Saturday, September 4, 2010

Right Neighborly

I lived in Overland for ten years, and during that time, was invited into my next door neighbor's house exactly once about four years ago, and only as far as the front room.  If they hadn't had a brand new baby to show me, I'd probably have been relegated to the front porch any time I went over there.  To Joel's credit, he was a good neighbor in other ways, letting me borrow an odd sized screwdriver or giving me a couple of drywall screws, and once mowing my yard without being asked when our mower died.

That's not the way things are done here in Louisburg.  My first week here, I went in search of the house that had vegetables for sale. The woman of the house, Sue, invited me in and we went all the way back to the kitchen.  I paid her for a dozen eggs, but sensed that I shouldn't rush off after our transaction was completed.  (The "here, have a seat" at the kitchen table tipped me off.)   We probably spent an hour there together, and then she took me out to meet her chickens.  The vegetable garden was wilted and pathetic in the afternoon heat, but there were a few red tomatoes on the vines, and Sue gave them to me.  I think of it as a housewarming gift.

We've been here almost a month now, and this has happened over and over.  If you are on their doorstep, you are fair game, and you will 'set a spell'.  I know more about my neighbors here than I learned about my neighbors in Overland in the decade I was there.

Last night, Billy and Mary, our neighbors across the street, had us over for hamburgers and pool.  Their two little girls climbed all over us, and showed us the household treasures:  a toad, three tiny kittens, three bigger kittens, and books to read.  They are charming kids and I find it amusing that the littlest one comes over to "play" with my girls, nineteen and twenty years old.  Tonight is Pizza Night at their house, so we'll pick out some music and maybe a movie and spend another evening amidst the happy chaos of kids, dogs and kittens.  There will also be pool games and much conversation.

This past week, I have been caught up in getting my stepvan road-worthy and registered.  I spent hours--many hours--at the mechanic's house.  As it happens, the parts store in Buffalo does not take credit cards over the phone, and since I had no transportation to Buffalo, (seven miles from my house), I had to stay in Thomasville, at the mechanic's place, so that Jeanne, his wife, could drive me to town whenever Gary said he needed another part.  Did you catch that?  I hung around, watching Jeanne can gallons of tomatoes and drinking her excellent sweet tea, and chatting with everyone else who dropped by, and every so often, Jeanne put me in her truck, and drove me to Buffalo so I could pay for parts.  She even bought me lunch once.  (Shameless plug:  If you need help north of Springfield, Missouri, go see Gary at Pee-On Auto Repair.  You read that right, that's their grandson's nickname from when he was a baby.)

There is a sense of community out here in the country.  We are all in this together, and our survival depends on the help of others.  The interdependence we have with one another is just what is called 'right neighborly.'

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Culture Shock

LOUISBURG--A mobile home was driven down State Highway 64 yesterday, while Louisburg residents turned out of their houses to watch.  One witness, who identified herself as Sam, said "I looked out and there was a house parked outside our house.  So I came out to look."  She then went on to recount the number of vehicles involved in the move:  a black pick up truck in the lead, then the mobile home on its trailer truck, followed by two more pick up trucks.  Another Louisburg resident standing next to Sam, who identified herself as Melody, said that the guys in the blue pick up were "totally checking us out.  I think they were looking at my socks."

In other related news, two dogs owned by the new people in the yellow house escaped when the front door was inadvertently left open during the excitement of the mobile home delivery coming through town.  The woman, Melinda N., who brought the dogs to Louisburg originally, saw her dogs running across the highway from the front porch of long-term resident, Polly V., and gave chase.  She was joined by several other residents, notably the guy in the pumpkin colored house who is married to that blond woman with the volunteer fire department, who ultimately caught the bigger of the two dogs, and Annie, who took the dog by the collar and drug the dog back to the owner's home.

Farm Report:  Polly V. has more tomatoes than she can eat, so come get them.  Sue's garden is mostly done for the year, thanks to the groundhogs, raccoons, and the heat wave  in early to mid August.

Science News:  A green tree frog was spotted clinging to the wall of the small house that used to be a garage behind the yellow house with the new people in it.  According to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, green tree frogs were native to the bootheel section of Missouri, and recently established a population in Camden County.  This may be the first confirmed sighting of a green tree frog in Dallas County.

That's all the news from Louisburg, Missouri.  Good night and God bless.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Moon Shadow and Other Delights

There is a narrow road, ruler straight, that takes you out of my tiny village. Vo-Tech Road, (paved), appears to dead-end at a tiny school, but when you drive up on it, you see that the road takes a hard left. Once you make that left turn, you leave behind all buildings. Wide pastures stretch out on either side of this short bit of road, which does dead end at Rice School Road, (mostly paved). Straight ahead at the T intersection there, is a cow pasture.

Yesterday, I was driving Ol' Red down Vo-Tech toward the pasture. Did you know that herd animals almost always graze in the same direction? Seriously, check it out. It was already fairly late in the day, the sun was still up but dusk was not that far off. The cattle had been grazing all day, and I guess were mostly done eating, because when I drove up on them, they were spread out, all facing the road, and nearly all of them were staring at me. Disconcerting, and yet funny. Have you ever faced a herd of Angus crosses regarding you contemplatively? No? Me either, until yesterday. I had to laugh. I asked them, "What are you looking at?" and got no reply, but one oddly marked calf, ruddy brown with white knee socks and a big white heart on its forehead, started ambling toward me, with what I can only guess was a hopeful expression on its face. ("Hey. Hey. You got any calf meal for me?) Side note, I've tasted sweet feed, it's actually delicious. Oh, shut up, we were kids and we all tried it and it wasn't my idea anyway.
So, yeah, I find looking at cows looking at me amusing. I'm lucky to live here.
Last night, the weatherman promised clear skies, so I went outside to see the stars. I was stunned by how bright it was! On a dark night, I can see the Milky Way from my front porch, yet the first thing I noticed when I looked up last night was that the stars were washed out. Glancing down, I saw myself. My shadow, clearly delineated on the grass. I took a few steps toward the street, turned and gazed, and there was the moon, glowing white and round as a silver dollar. The night insects sang all around me, but the frogs were silent.
 I know you can all see the moon, too, wherever you are. Even the brightest city lights can't completely fade it from view. What makes last night's moon shadow so special to me, though, is that I have the darkest, most velvety nights to act as contrast. My shadow will fade to black with the waning moon over the next couple of weeks, until finally there is no trace of me on the grass. The stars will arch overhead with cold fire and the Milky Way will once again cut a swath from horizon to horizon.
Then, like a curtain rising on a new act, the moon will wax and again, and resume her prominence in the night sky.
I'll say it again, I am lucky to live here.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Paradise, Again

So, this morning I walked back to Sue's house to buy another dozen eggs--as free range and organic as they get, the hens wander around all day eating the overripe garden vegetables and any bugs that land in the yard--and looked again for more of those black butterflies.  After I wrote last night's note, I went browsing through The Audobon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies  and discovered that what I thought were Mourning Cloaks were, in fact, something else.  My theory was that they were the dark version of the Tiger Swallowtail.  The place next door to me is a nearly vacant lot with waist high grasses and weeds, with some trees (including a huge elm that I wish I could teleport onto my own property) but mostly, the yard is open to the sun.  Great place for finding a black butterfly so I can confirm my guess? 

Well, yeah!  I found one right away, and yes, it is a Tiger Swallowtail, but what's this?  Wading further into the field, which hasn't seen a mower this year, I found the Buckeye version of Grand Central.  Buckeye males flying high in dominance displays, singles flitting from the Queen Ann's Lace to the Wild Hops, a pair low to the ground with him trying to court her.  Dialogue in my head, "But I love you!  But I love you!" as I watched his futile pursuit of the indifferent female.  Maybe you should have brought her flowers, dude.  There may have been a hundred Buckeyes in this lot, maybe more.  All I know is the air was alive with them.  And I live next door to all this magic.

I've been looking through the Audobon book since we moved in, studying the photos, and thinking that it reminds me of a catalogue.  (I'd like one of these, and one of those...)  In our yard we also have Sulphurs, Pearly Crescentspots, some kind of Skippers and some others that I haven't been able to see close up.  The fabulous profusion of life is stunning.  Wild turkeys and white tail deer casually stroll through the fields and open woodlands this time of year.  Sue grumbles about the groundhog who stole her tomatoes--and I can't blame her--but I am secretly excited to think that I live in a place where groundhogs thrive.  No sign of owls yet, I've tried calling screech owls from my porch and heard nothing in reply, but just ten miles from here as the owl flies is a large swath of oak savannah, and there are probably screeches and barred owls right down the road.

Speaking of roads, my village has only six or seven streets.  I have more friends on Facebook than there are living here in Louisburg.  According to the 2000 census, only 149 people called this home.  That's about five classrooms' worth of kids when we were growing up in the Lindbergh school district.  I like it, though.  All those years I lived in Overland, I didn't know my next-door-neighbor's name, (her choice), today I borrowed tools from Billy across the street, shot the breeze with Sue and husband Darryl after buying eggs, found out that her tenant, Paul, plays guitar and have made tentative plans for a jam session with him.  Not only that, but I have found some buckskinning pals right here, Spirit Wolf five miles outside of Louisburg, and Running Wolf in the next town over, about seven miles away.  I've known both of them for years, but out on the rendezvous circuit.  We get to be neighbors, now!  Even more odd, they had friends who lived on my property, Spirit Wolf's buddy in the trailer out back, and Running Wolf's best friend in the three bedroom house behind mine.  Both of those homes are vacant at the moment, but I hope to get tenants by next spring.

Hey, wanna come live in the boonies?  I can heartily recommend it.

Oh, and for those who are wondering why I'm living out here, all I can say is why did it take me so long to make this move?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Getting Away With It

I feel like I'm getting away with something--I have escaped Overland, Missouri, and made it to Paradise. I'm living where you, my friends, get to visit on weekends in the summer if you're lucky enough to have the time and money to do so. On Monday, I went to Pomme De Terre Lake and went swimming, just because I could. I shared the beach with a great blue heron and a host of dragonflies. A mourning cloak butterfly flitted on the shoreline while I gazed. The sky was deep blue with fleecy clouds drifting along like my neighbors' horses grazing their way across the pastures.

This morning, my daughter, Melody, and I walked down to my new friend's house to get some breakfast. We don't have a decent grocery store in town, (that's seven miles away in Buffalo), but Sue's got a hen house, and I got a dozen eggs for a buck. I've met the hens that laid them. Sue threw in a bag of tomatoes from her garden. There were more mourning cloaks to accompany us on our walk back home. A buckeye butterfly slipped onto the tall grass as we passed and a tiger swallowtail soared roof top high. After I got the eggs home and put two into the pumpkin spice pancake batter I was making, I sorted the remaining eggs by color, dark brown to white, in the egg carton. No reason, other than it pleases me to see them that way. Last night's dinner was zucchini that I'd bought from Sue a few days ago, (again, just a dollar for a full bag). I told Sue that I wished she would buy a cow.
Tonight, the sky is dark and clear enough that if I want to see the Milky Way, all I have to do is walk ten feet to my front porch. The dogs across the street from me are quiet for a change, all eight of them, and the crickets are singing to one another. My own dogs are snoozing and I am living in a house with people who genuinely enjoy having me here. Melody got herself a tiny, funny little kitten, all eyes, ears and mismatched stockings on her pipestem legs. The two of them have gone up to bed. Towering Cliff is watching a favorite movie, and his daughter, Sam, (who is my daughter-of-another-mother), is in her room with her own cat. Peace reigns.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

God Waters the Grass

One day about fifteen years ago, back when I still lived in Tucson, Arizona, I was in a chat room when I heard a knock on my door.

"Brb," I typed, "have to pay gardener." The response was electric. You'd think I'd announced that I had to go instruct the maid to serve afternoon tea on the east portico rather than the conservatory. One comment that has stayed in my mind this whole time, a chatter said to me, "Oh, LA!"

Reverse snob that I am, I told my on-line buddies that I lived in Tucson, and there are two things that the poor majority don't have: air conditioners and lawns. We have to make do with swamp coolers and sparse weeds. I never owned a lawn mower in Arizona, there was no point. We had a gardener come through our neighborhood every couple of weeks, and for just a few bucks, he'd run his weed whacker around the base of the prickly pears and along the walkways where the crabgrass struggled to live.

When we moved to Arizona, I had an extensive collection of bromiliads. Despite all my efforts, within six months, all my bromiliads were dead. There was a nice stand of oleanders in the back yard, but almost nothing actually thrived in that climate. We didn't have soil. Just dirt of the leanest, most unthrifty kind. I would sometimes look out at the scruffy, stunted trees, the terra cotta colored bare ground and the bleached, cloudless sky and wish.

I wanted to go somewhere where GOD would water the grass. Most of you, friends, grew up in the midwest, and you're familiar with the acres and acres of lush trees covering the rolling hills. You've seen the corn and soybean fields in Illinois, the cattle dotting the pastures in Missouri, and you know yourself, if you don't do something about your yard, everything will continue to grow, grow, grow. The default setting here is green life. God sends rain and sunshine enough to cover the ground with a rich variety of plants.

At long last, my wish is coming true. Since I was a young girl, I dreamed of a place in the country where I could have not just house pets, but farm animals, too. This past week, I signed papers on my new property in Louisburg, Missouri, (population 149 in 2000), and I will be moving onto my minifarm in August.

The area surrounding Louisburg is acres of temperate forest and pastures. The main crops are grass fed beef cattle and hay. God waters the grass indeed.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Camp Dubois, A Closer Look

Once we get out of school, and no longer take History classes, how much time do we spend thinking about the history all around us? I can only speak for myself, but until I got into reenacting, my way of thinking of the history of a place was to look at the Walgreens at Big Bend and Clayton, and remember that the Parkmoore was there. If you went to Lindbergh, you probably ate there as well.

And yet, that is just a blip on the timeline. We tend to think in terms of our own lives, even when we are surrounded by evidence that life went on long before we got here. I have a tree right down the street that is every bit of two hundred years old. We drive past rock faces all along the highways and there, a mute reminder that this land was once not land at all. Go back far enough, and Missouri sat right in the middle of an enormous sea. We are a blip on the timeline, ourselves.

If you read my "Confessions of a Camp Dog," you got a look at rendezvous life, but not the history behind it. Here, for your pleasure, is a look at the real Camp DuBois.
A replica of the fort at Camp DuBois. Four block houses for the enlisted men are at the corners. In the center of the fort is a long house for officers. The whole thing is enclosed by a stockade. The entrance is behind the flagpole.

A look at the officer's longhouse inside the fort. Notice the stockade in the background is taller than the men.

One of the enlisted men's quarters. They are standing in the "living room," where there is a long table, and a fireplace for cooking and heating the building. Behind them is the bunk room through the door. There are four bunks on each side, two up and two down, with a short ladder in the middle to allow access to the top bunks. I slept in that lower bunk you see.

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set up camp here in December, 1803. The Spanish Governor of St. Louis, (yes, Spanish), would not let them stay in the St. Louis area, so the men backtracked to Wood River, (what DuBois translates to), and camped there, across from the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Lewis, Clark and the Corps of Discovery would spend nearly a year and a half here, more time at this one site than any other. Camp DuBois was where the recruits learned to work together as a military unit. Here, also, they got information from trappers who had already been west.

Meriwether Lewis went on ahead to St. Charles, and on May 14, 1804, William Clark and about 40 other men took three boats and sailed away from the camp to join Lewis. The Corps of Discovery left St. Charles on May 21, 1804, and began an adventure that would last 28 months and take the crew roughly 8,000 miles.

Flash forward two hundred years: We have a new fort, near where the old one was built, and looking like theirs did. Lewis and Clark's papers had drawings that were used to recreate the fort. Every May, reenactors from all over the area gather to portray the people then, and demonstrate everyday life for those who come to see.