination with Native American culture and history, a Bible found inscribed with the name and picture of a 12 year old boy who was killed in Vietnam at age 20, the rise in homeless and/or drug addled persons, and wondering if…when a person dies – do their deeds die or do they live on in the deeds done by those they left behind? — Their branches.

Synopsis:

Thirty-four year old Mason Bouchard is the recently widowed father of nine-year-old Madi. After the gruesome and tragic death of his pregnant wife, Reva, Mason and Madi move home with his parents, Nolan and Sybil Bouchard. The parents combat demons of their own, in particular Nolan’s Vietnam War related PTSD and Sybil’s struggle with an overwhelming sense of responsibility to the homeless. The Bouchard’s are a third generation logging family with strong ties to the Willamette Valley in Oregon, where Branches takes place.

Mason begins to question whether Reva was poisoned after some dangerous toxins are found in the well water of their home. Upon realizing the poisoning was possibly caused by an intentional application of Agent Orange from ancient barrels, he begins to search more diligently for who caused the death of Reva and the unborn baby.

As any child would, Madi struggles with the loss of her mother. While camping with her best friend, Amy Stecketee, she falls and is hospitalized. While in a coma, Madi sees her mother and when she awakens, she is comforted by the vision and becomes less apprehensive. Trying to comfort her dad is made difficult by his lack of belief, but Madi’s faith never waivers.

Branches is a 90,000 word family drama with many historical elements from the Vietnam and Afghanistan wars as well as a history of the logging industry and Mason’s own trifecta of a mystery which includes seeking answers about the death of his wife and unborn son, appeasing the protesters who threaten the logging industry, and fighting against Senator Leeza Migford’s Senate Bill. In his quest, Mason finds Carl Cooper, who he initially assumed was behind the poisoning in the watershed but realizes he’s a simple stooge, and Mason helps Carl recover from drug addiction.

Working together as a family and for the community with a book-box project brings Nolan forward out of his PTSD and helps Sybil honor Reva, an important element of her grieving process.

One way to tell if a branch is alive or not is by bending one of its small twigs between two fingers. If it bends easily, then it’s alive. If the twig is brittle and breaks, then it’s likely that the branch is dead.

Back Cover Copy:

The complications of a  still birth take Mason’s wife, leaving him a single father to nine-year-old Madi. As mysteries throw shadows of suspicious circumstances over her death, he becomes enraged as well as determined to find who is responsible. Are there even larger forces at work? The press is lying about him and there’s a crooked Senator staging protests for the purpose of usurping Mason’s logging business.

The Willamette National Forest

My word! The Essays!

An overview of Who Cares? Thoughts on Apathy, an essay collection imagined to be much coveted by the masses.

An Essay Collection

by

Tami Richards

The Stormy Apex. Cocoa powder on a spoon. Is life fair, or is it what you make of it?

  • EXCERPT:I feel as if I have already climbed to the apex of my life, as if I have done one of the most heroic and utterly courageous things that human beings are capable of, yet as I look around the top of this mountain I don’t see the fanfare. No one is waiting with banners exclaiming, “you’ve done it!” From here, I find that the most astonishing fact is that the dense fog has surrounded me and I am unable to find the trail that leads down. If I were to give hiking the Appalachian Trail a good go, I would make sure I received recognition for that. As it is, I feel lost. My mothering is largely behind me, my duties as a wife are few, and my workday is set to auto-pilot. There are not many challenges before me, and I am celebrating alone what I consider the greatest accomplishment that I will ever achieve; I have raised four happy children.

Skewing My Perception. Homelessness and perception as reality.

  • EXCERPT: What hit me the hardest about the first homeless person that I saw as a child was probably the same initial reaction that most people have. It was when I realized that he had no family, no one who cared about him that I felt sorry for him. The fact that he had a shaggy beard, wore large, misshapen and dirty clothes, and mumbled when he spoke, were all secondary next to the horrific realization that there were people in my still-so-small world who seemed to have no one who gave them a second thought. I will never forget being a child of eight and seeing that homeless man building a fire under the same bridge that my older brother and I often played at. It was a perfectly fearful experience, making such a deep impression on me that one of the first short stories I wrote as an adult was about him, or at least the feelings I had about him. My ineptitude for writing short stories aside, I did manage to sum up my earlier observation in one sentence; “I have learned to sip the soup of humanity through the jagged edge of apathy.” Though not a brighter than average child, I must have realized at that young age that without being a person who cares, my life would have no meaning. For some unexplained reason I wanted my life to have meaning. I wanted to make a difference.

What Made June Cleaver Smile? You know you know. An essay on the tweaked hormones of our modern era causing low sex drives.

  • EXCERPT: It’s a fact that testosterone levels in American men have been declining steadily over the past two decades, according to the Endocrine Society and the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. This would indicate why June Cleaver did indeed need naps and it also explains why she was so levelheaded, even-tempered and damn happy. That’s right, make no mistake, those couples of the 50’s and 60’s were getting it on more often and with more gusto than the couples of today, by far. According to the many magazine headlines, women today are not relaxed, do not regularly feel sexy, and are not on the receiving end of male testosterone nearly as often as they’d like to be. Not only were the senior citizens who are today positioned in our memories as wrinkled and hunched-over with osteoporosis doing it back then, they were doing it with relish. They were doing it with the same ferocious wild abandonment as any generation before or after them, and more often, which would possibly explain the baby boom that delivered countless builders, movers and shakers onto the American landscape, especially when coupled with the low divorce rates of that time period.

The Beauty Inside. Because when Whitney Houston died, people were nasty-mouthed, bitter, ugly, cruel <expletives>! She deserved better than that, the power and strength of her voice speaks.

  • EXCERPT: It is possible that it is the price of fame, the public being more like vultures than doves. Emphasizing a famous person’s failings over their talent becomes a vicious cycle, and how could a famous person possibly overcome the public’s negative consensus once convicted? Once a figure is owned by the public, can she regain autonomy?

Peace of Mind. Lamenting the decline of the front porch.

  • EXCERPT: The sun is painting pink silhouettes along stretched-taffy clouds and a gentle breeze is cooling my skin. Sitting on what constitutes our front porch; a five-foot by fourteen-foot slab of cement covered by the roof’s 6’ overhang, I watch my two granddaughters ride their bikes up and down our quiet street, giggling and careening down the same patch of road that their mother pedaled along at their age. I stretch my sandaled feet out to rest them atop the brick planter that has nourished strawberry plants for twenty-plus years, noting that dandelions are once again growing in the raised beds.

Low Flow, High Water. Low flow faucets getting on my last nerve.

  • EXCERPT: I have foregone the sink-of-soap-bubbles method and instead I simply use a bit of dish soap on a sponge and wash/rinse the dishes under running water. Considering that rinsing dishes under running water is a water-conservation no-no, I do not feel that my method is likely the best approach. It is certainly not the scenario that the low-flow faucet is supposed to create. From a germ standpoint, though, rinsing dishes under warm running water is a cut above letting dishes sit in germ-laden rinse water.

My Time. A foray, an autobiography of my life, written 20 years ago, before things got reaaaalllly interesting.

  • EXCERPT: The first two methods of measuring time are based on the daily rotation of the earth on its axis. One is based on the apparent motion of the sun in the sky, which is called solar time. The other is based on the evident motion of the stars in the sky, which is called sidereal time. A third method is based on the revolution of the earth around the sun, which is ephemeris time. Albert Einstein went to great lengths to dissect time and categorize all of its relations to reality, but time has lately become a concept a little more personal to me than the predictability of celestial marvels or Einstein’s theories of relativity. It consists of a relatively small chunk in the space-time continuum that I like to call my time.

Don’t Give US a king. Basically, my anti-communist manifesto: Death by power: Ze-Dong Mao 30-70,000,000 (depending on how the deaths are attributed) Adolf Hitler 12,000,000 Josef Stalin 5,000,000 Ismail Enver Ottoman, Turkey, 1,200,000 Armenians, 500,000 Assyrians Pol Pot 2,000,000

  • EXCERPT: The histories of countries all around the world abound with kings, queens, and emperors, chancellors, etc. whose biggest role has always been to take responsibility for the daily conditions of those governed. In fact, the United States began as such a country under England’s rule and turned its back on that way of life, insisting that individual persons should not be taxed without representation, among other things. Modern politicians know of the historically recorded tendency of societies to lean toward a Master caregiver and they often take advantage of it by making promises and passing laws to appease the majority of squeaky wheels: People who demand a king. From passing tax laws that actually favor a scant few citizens to enacting edicts to quell the masses; politicians are eager to appease those who would demand a king, because truly, politicians want to be kings.

Readers Expanding and Contracting. Observing how rapidly we succumb to navel gazing though the whole world is literally at our fingertips.

  • EXCERPT:One of the most fascinating things done with e-readers has been through organizations such as WorldReader.org, a group that donates e-readers to schools in third world countries. As those in the know are quick to point out, such as Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn, authors of “Half The Sky,” the road away from poverty and oppression is paved with education. Worldreader.org and other organizations like it are well on their way to proving that educating the masses is the cornerstone for building a successful society. Reading through the blog posts of those involved within the schools of Ghana reveals striking evidence that the project is not only helping these students gain a foothold on the right path, but also is expanding their regional and global outlooks.

Screw the BFD. Cynicism and words.

  • EXCERPT: There was a blue jeans company about this time calling itself the BFD. I think the B was for best and the D for denim – the F was for fitting or something like that. I don’t know about anyone else, but the jeans company totally killed my joy of saying BFD, because it wasn’t long before BFD meant Best Fitting Denim. It is probably my most memorable encounter with a killjoy.

Counterrevolutionary. I wrote this biography about the June 4th incident and Baiqiao Tang, for a contest I didn’t win.

  • EXCERPT: On June 4th 1989 I was seven months pregnant with my third child. It had been a good year for our family so far. My daughters were five and three, we had just bought the house we still live in today, I had several good friends, and I was proud to live in America where I did not have to worry about suffering violent repercussions for expressing my political, social, or religious views. The Tiananmen Massacre that I saw on the news that day in June was the most foreign, surreal and shocking atrocity I had ever seen.

5 Lessons From the Greatest Generation. Buy silver, shop local, it’s up to you (do something), recycle, preserve food.

  • EXCERPT: PRESERVE FOOD. Even in the region known as the great dust bowl, people of the depression era would can food for leaner times. From rabbit meat to sagebrush, foodstuff that could sustain life was the only requisite for canning. Not only are we to preserve foods, we should cook slow food as a way to both save money and to acquire nourishing foods that will sustain us.

Virtually Overwhelming. Writerly gibberish about the internet stealing my soul.

  • EXCERPT: Like many bibliophiles the world over, I have been known to spend many hours searching store shelves for a specific title or a general idea. Though no one could ever accuse me of being a shopper, a person who browses long and studiously down store isles, used bookstores, new bookstores, thrift stores, are the one exception. I have browsed long and patiently in search of books. In these forays into the paper jungle, I have found books that I never knew existed, discovered ideas that I never thought on my own and had never seen put into words before. I have run across books that put my thoughts into plain and simple English and gained serendipitous knowledge. To run my hand along their spines, to open them up and breathe the scent of the inky paper, and to run my fingers across the name of the genius who brought characters, imagined and real, to life is one of the pleasures of book browsing.

We (me) the People. A piece on American manufacturing. Published in OUR USA Magazine, but I like it here in my collection as well.

  • EXCERPT: My appreciation for classic American-made vehicles runs so deep within me as to affect my reading choices. I have read a great memoir by Michael Perry entitled Truck, a love story, about an International Pickup, simply because the word “Truck” appears in the title. I read John Grisham’s short story collection, Ford County, just because the title contained the word “Ford”. Even though I’m not an avid reader of genre fiction, I really enjoyed Grisham’s book, I think that the title itself had a lot to do with it. I’ve also felt that the author who goes by the ingenious name of G.M. Ford would definitely be worth my time and I have added reading at least one of his mystery novels to my “must do” list.

Please, Not at the Table. When it was announced horse flesh would be sold in stores as a meat product…

  • EXCERPT: For these reasons, and many more, like a majority of my fellow American’s, I am not likely to knowingly indulge in the consumption of horse meat. The article “Horse Slaughter Coming Back to U.S. Soon?” posted on the International Business News website, opens with the statement that horse slaughter for human consumption could be a practice returning to the U.S by as soon as January, 2012. A ban on the slaughtering of horses for human consumption was enacted five years ago, partly because the U.S citizens demand that the meat they feed their families be inspected and approved by the USDA, a regulatory process that was not cost-effective by a government with dwindling funds. The author of the article at International Business News states that there is no market in the U.S for horse meat intended for human consumption. Apparently with congress now lifting the ban on the practice, there is funding for USDA inspectors of horse slaughter houses. Will this magically create a market for horse meat at our tables? I seriously doubt it. The consumption of horse meat, to many Americans, may be on a scale of eating one’s pet dog.

Hero is a Woman. My mom! And other amazing women.

  • EXCERPT: Every year in March, as we recognize Women’s History Month, we may find ourselves remembering once viewed images of legendary over-achievers such as Amelia Earheart, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, or Wilma Rudolph. To think of woman’s history may give us pause to consider the novels of Virginia Woolf, the accomplishments of astronaut Sally Ride, or how Clara Barton managed to begin the American Red Cross. We all have our favorite historical figures, those who have captured our attention and have become the heroes of our daily lives, women we look to and wonder at how amazing it is that they managed to make such big impressions in their time.

Building a Coon Tree. A tribute to E.B. White.

  • EXCERPT: White’s essays are so memorable not only because they are unencumbered by a dry list of facts but also because they resonate throughout with a gentle drawing-up of experiences that the reader and writer have in conman. How I wish that I could write a concise, emotion-packed scene such as the beginning of “Coon Tree” where he introduces the setting by way of concrete word usage such as temperature, humidity, a cultural reference to Carol Reed which I am slightly embarrassed to admit I do not understand, a boat, the breeze, and a bee. Apple blossoms are mentioned, and goldfinch and dandelions. Also a goose on the pond and a black fly on the trout brook. In the space of a mere nine introductory sentences, White grabs the reader’s intellect by way of their heart, for he knew, as the poet knows, that it is through the heart that the mind becomes engaged. As we effortlessly read along through “Coon Tree” we learn that not only has he remodeled the kitchen in his house, but there have been studies done which have proven that children who grow up in less than sanitary homes develop a better resistance to diseases, yes even polio and hepatitis.

Knitting Warm Hearts. Amazing hands and why don’t I have them?

  • EXCERPT: Aside from twittering away endless hours on the internet, I have never been successful with learning an indoor hobby that would keep me occupied during the long winter months. Not that I have not attempted new hobbies, mind you. Having tried my hand at everything from baking bread to completing crossword puzzles, I usually lose interest or become discouraged and end up passing the winter curled up with a few good books, throwing in an occasional long bout of tactile solitaire. While in the bookstore searching for those tomes that will carry me into sunny days, I have browsed the seemingly endless array of hobby and craft magazines, finding myself attracted mostly to paper crafts, but every winter I find myself wondering if I could learn such a thing as knitting or crocheting. Not fully confident that I can, I have yet to try.

Cut and Graft. An apple tree, my grandpa and me. Published in Oregon Home, included in this collection because I love it.

  • EXCERPT: I spent many summer days watching my grandfather who was very fascinating to me because he was always busy doing something that a city girl rarely had occasion to observe. I can remember him sawing dead branches from one of his fruit trees and watching him patch the bare spots with tar to keep the bugs out and to prevent further decay.

Dogs and Grandkids Taming the Blues. Children and dogs. Trouble and joy.

  • EXCERPT: Our granddaughters have great moments of joy in the backyard during our brief moments of non-rain this time of year. My husband has built them a playhouse out of large, wooden, machinery-packing crates, and they also have a sort of queen’s haven that they’ve built from large scraps of wood. I like to watch them play as I sit at the dining room table drinking my coffee or tea. If their friends from up the street are over, one girl will sit on the Queen’s throne while all the others are servants awaiting the beck and call of her majesty. Being girls, there is a lot of yelling and screaming and downright riotous fun that is hard not to smile at.

DIY. Don’t try this at home.

  • EXCERPT: In the aforementioned mystery novel, the main character is a gal who inherits a great, old, Victorian house from her aunt. Through the course of the book, while solving a murder of course, the protagonist undertakes the renovation of her newly acquired house. As each step of the process was described in the book, I found myself thinking about the kitchen cupboard doors that I’d taken down more than twenty years ago with the intent of refinishing them. Well, I never did manage to even get started on that project, the time and money never seemed to exist in hand simultaneously. Raising four children requires a generous amount of both time and money, rarely leaving anything to work with as far as elective home repair projects. Reading the fixer-upper repair novel was thrusting those cupboard doors to the forefront of my mind in a big way, and I began thinking the most ridiculous things as I read. Thoughts such as “I can do that,” happily danced into my mind over and over again. It was crazy, for I had never done anything that remotely resembled a home renovation project. I had experience in repairing or attempting to repair things that had broken. Necessity is, after all, the mother of invention, but that was the extent of my house manipulating experiences.

WWGD? My grandpa was amazing.

  • EXCERPT: So here we are, on the heals of the outsourcing pundits who have proclaimed to seemingly deaf ears for many years that we were spending our way to joblessness and an economic meltdown. I suggest that we read their books, form a plan, and get ourselves involved in some sort of action besides sitting around and hoping someone will take pity on us. This is not a problem that happened spontaneously, it took time to evolve. Just as it will take time to fix. There is no instant fix, fast solve, or quick run to a retailer that will alleviate our economic suffering.

Sock Magnets. Previously published in Slab Journal but I’m including it here as well.

  • EXCERPT: When I was a child we lived on the edge of town. My brother and I walked everywhere in those days. We walked past storefronts, peering wide-eyed into the display windows at toy trains disappearing into tunnels, dolls lying in bassinets, and mannequins dressed in current fashions. We walked down to the creek and watched crawdads scurry out from rocks we had lifted. We walked to one of two parks, the one that had crab apple trees, or the one that had trees with propeller-type seeds that we used as whistles.

Only Write to Borrow from the Time Thief. When I get weird… I get sooooo weird.

  • EXCERPT: As far as individual thoughts becoming public domain, so to speak, is not an unheard of fear in the writing world. Along the lines of discouraging thought processes is also the reasoning that writers are merely inserting synonyms; for everything worth writing has already been put to paper. This problem has been solved by the common phrase that editors put in their guidelines: they are searching for a “fresh voice.” Still, writers do manage to become bogged down with the whole, “nothing new under the sun,” axiom.

Observations of a Retailer. Actually, no one wants to see this.

  • EXCERPT: Working in retail is sometimes much like waiting on spoiled children who never learned to clean up after themselves. I’ve gone into dressing rooms where expensive gowns were strewn on the floor, visited grocery stores where near-empty fountain drink cups are left on the cereal isle, and been to major toy stores in which the shelves resemble an air-strike zone. I’ve seen old worn-out shoes sitting in a box on the floor at a shoe store, presumably someone tried on the pair from the box and REALLY liked them, ice cream melting in the magazine rack at the grocery check-out, and people throwing tantrums when they can’t use their expired fifty-cents off coupon.

My Idiot Shirt. Goodness, someone’s sassy.

  • EXCERPT: The day before this incident, I had gone to the grocery store and had to double-check for my “Idiot” shirt. Thankfully, I had not worn it. Whoo. At any rate, I’ve noticed for quite awhile now that this particular grocery store feels the need to tell me which buttons to push on the debit card machine even before the readout prompts me. On that particular day, I think I’d had enough of being treated as an imbecile and I’ve decided that from now on I will take cash or write a check at that store. I just can’t stand to have someone tell me how to function in a perfectly navigable situation. I just hope they don’t count my cash out for me while I’m digging it out of my wallet, or offer the date when I haven’t asked them for it while writing a check.

The Road to Community. A dead end (j/k) it’s a sweet mini-bio collection.

  • EXCERPT: No matter the size or shape of the place a person lives, it has always been said that an awareness of community is an important element to acquiring a sense of satisfaction. Some have said that people need to feel needed, that giving to others is a way of belonging, of “becoming real” to paraphrase The Velveteen Rabbit. Though the temptation of hibernating to the drone of a TV may be tempting during the long rains, these people involve themselves in what can enthusiastically be termed enrichment activities.

The Shoes A semi-famous schizophrenic and a homeless person’s shoes.

  • EXCERPT: In 1948, 51-year-old Opal Whiteley was found in a dead-end London street half starved. In her tiny basement apartment was found crate after crate of books stacked upon themselves covering every possible inch of space. It is estimated that the collection contained a total of 10,000 -15,000 books. Each and every book found in Ms. Whiteley’s apartment contained underlining and notes in her handwriting. Later, it was discovered that Ms. Whiteley was working on a book of her own and that she spent every dime she could get her hands on in obtaining the research material for it.

Damming the Willamette. This probably does not belong here.

  • EXCERPT: Seventy percent of Oregon’s residents live in the Willamette Valley, most within a 20 minute drive of the Willamette River. The Valley residents live in harmony with this river all along its 187 mile journey as it travels from just south of Springfield and flows north to spill into the Columbia River. In past years, it was not unusual for flooding to occur in the valley, especially between December and February. Sometimes snow would come to the Cascade mountains, a warm spell would light on it, and the snow melt would run off into the Willamette’s tributaries, causing the Willamette to rise and send all its riverside inhabitants scurrying to higher ground. It was not long after settling in the area that the earliest Euro-Americans experienced a deluge from the Willamette’s 100 year flood tendency and learned how mighty the Willamette can be.

From Fairview to Pringle Creek What an amazing thing they did with the old state property where they used to house the functionally handicapped.

  • EXCERPT: And I imagined all that I knew about the mentally disadvantaged while I sat in that old beige Rambler of my mom’s. I knew such a kid at school who never talked to anyone He was not in my class, but I saw him on the playground every day, walking around without a connection, without a problem, without any engagement. And I think that therein lies the cause of my fear – lack of engagement, lack of him realizing my personhood – perhaps his own personhood he did not even understand, but if that were the case, why would he cry out when he fell down on the playground, or when angered?

Dorothy Anne Hobson Previously published in the Summer 2018 edition of Woods Reader.

EXCERPT: The day we drove to Valsetz was a beautiful spring day; the sun lit our way through the hour-long drive along a private gravel logging road. We drove between towering trees the likes of which I rarely see down in the valley. We drove up a mountain, back down again, and across a valley, once being very closely passed by a logging truck. We were sprinkled on a couple of times, but encountered no real down-pouring of rain, which would not have been unusual considering that Valsetz is an area which receives 140” of rain a year.

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The Willamette Valley Dams

A new blog post about the dams which make living in the Willamette Valley possible.  It’s posted on my blog, Willamette Valley Heritage: Barns and Structures. This is a three part series of mostly dry (punny) rhetoric which I spent a couple of years researching and writing. Passion! I will not be posting it directly onto this blog, but feel free to click on the link and learn many interesting (I think) things about the dams of the Willamette Valley.

Fern Ridge Dam

Woods Reader

The People’s Tree

The People’s Tree

Some trees shed their leaves to warm the earth through the cold winter months, some trees are home to eagles and playgrounds for squirrels, and some are sawed down and built into homes which keep families warm and dry for generations. Of all the trillions of trees in the nearly two-hundred million acres of National Forest in the United States, only one tree gets chosen to be THE PEOPLE’S TREE, the one tree chosen each year to adorn the west lawn of the United States Capitol in Washington DC. This tree which stands before the People’s House every holiday season, embellished in sparkling regalia and festive colors, is ultimately chosen by the Architect of the Capitol (AOC), but is initially picked out by the people of the state it is coming from. Every year since 1970 a National Forest has been chosen to provide a tree to adorn the Capitol’s west lawn for the people, by the people, of the people.

This years tree hails from Oregon in commemoration of the 175th anniversary of the Oregon Trail. There were 1,000 risk-taking men, women and children who made that first 2,170 mile journey overland from Independence Missouri to Oregon City Oregon in 1843. They drove their wagons loaded with dry goods, cooking utensils, furniture such as beds and dressers, and in some cases even china hutches and they led their livestock; oxen, cattle, mules, etc. all while facing the unknown in the hopes of breaking free from the harsh economic times brought on by the recession of 1837. Once the settlers arrived in The Dalles Oregon it was necessary to take a chance along the churning, roaring Columbia River on either rafts or to pay a ferry, or find another route over the formidable Cascade Mountain range which blocked their path overland. It is fortunate that the fur trappers had been in those parts for better than 50 years and, with the help of the native people, knew how to navigate The Dalles. This first group of settlers landed in Oregon City after approximately six months of hard living along the Trail.

Fifty years ago, the National Trails System Act was established. This is a nationally funded system of trails which are maintained simply for the use of The People much like the national roads which are maintained for driving, only these trails are for walking, biking, hiking, horseback riding, etc. The trails of the national system fall under one of four categories of use; Scenic, Recreation, Historic, and Connecting and Side Trails. National Scenic Trails are trails which are 100 miles long or more, continuous, are non-motorized for the most part and offer amazing recreational opportunities. Trails such as the Appalachian, Continental Divide, the Pacific Crest, and approximately 8 more fall under this category. The National Recreation Trails database boasts of 1,200 trails between less than a mile and up to 485 miles long ranging from nature trails to water trails and bikeways. The National Historic Trails include such trails as the Lewis and Clark trail, the Oregon trail, the Pony Express Trail, and so on. All of these trails utilize Connecting and Side Trails for supporting ease of access and maintenance and are provided to the public for recreation and enjoyment.

In celebration of this duo-anniversary, the theme for the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree is “Find Your Trail,” and the tree itself came from the Sweet Home Ranger District of the Willamette National Forest, approximately 90 miles southeast of where that first wagon train stopped 175 years ago. This is the second tree to hail from Oregon, the first was culled from the Umpqua National Forest in 2002. Oregonians from all over the state were recruited to search the 200,000 acres of forest in the Sweet Home Ranger District for the best candidate to become The People’s Tree. In August an ornament hunt sponsored by the Willamette Valley Visitors Association took place. The group provided a map for locating one of the 200 glass ornaments which were placed along non-wilderness, easy access, trails and they gave away hundreds of prizes, one of which was a trip for two to see the tree lighting in Washington D.C. During the more weather-friendly months, the capitol tree website featured a “trail of the month,” to encourage people to “find your trail,” in the Sweet Home Ranger District in hopes of getting eyes on the tree. The people were instructed to send in GPS coordinates when they found a candidate and the suggestions were handed off to Jim Kaufmann, the Director of the Capitol Grounds and Arboretum at the Architect of the Capitol (AOC), the federal agency which is responsible for the operations and care of the U.S. Capitol buildings and grounds.

The governor of Oregon, Kate Brown, held a letter-writing contest for fourth graders who were asked to write what they enjoy most about Oregon’s outdoors. The contest attracted 1,200 letters and it was the poem by Brigette Harrington from Jackson Grade School in Hillsboro that won a trip for herself and a guardian to Washington D.C where she will join the Speaker of the House in flipping the switch to bring the roughly 10,000 lights on the People’s Tree to life.

From about a half dozen finalists, Mr. Kaufmann of the AOC made the final decision in August. What Mr. Kaufmann evaluated while choosing The People’s Tree were things such as: a conical shape, either a Douglas or a Noble Fir, the tree’s accessibility by crane and semi-truck, the tree had to be between 65 and 85 feet tall and very straight with uniform branching, be naturally thick and between 25-30 feet wide, and have a rich, green color. During the search, Mr. Kaufmann and his crew drove for hours up mountains and down the valley floor, finally deciding on a Noble Fir located about 7 miles down a logging road. This is the first year that a Noble Fir has been chosen as the People’s Tree.

Before cutting the tree, it was wrapped with slings and attached to cranes which supported it so that the tree would not fall and damage its branches or injure any of the 50-plus onlookers and celebrants observing the harvest. It was U.S. Forest Service Hand Crew Supervisor Jonah Gladney of Detroit, OR who had the honor of cutting the 80-foot Noble before the cranes hoisted it onto supports along the flatbed truck which would be its new home until it arrived in DC.

The trail to DC was driven in a huge truck along the Oregon Trail in-reverse. The route included over 25 important stops along the historic trail. Getting the approximately 90-plus foot flatbed truck out of the woods and onto the Oregon trail took some inventive trail-making of its own, after getting stuck in the mud while turning a tight bend on the forest road. Truly without a hitch, though, after that it was on its way to Sweet Home where forestry officials spent the better part of a week preparing the tree for its long journey as panels, some translucent, were added to the flatbed, the tree’s branches were carefully secured, a bladder holding 25-pounds of water, complete with its own heater, was secured to the trunk with wax to keep the tree watered, and the visible part of the tree was adorned with ornaments made by Oregonians.

In Albany, where the tree sat for most of the day on Saturday November 10, thousands of people came to see the tree. Viewing the top of the tree through the Plexiglas panels, people were heard“Ooh”-ing and “aww”-ing at the tiny red, green, and white lights, ornaments such as covered-wagon wheels, log cabins, and colorful paintings, and at the shiny silver star on the top. During the exhibit, the many forestry officials on hand were eager to answer questions, and to show off the tree. This was a day which coincided with Albany’s annual Veteran’s Day Parade, the largest such parade west of the Mississippi, so there were hundreds if not thousands of people on hand to view The People’s Tree and to sign the banners along the truck. As the tree began its journey, this was an excited scene repeated again and again as the truck made many more whistle stops on its way to DC.

The tree arrived in Oregon City, the end of the Oregon Trail and the beginning of this reverse-trail journey, on Tuesday Nov. 13. Because floating upstream along the Columbia was impractical for the long-hauling diesel, it is I-84 that the truck rode along to get to The Dalles, following right alongside the Columbia River that once ferried settlers into the Willamette Valley. From The Dalles they drove ever eastward with stops in Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, and of course, Independence Missouri before reaching the final destination of the lawn of the United States Capitol where its butt was “planted” in a deep hole made special just for it, and the people at the AOC completed decorating the tree.

All along the 3,000 mile journey, the People’s Tree was met with parades and festivities. Not only did the huge 70-foot tree (10 feet were trimmed away during travel preparations) arrive in Washington DC with ornaments handmade by Oregonians, but also 70 “companion trees,” which now adorn many government offices throughout DC. Oregonians made 10,000 ornaments to trim the trees with, 3,500 adorn the big fir on the west lawn and 6,500 were put on the smaller trees.

It is only natural to wonder what happens to the tree after the holidays are over. Perhaps some of it will be cut into logs and burned in someone’s hearth, or some of it milled into lumber to build a warm house, maybe some of it can be made into bird houses or squirrel feeders, or even bark chips to keep the earth warm during the winter. The People’s Tree is such a beautifully recyclable and versatile thing

SIDEBARS:

Funding

Obtaining, cutting, transporting, setting, and trimming The People’s Tree is a yearly event organized by volunteers and US Forestry workers, using donations from large corporate sponsors, small businesses and individuals. The People.

The Dalles

Dalles are defined as the rapids of a river running between the walls of a canyon or gorge. The city in Oregon, The Dalles, is located along the Columbia River in a narrowing of the gorge which creates many rapids. This area has a long history of trade between Native Amerians, going back 10,000 years and is considered to be one of the most important archaeological regions in North America.

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Woods Reader

In 1941 Dorothy Anne Hobson was a name on the lips of the president of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and in the heart of his wife Eleanor. The 12 year old girl from the company town of Valsetz, Oregon was finishing up her third year of editing a newspaper entitled The Valsetz Star which had basked in as much glory as any newspaper could in 1930’s America, gaining readers such as Shirley Temple, and Herbert Hoover. The paper received further fame when it was read on radio stations all around the United States. 1941 is the year in which The Valsetz Star was put to bed, after having been published for three years in Valsetz; the end of a lonely 30-mile stretch of muddy road.

The newspaper was started by 9-year-old Dorothy in 1937 as a way to keep the inhabitants of the small town of Valsetz up to speed on all things noteworthy; dances, important visitors, the weather (rain), fashion, and whatever else came to mind. The logging town of Valsetz was owned by Cobbs and Mitchell, who built it in 1919 in order to effectively and economically process a large tract of timber on the coast range, in an area know today as “The Valley of the Giants.” The railroad used for transporting the timber was the Valley & Siletz Railroad, a bit of clever re-arranging of the letters lends to the name of “Valsetz.” This is an area which receives approximately 120” of rain a year, so those 1,000 residents of Valsetz in the late 1930’s likely needed that monthly newspaper, which was written by Dorothy, to help stave away cabin fever!

With witty and precocious observations it is no wonder that the newspaper edited by the daughter of the cookhouse managers and printed by the company’s Portland office was a national hit:

1937: “We believe in hemlock, fir, kindness and Republicans.”

1939: “Mother has some new corsets for a waist like a wasp, but when she laces them real tight she faints.”

1940: “A few people have written us dreadful letters for supporting Wendell Wilkie (for president), but they did not sign their names. Please don’t be ashamed of your name. We are not ashamed of ours.”

Over time, Valsetz evolved from a booming a logging town to a a mill town, then eventually changing ownership over to Boise Cascade which fell in 1984. Today, the town of Valsetz, and it’s national newspaper, are but memories among a tree farm. There is a group of Valsetzians on social media, and Google Maps can find it. I believe that though the town was raized by it’s owner, Boise Cascade, in 1984, there are still a lot of people who wax nostalgic for Valsetz, Valley of the Giants, town at the end of a 50 minute drive down a 15 mile road. It must have been a beautiful place to live and the Valsetzians likely miss the camaraderie with the woods terribly. The aroma of pine would have been thickly laced in moss, and the trees tall enough for an adventurous youngster to touch the sky. The elk and deer were plentiful, and the fishing stupendous. The law was nil; it was not needed when the company was the law and no stranger is going to drive up that road or ride that train to commit a crime.

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