Thursday, September 21, 2017

Sunflowers Everywhere!

Photo credit:  Larry D. Fenwick
In a recent blog by a friend, she commented on the amazingly abundant native sunflowers this year, contrasting them with the poor dry-land corn.  We have become accustomed to fields of commercial sun flowers in recent years, but that was not what she meant.  On roadsides, in ditches, along pastures and cultivated fields, anywhere they can find a space, large or small, native sun flowers have grown.

You may remember two very early blogs I posted in 2013 about Sunflowers.  Although the sunflower is the Kansas State Flower, and is beloved for that reason, farmers--including Isaac B. Werner--are not always so enthusiastic.  There are several journal entries in which Isaac complains about the hard work of hoeing sunflowers and sand burrs from around his trees, as well as complaints about sunflowers in his corn and potato fields.

Photo credit:  Larry D. Fenwick
Yet, they are beautiful, and on our way to the Kansas State Fair recently, we paused to take photographs, which my husband added to on a recent trip into Pratt.  Much of this week's blog will be sharing photographs.  A few other wild flowers are included.

Those of you who have followed this blog for a long time may remember the pair of posts titled Isaac and the Sunflowers--Part 1, and the following week, Part 2, from 2013.  You may want to return to them to read more about sunflowers, but in particular I want to remind you about what is called the Vogel Model describing the pattern of seeds in the center of a sunflower.  As a reminder I will republish the illustration, but what I want to include in this blog are photographs of the many different kinds of sunflowers that were shown at the Kansas State Fair, all of which show Vogel's pattern in their seeds.
Photo credit:  Larry Fenwick

I will add that the "holes" you see in the patterns are not the result of poor seed growth.  I followed an adult woman looking at the sunflowers I photographed, and she thought she was being very quick and unobserved as she picked seeds from the sunflowers on display.  Some of the sunflowers had been seriously disfigured by other seed collectors, but you can still see the Vogel pattern.


Queen Anne's Lace



Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow. 
It's what the sunflowers do.  --Helen Keller


Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.  --J.M. Barrie
Look closely for the Monarch butterfly I captured






Normality is a paved road:  It's comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow.  --Vincent van Gogh




Tomorrow may rain, so I'll follow the sun.  --The Beatles
Goldenrod

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Kansas State Fair 2017

Bottle washing machine
Prior blogs have mentioned my connection with Isaac Werner through our mutual love of books.  This week's blog shares our mutual enjoyment of drawing.  Many pages of Isaac's journal contain drawings in the margins, including his invention at right.

At the 2017 Kansas State Fair I participated in the Plein Air at the Fair event, during which artists produce art depicting exhibits and events.  Both Friday and Saturday artists working with oils, acrylics, paper, water colors, and pastels set up working sites throughout the fair grounds.  Canvases and papers had to be marked each day, with that day's work turned in at the close of the day, to prove that the art had been created entirely during the day's event.

Lyn with "Brownie"
Each artist was limited to two entries, which were judged by a former university art professor who is currently the head of a college art department in Kansas.  Four entries were selected for ribbons--three paintings and one paper mosaic.  Photographs of the displayed art are not permitted, so I cannot show you the four pieces that were selected.  Instead, I will share my adventures and efforts.  Although neither of my two pieces was chosen, I had a wonderful time and hope to participate again.

Having seen entries from past Plein Air events, I decided to participate, along with more than twenty other artists.  Signing up gave me the perfect excuse for purchasing a portable easel.  Having never done Plein Air, I set up my easel on our porch when it arrived to experience the sunlight and breezes of working outside.  It also gave me a chance to see if I had assembled all of the supplies I needed.

I still have a carrier I used to transport files to the courthouse for trials, and I put it to work carrying my new easel and other supplies, assembled in a plastic tub which served as my table when I worked. Many of the artists made do with less to transport, using a simple clip board and sitting on the ground or a park bench.  If artists reading this blog are tempted to participate next year, your supplies need not be elaborate--just whatever works for you!  I do encourage more artist to join the fun.
State Fair Friends

I am normally a portrait artist, so the first day I chose to do portraits--of chickens, ducks, and geese.  After all, a portrait is a portrait.  My first subject, whom I named "Brownie" because he was a Chinese Brown Goose, was great fun.  I was fascinated with his long neck, and while he did not always extend his neck, he was very obliging whenever I asked.  Brownie was a bit vain and seemed to enjoy posing.

My next subject I called "Pilgrim," since his breed was identified as Pilgrim-Sex Linked.  After getting set up, I waited for Pilgrim to become calm, but he was an active duck, back and forth from feeder to water and round and round the cage.  Since it seemed he was unlikely to ever be stationary for long, I decided to only draw his head, which was usually visible above the water and feed tubs.

My last subjects Friday were two colorful bantam roosters caged side by side.  The one named "Henry" (according to his owner) was also active, but because he was small I could keep all of him in sight as he moved about.  He apparently had an artistic nature, as he seemed to enjoy adding his own water splashes to his portrait.    His neighbor was more of a sleepy head, napping often despite the constant noise of the poultry barn.

Lyn with Pilgrim
In the cages behind were two beautiful black and white chickens, the Rooster named Bud and the hen named Rose.  Their pretty young owner obviously loved them like pets, and shyly pointed out that their clever, combined names were Rosebud.  I was tempted to try drawing their complicated black and white feathers, but I had been working about 6 hours at that point and was too tired for another 2-hour portrait.  

Saturday entries had to be turned in by 3 p.m., so I arrived early to get started.  Unfortunately, the exhibits  where I intended to work were not open that early.  I headed to the dairy cattle barn to start my day until my intended subjects were available, but after sketching a particular cow, her owner took her for a bath and I had to stop.  I moved on, intending to return later but in search of a subject to do in the meantime.  I never returned to the cow nor made it to the things I had planned to draw. 

Photo credit Gauman, Hutch News
I chose one of those souvenir photo stands with an oval cut out for children to put their faces through for a photograph to take home from the fair.    With the fair ground pavilion as a background and a tree to balance the triangular composition, I thought it would be a nice, not too complicated image.  I was wrong.  All of the angles and details of the pavilion took most of the morning, and by then the Saturday crowds had arrived.  The photo stand was popular, and families would line up between me and my subject to watch their children pose.  In addition, the miniature train tracks were between me and my subject and passed by regularly.  In fact, they were so busy there were two trains running.  

Since I was working in the park, many people stopped by to watch and to visit, which I loved.  Even Lindsey Gauman with the Hutchinson News took my photo for the Sunday Paper and stopped by to get my name.  What wasn't so nice was that  as the breeze came up I realized that my position blew fairground grit right into my eyes.  I was having a true Plein Air painting experience!

Lyn's turn to pose in the souvenir photo board
On Friday I had finished 3 drawings in six hours, but on Saturday I struggled to finish 1 drawing in 6 1/2 hours, rushing to finish the tree before time ran out.  I wasn't satisfied with Saturday's work, but I chose to enter it as one of my 2 entries, along with the double chicken portraits.

I did not win any prize, but I was pleased when the judge took the time to comment specifically on my entry from Saturday when he finished speaking about the 4 winners.  He said how much he appreciated my theme of contrasting the permanence of the pavilion and the tree against the bright colors and temporary excitement of the fair, represented by the souvenir photo display.  I had been so disappointed with that work, but he had seen what I set out to depict, and I was both embarrassed by being singled out and pleased by his comments.  

The 2017 Kansas State Fair continues through Sunday, September 17, so if you have not attended this year and you are curious to see the Plein Air exhibit, it can be found in the OZ Building.  I hope some of you who may have considered participating will be encouraged to enter next year.  I had a blast!

Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge.


Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Detective Work of an Artist

Clues from old newspapers
Recently I read an article about a performance artist who found a wire recording made in the 1950s in which a family undertakes that awkward effort of acting natural as they record themselves.  Using that recording, the artist created "Say Something Bunny," which she performs in a small Off Off Broadway theater.  When she listened to this unusual wire recording, a technology that predates tape recorders, she became intrigued by the self-conscious conversations of the family, and she set out to discover who they were.  Amazingly, she traced their identities.

Clues from books Isaac Werner read
Having created her performance piece, she wanted to locate a family member to acquire permission to use the recording.  She found the only surviving family member, now seventy-eight years old.  He gave his permission and expressed his amazement in the artist's ability to track down the identities of those on the recording and to find him, saying:  "Allison should really be working for the FBI."

Clues from courthouses
The artist's partner described her efforts in this way:  "A journalist would have started with 'I'm going to find who this person is and get the story from them, but Allison got the story from everything else she could find and put it together."

You have probably realized by now why this newspaper story caught my attention.  I found Isaac Werner's journal, written in 1870-71 and resumed from 1884-1891.  No one is living from that time that I could "get the story from."  I had to be a detective and 'get the story from everything else I could find and put it together.'  Whether you are a writer or a playwright or a narrative poet or some other artist, basing your work on actual historic events, you must be a thorough detective.

Clues from public memorials
There are places to discover the secrets of the past, even when those people about whom you are writing are no longer living and were never famous.  Of course libraries are an obvious place to begin.  In my case, I knew the titles of books in Isaac's own library from the inventory of his estate sale and comments in his journal, and by reading what he read, I learned much about him and the times in which he lived.  Certainly I read books about the period--histories about the Populist Movement, biographies and autobiographies of key figures of that period, books about prohibition and specific historic events.  But, I also interviewed descendants, visited sites relevant to Isaac and the period, walked cemeteries where people mentioned in the book are buried, read old newspapers, and used the valuable information in the local courthouses from deed records and court documents.  

Isaac's journal is an amazing document in itself.  I came to know his community very well, and one of the most difficult challenges in writing my manuscript has been limiting what I can include.  As an editor told me, "Does it advance the story?  If it doesn't, take it out."  

Clues from cemeteries
My manuscript is not a diary or simply Isaac's journal.  Rather it is, as the title suggests, Isaac's story as it reveals the historic Populist Movement, its leaders, and its impact on America both at that time and to the present.  I was unable to include the scandalous story of the runaway elopement or the tragic story of a 15-year-old girl's murder and the lynching of her killer, exciting as both were.  They were both historical to the period and the region, but they did not advance the story of the populist movement that I had chosen to tell.  A detective must follow the clues that will solve the case he is handling, and an artist must advance the story she is telling.


You can enlarge the images by clicking on them.  To read more about "Say Something Bunny" you may go to the June 26, 2017 issue of the New York Times and read the article "The Detective was a Performance Artist" by Elizabeth Vincentelli.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Where Did You Watch?




2017 edited view of solar eclipse

Last week I invited those who follow this blog to share their own experiences watching the eclipse of August 21, 2017.  First, thanks to so many of you who expressed your appreciation for a vicarious experience of being with us in Broken Bow.  C.R. wrote:  "I felt like I was standing right beside you watching the magic."  B.P. said, "Your vivid descriptions took me straight to Broken Bow.  Thank you for allowing me to see [the] world through your eyes."  E.R. felt as if he were  there with us:  "I can also see you two...made me smile."  Many more of you shared equally kind compliments about the blog.  It makes the weekly research and writing worth it!

2017
However, it sounds too much like bragging to share more of those replies, especially when there are comments  to share about readers' own experiences.  LMN traveled to Madras, OR to a friend's ranch and avoided the crowds, enjoying a 3-day visit around the eclipse.  She wrote:  "The eclipse was other worldly and awesome in the true sense of the word.  I do agree with you that I wish it had lasted longer so that I could have savored the experience.  I did walk away from the twenty or so other people who were there so that I could quietly try to take it all in."  She and a few others mentioned the opportunity to experience a total solar eclipse in Texas in 2024.  

Our dear niece made a very special event of the eclipse by traveling to a mountainside  location to camp with her son.  She wrote, "I agree with you.  It went too quickly.  Now we have to wait a long time for the next one."

For some of you there was disappointment.  G.C. wrote, "I thoroughly enjoyed the blog and the great description of your eclipse experience.  We were totally fogged in...had to watch it on TV."  D.K., watching with her husband on St. Simons Island, "awoke that Monday to rain but watched the happenings across the country on the weather channel.  After two P.M. we went outdoors to see if it felt darker and looked skyward.  Weren't we surprised to see a patch of blue light where the sun peeped out.  As we had no official glass, D.K. put on three pair of sun glasses and took looks at the partial eclipse.  Not the awe of a total eclipse but exciting nevertheless."  (Obviously, not the recommended safety protection for viewing!)

My husband even shared the blog with the AOPA website, where it was posted.  From postings there and the many individuals who visited from face book and direct reminders, it was the most visited of any blog since I began posting.
2015 Total Solar Eclipse

Thank you to everyone who shared their eclipse experiences!  I appreciated every one of them!!

AML, a regular and longtime follower of the blog, shared a special discovery with me.  A Professor at Amherst College Observatory named Todd David Peck (1855-1939) wrote "Instructions for Observing the Total Eclipse of the Sun, January 1, 1889," to inform viewers how to sketch what they saw to help scientists learn more about the sun!  Of course, you will recognize that his "Instructions" were for the eclipse that Isaac Werner mentioned in his journal!  I want to share excerpts from those instructions.

"Much assistance will be rendered to astronomers who are studying the corona, if outline drawings of the whole, or any part of it, are made...

Four or five minutes before the eclipse becomes total, close the eyes and turn them from the sun, so that they will become very sensitive to faint light."

An attendant should watch the crescent of the sunlight, and announce when the last ray has vanished.  The observer then turns toward the sun and begins the drawing.  If no one is present who can do this, the observer can himself look at the diminishing crescent through a piece of smoked glass, taking great care that no direct sunlight shall strike the eye.  This would be so dazzling as to make it impossible to see the faint details of the corona immediately afterward.
2017

This [the smoked glass] can be made of a small pane of window-glass by holding it over the flame of a lamp or candle until a black film is deposited on it.  If possible, it should be smoked so that the lint will be so dense at one end that the full light of the sun seen through it will not dazzle the eye, while at the other the film should be so thin that objects in an ordinary lighted room may be seen distinctly through it.  Smoke the glass as evenly as possible from one end to the other.  Paste a narrow strip of thick paper across each end of the glass, on the smoked side and lay it on a sheet of unsmoked glass of the same size.  Secure the two sheets together by a strip of paper pasted around the edges of both plates.


If a field glass, spy glass or telescope of any size is available best use it can be put to is to observe of those parts of the corona near the poles of the sun.  *  *  *  ...protecting the eye with the smoked or colored glass."

2017
For those of us who conveniently bought our cardboard  eclipse glasses with the protective lenses, it is hard to imagine the time and effort necessary to prepare smoked glass as Professor Peck described.  It is even more amazing that scientists at that time depended upon sketches of the corona for their studies, in comparison the the cameras and other delicate equipment available today!  Yet, with their primitive tools for observation, they managed to learn a great deal.

Thank you to all of you who shared your comments with me!

To read more of the Instructions, visit https://archive.org/details/instructionsfor01 obsegoog.

An addendum:  I decided to add a few of the comments I have received, but don't forget to enjoy the comments already made by clicking on the comment tab.

In the "It's a Small World" category...JK wrote, "We are missing it cruising up the Danube."  AC requested, "Enjoy the eclipse, and tell us all about what you see.  I'll miss it here in Edinburgh."  TH shared, "...it looks as though 'eclipse fever' has gotten to you.  Here in the UK we will only be having a partial eclipse, but our TV is covering the one you will be seeing in your own country.  I saw a total eclipse over here, I think in August 1999, and I have to say it was spectacularly frightening."

In the "Awesome" category...MG agreed, "Yes, a great experience."  MH wrote, "We ended up in Ansley, NE--not far from you...What a glorious experience and one I will treasure for the rest of my life.  I was more enthralled by the darkness and atmosphere than the actual sight of the sun/moon."  With special reasons for remembering the day, DK shared the experience with his family in Lawrence, KS, where they met their new granddaughter for the first time.

In the "Slightly disappointed" category, J&CD said, "We are envious."  JR  watched from their deck, but shared that their son watched in Hendersonville, TN and got some good photographs.  And GC in California shared the disappointment of many others, saying, "...we were totally fogged in."

This as been a very popular series, as writing about the magnificence of a total eclipse should be!  Thank you to everyone who has commented, and I apologize that I fear I have missed posting all the comments.  If yours was overlooked, I assure you that I read and appreciated every one that was sent!    



Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Experiencing the 8-21-2017 Total Eclipse

Last week's blog shared the very personal reactions of four people to eclipses they viewed.  This week I share my own reactions to the Total Eclipse of 8-21-2017.  I hope that some of you will share your own reactions with me, for how we experienced the eclipse will surely be different for each of us.

Our neighbors for the night
My husband and I flew to Broken Bow, Nebraska, the afternoon before the eclipse, not wanting to risk unexpected delays the next morning.  We carried a new tent purchased more than a decade ago but never out of its box.  For a bit of nostalgia, I packed an old comforter that I believe was made by my Grandmother Beck.  In my childhood, before central air conditioning, that old comforter was spread on the lawn for weary children who fell asleep to the voices of parents entertaining out-of-doors to escape the stagnant heat of the house.

The morning of the eclipse we awoke in our tent to a gray world shrouded in fog.  I refused to be disheartened, accepting that we might experience the eclipse through a veil.  Broken Bow provided a three-day celebration in town which sounded wonderful, but the hospitality of the Broken Bow Airport kept us happy.  Hamburgers with homemade buns and all the fixins' were served both the evening we arrived and at lunch before the eclipse, and that morning our hosts served pancakes and cracked 120 eggs for scrambled eggs and ham.  By the time we finished breakfast the dark shapes of trees appeared through the fog, and soon patches of blue broke through the sky and disbursed the clouds to whispy fringes.  It was a glorious day to watch an eclipse.

More planes began to arrive, and soon the taxiway was lined with airplanes of all colors and sizes.  As the time neared for the eclipse to begin, people settled into the places they had chosen from which to watch, and one group arranged their lawn chairs in a semi-circle around the wind sock in the middle of the field.  Nearly the last plane to arrive was a large private jet, whose passengers quickly disembarked.  Perhaps 60 planes from nine different states and Canada had chosen Broken Bow as their eclipse-viewing destination, and no one was disappointed.

Planes begin to arrive
Soon the words, "It's starting" were heard.  Although our primary attention was directed skyward, there was also time to study the crowd in between watching the changes creeping across the sun--two young fathers holding their daughters' hands as they walked across the grass, the fathers in shorts and golf shirts but the beautiful little girls in dresses pretty enough for a party; a pair sitting in the shade of the main hangar eating their burgers and ignoring nature's preliminaries, postponing their attention for the total eclipse of the sun; some people retreating to small family groups as others clustered to chat with newly met friends; one man sitting in readiness alone by his plane with his camera outfit.

As the shadow of the moon cut more deeply into the sun, I sought a solitary space between the wing and the tail of our plane.  My husband, an incurably social personality, walked around, sharing the experience with our friends and others we had met since arriving, but always returning to share the excitement with me.  Remembering Annie Dillard's words describing a partial eclipse as being like kissing a man, I kissed my husband as the eclipse began.

I felt the air begin to cool even before I recognized the gradual darkness.  There were no birds at the airport  to cry in bewilderment as Mable Todd had described, nor sensitive flowers to close their petals, but there were automatic runway and taxiway lights that turned on in response to the deepening darkness.  The murmur of the crowd subdued momentarily, but as the sun disappeared  and the total eclipse that Mable Todd described as  an "incomparable corona, a silvery, soft, unearthly light" appeared.

Unlike the "hushed expectancy that seemed to hold its breath" that Mable Todd described, the crowd exploded in clapping and cheers.  It seems that Americans--accustomed to the more participatory crowd responses of sports events and massive concerts--have become conditioned to express their wonder and delight differently.  Noise filled the air.

Home sweet Home at Broken Bow Airport
The eclipse passed too quickly.  The moment when the burst of light escaped the moon's shadow and soared defiantly out of its imprisoned darkness came too soon.  I wanted the magic to last, to capture my emotional awareness of nature's power even longer, but the moon moved on.  I met our friend, standing quietly in the middle of the lawn.  "It really does smell like morning," he said.  I took a deep breath.  This was what I had come to experience--not just the darkness and the light but the subtle changes.  He was right.  The return of sunlight after its brief imprisonment by the moon's shadow really did arrive with the fresh smell of morning.  Sadly, the fragrance was quickly eradicated by the fumes of the late-arriving jet, now just as eager to be on its way as it had been late to arrive.  Its engine roared and the smell of fuel obliterated the lingering awe of the eclipse.

The image of the moon's departing shadow slipping off the sun was as beautiful as its arrival had been, but very few people continued to look skyward.  Their eclipse glasses were tucked into pockets as they hurried toward their planes to line up on the taxiway for departure.  We were among the last planes to leave, but a tiny bite out of the sun still remained as I took my last look before my husband closed the door for our departure.

Photograph of a previous total eclipse
Nature's performance had been perfection, and we had been in a beautiful, hospitable place to watch.  Was it everything I had hoped?  Almost.  I suspect I should have slipped away to one of the lovely hills that formed the backdrop to the airport.  I missed the sort of reverence in which to savor the moments--Isaac Werner's solitude, Annie Dillard's falling through the sky, Emily Dickinson's sense of Awe, Mable Todd's ethereal splendor.

I appreciate that each of us experiences joy differently, and I believe almost everyone around me felt they had experienced more than they could have imagined.  Perhaps I alone wanted to experience the eclipse as something transcendental, something apart from my ordinary existence.  I shared the communal experience of beauty, the excitement, the satisfaction of being present for such a moment, but I missed the deeper feeling of slipping beyond reality for just a magical moment to relish the wonder of this incredible planet we inhabit.  I was too distracted by the reality around me and lacked the concentration to ignore it.  For me, a solitary place to spread our comforter, with only the birds and bugs as a soundtrack to the deepening darkness would have been perfect.    I would have been happy to value the departure of the moon's shadow with as much wonder as we had experienced watching its arrival.

But my way to experience the eclipse is not everyone's preference, nor do I have any reason for disappointment or regret about our beautiful time in Broken Bow.  I hope some of you will take the time to share where you watched the eclipse and the feelings you experienced, whether as a comment to this blog, as a comment on my face book page, or in an e-mail.  You can still enjoy reading the descriptions of Isaac Werner, Emily Dickinson, Annie Dillard, and Mable Loomis Todd by scrolling to last week's blog below, and you can enlarge the images in the blog by clicking on them.


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Isaac Werner's 1889 Solar Eclipse

Path of the Eclipse Isaac Witnessed 
On New Years Day, 1889, a total solar eclipse moved across the United States.  Total loss of direct sunlight occurred in the upper northwest portion of the continental United States, but a partial eclipse was visible across the western states and central Canada, with lesser impact as far away as Hawaii and the rest of the U.S.

Isaac B. Werner described the event in his journal.  Almanacs of that era had forecast the eclipse, but some of his neighbors had not received their 1889 almanacs and were taken by surprise.

Isaac wrote:  "Jan. 1, 1889 @ 14 degrees calm and pleasant by noon quite warm and @ 72 degrees in sun, only few degrees from summer heat.  ...about half past 2 o'clock eclipse commenced ... by 1/2 past 3 Sun about 2/3 hid.  I went up to Beck's after my mail -- Many persons noticed about peculiar Sun shine quite dim for clear day, but did not know of eclipse as but few are provided yet with new almanacs, the latter get short for distribution among drug stores."

On August 21, 2017, Americans will have the opportunity to experience a solar eclipse.  Those watching from Central Kansas, where Isaac had his claims, will share the dimness he experienced.  However, many Americans will experience the awesomeness of a total eclipse.

Path of the August 21, 2017 Eclipse
Isaac's response to the New Year's Day 1889 partial eclipse indicates the noteworthiness of it by the simple fact that he mentioned it in his journal, for it would have been uncharacteristic for Isaac to have elaborated something minor.  However, essayist Annie Dillard could have told Isaac, as she tells the rest of us in her essay Reflection:  Total Eclipse, "A partial eclipse is very interesting.  It bears almost no relation to a total eclipse.  Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him, or as flying in an airplane does to falling out of an airplane."

Poets have tried to describe the experience, as Emily Dickinson did in 1877.  "...Eclipse was all we could see at the Window/And Awe--was all we could feel..."   I searched for the words of other poets, but those I found were lame in comparison to Dillard's essay:

"I saw, early in the morning, the sun diminish against a backdrop of sky.  I saw a circular piece of that sky appear, suddenly detached, blackened, and backlighted; from nowhere it came and overlapped the sun.  It did not look like the moon.  It was enormous and black.  If I had not read that it was the moon, I could have seen the sight a hundred times and never thought of the moon once.  (If, however, I had not read that it was the moon -- if, like most of the world's people throughout time, I had simply glanced up and seen this thing -- then I doubtless would not have speculated much, but would have, like Emperor Lois of Bavaria in 840, simply died of fright on the spot.)"  

Total Solar Eclipse
No wonder countless Americans who could easily view a partial eclipse from their own front yards are instead choosing to travel to locations along the path of the total eclipse as it crosses our continent, for the first time the path will traverse coast to coast in nearly a century.

Mabel Loomis Todd (1856-1932), (the wife of an astronomer and observatory director, who served as his assistant, edited his scientific papers, and shared many of his research trips), published her own account of a total eclipse, describing the early changes in light and the response of birds and animals to the changing scene.  Although her initial descriptions are more academic, the emotional experience of the actual eclipse transforms her language.

"Darker and darker grows the landscape.  ...Then, with frightful velocity, the actual shadow of the Moon is often seen approaching, a tangible darkness advancing almost like a wall, swift as imagination, silent as doom.  The immensity of nature never comes quite so near, as then, and strong must be the nerves not to quiver as this blue-black shadow rushes upon the spectator with incredible speed.  A vast, palpable presence seems overwhelming the world.  The blue sky changes to gray or dull purple, speedily becoming more dusky, and a death-like trance seizes upon everything earthly.  Birds, with terrified cries, fly bewildered for a moment, and then silently seek their night quarters.  Bats emerge stealthily.  Sensitive flowers, the scarlet pimpernel, the African mimosa, close their delicate petals, and a sense of hushed expectancy deepens with the darkness.  ...Often the very air seems to hold its breath for sympathy; at other times a lull suddenly awakens into a strange wind, blowing with unnatural effect.

Then out upon the darkness grewsome [sic] but sublime, flashes the glory of the incomparable corona, a silvery, soft, unearthly light, with radiant streamers, stretching at times millions of uncomprehended miles into space, while the rosy, flaming protuberances skirt the black rim of the Moon in ethereal splendor.  It becomes curiously cold, dew frequently forms, and the chill is perhaps mental as well as physical.

Suddenly, instantaneous as a lightning flash, an arrow of actual sunlight strikes the landscape, and Earth comes to life again, while corona and protuberances melt into the returning brilliance, and occasionally the receding lunar shadow is glimpsed as it flies away with the tremendous speed of its approach."  Quoted from her book, "Total Eclipses of the Sun."  (Consistent with the habits of her time, the author is identified only as "Mrs. Todd," her personal identity subsumed into her husband's name and reputation.)

Partial solar eclipse
On August 21, 2017 the path of the eclipse will give most Americans the opportunity to look to the sky, our safety glasses firmly in place.  From the descriptions of a poet, an essayist, and an  assistant-astrologist, the experience may be not merely interesting but highly emotional.  As Annie Dillard expressed the impact of the solar eclipse on her: "It had been like the death of someone, irrational, that sliding down the mountain pass and into the region of dread.  It was like slipping into fever, or falling down that hole in sleep from which you wake yourself whimpering."  The images we may see on television and in print, taken through a telescope, may be beautiful, but what we may experience by viewing it ourselves cannot, apparently, be translated to photographs.  Now, if only the day will not be overcast!

Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Pratt County Seat Dispute

Early photograph of Pratt Businesses
Gaining the county seat in the westward expansion was extremely important to developing communities.  Often the seed for a town was not much more than a school.  Gradually a nearby home might be designated the community post office, a church might be built, and a few businesses might establish themselves there.  Rather than towns being far apart, there were many of these tiny settlements, almost all of which have now disappeared without a trace remaining today.  Even some of the larger towns have failed to thrive as automobiles and highways allow residents in the surrounding area to travel elsewhere for their shopping.  But for about one hundred years, being the county seat meant the likelihood that the town would prosper.  Naturally, people were willing to fight for that designation, sometimes with marketing, sometimes with trickery, and sometimes with guns.

Pratt County engaged in a bit of all three.  Here is a very brief summary of that history, starting with the designation of the area as a county.  A certain number of residents were necessary, and it is suggested that Pratt County may have counted its population a little generously.

Early photograph of Iuka Businesses
The governor came to investigate, and if it was a legitimate county to determine between Iuka and Saratoga which settlement should be the County Seat.  Clever Iuka promoters met the governor's train with a brass band (so the story goes) and escorted him to their community where he was entertained so 'graciously' that he never made it to Saratoga.

Naturally, Saratoga was not happy.  They contested the temporary designation of Iuka, but when irregularities were found among the necessary signatures, it was decided not to disturb the status quo while the irregularities were investigated.  Iuka retained its title.

Stone in the neglected Saratoga Cemetery 
Iuka's claim was based largely on being the center of the county; however, a legislative attempt to erase Stafford from the map of counties by giving parts of it away to its neighboring counties was defeated, at least partly because two townships had been overlooked in the giveaway.  That allowed Stafford County to survive and demand that its original boundaries be returned.  Once that happened, the reach of Pratt County was reduced, and Iuka was no longer at the center of the county.

A group of businessmen decided to form an investment company to establish a new town called Pratt Center.  Their citizen count involved the same sort of exaggerated numbers that the county itself had used to be recognized.  For a time the accusation was that for Pratt Center to have enough residents to be recognized as a town they must have counted the prairie dogs, which earned it the nickname of Dog City.

Nevertheless, the battle for the county seat now involved three communities.  Perhaps because the investment company used smarter legal tactics than the settlers in the other two communities, Pratt Center was named as the county seat and remains so today.  The small community of Iuka remains, but Saratoga has disappeared.

During those years of disputing claims to the county seat, there was certainly significant marketing, a serious amount of chicanery, and even a bit of gun fire (although most of it was probably aimed into the air rather than at each other).  Once Pratt Center gained the prize it wasn't long before the citizens voted to drop Center from the name of the town.  Today Pratt remains a thriving small city, with museums, a community college, proud citizens, and not a prairie dog to be found!

More stories about these early communities may be found in the blog archives.  Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge them.

(Notice the deceased woman's name on the old grave stone.  Many of these stones may be found in old cemeteries on which neither the woman's given name nor maiden name appears, but rather, the name of the husband at the time of her death is inscribed.  This often makes researching maternal family lines almost impossible.  Even if the given name appears, the maternal family line may still be difficult to ascertain.)

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Story of Mary

Mary Elizabeth Lease, Wichita Library Lawn
Rudyard Kipling wrote, If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.  I love that quote!  Although I never put it so simply, it is exactly what I am trying to do in telling the story of Isaac B. Werner, his community, and the populist movement of the late 1800s.  The story about the populist movement, in which working class people--farmers, factory workers, miners, ranchers--came together politically to confront what they saw as excessive political influence by the wealthy men of the Gilded Age, is a great drama which most of us today know little about.  Isaac recorded in his journal a first hand account of the movement and the many leaders he heard speak, and one of those influential Populist speakers was Kansan, Mary Elizabeth Lease.  Let me tell you her story!

Mary Elizabeth Lease came to Kansas to teach in the Osage Mission, met and married a successful man, and enjoyed a comfortable life until the economic depression of 1874.  They moved to Texas and started over, from scratch, and it was there that she became involved in the Women's Christian Temperance Union.  Her organizing and speaking activities for the WCTU led to her involvement in women's rights, declaring, "There is no difference between the mind of a smart man and that of a smart woman."

Plaque, Wichita Library Lawn
They returned to Kansas, first living in Kingman, where she published articles in the local paper and studied law at home, juggling all of this with responsibilities as wife and mother.  They moved to Wichita, where she supplemented her legal studies reading law with a local attorney, and she was admitted to the Bar.  Her political involvement began with the Union Labor Party, but as the non-political Farmers' Alliance morphed into the People's Party she, like most other populists in Kansas, shifted her allegiance to that party. She became a paid speaker and a newspaper editor, always focusing on Prohibition, women's suffrage, and economic reforms.  In 1890, when the Populists challenged Republican US Senator Ingalls, Mrs. Lease traveled Kansas in support of William A. Peffer, giving 160 speeches on his behalf during the campaign season.  Following Peffer's victory, Mrs. Lease was often called, "the woman who beat Senator Ingalls."  At a time when women did not have the vote, she made a difference.

She was one of the most effective Populist orators and strategists, but she was provocative and intolerant of being marginalized by leaders who either disagreed with her or were disinclined to regard a woman with full respect.  Her place in the populist movement declined with the decline of the movement itself, and she is too little remembered and respected in history.

Mary Elizabeth Lease
Isaac B. Werner was among her strongest supporters, and he traveled to hear her speak, was published in her newspaper, and corresponded with her regularly.  It was through his journal entries that I first became acquainted with Mary Elizabeth Lease, and finding research about her was challenging.  You can imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered that a larger-than-life bronze statue of Mrs. Lease stands on the lawn between the Wichita Public Library and Century II!  She was a strikingly beautiful woman, nearly six feet tall and quite slender for a woman of her times who had borne five children.  She could hold the attention of a crowd for three hours, modulating her voice from a whisper to a challenging call to arms.

Remember her story!  Mary Elizabeth Lease made a difference, not only to the Populist Movement in Kansas but also to all of us today who take for granted many of the Populist ideas that have become a part of our nation.


(You can enlarge the images by clicking on them.)

Thursday, July 27, 2017

What Makes Things Obsolete?

Isaac Werner's penmanship
When Isaac B. Werner kept his journal, his tool was a pen.  Previous blogs have shared Isaac's effort to improve his penmenship, having a "good hand" an important indication of an educated man.  

Typewriters had been invented by the 1880s and 1890s when Isaac was keeping the journal about his years on the Kansas prairie.  The picture of an 1881 Hammond typewriter below was taken from the Editor's Page of Elle Decor.  Michael Boodro, editor, titled his editorial "When Does An Object of Desire Become Obsolete?"  His question inspired this blog.

I took a typewriting class in high school, perhaps my sophomore year, and as I recall, everyone in my class took typing, both boys and girls.  I believe that was when I asked my parents for a typewriter, and I think my portable typewriter was a birthday gift.  It served me through high school, college, and law school and was my only personal typewriter until the computer age arrived.  I did use electric typewriters for a couple of jobs, and I remember the clatter of keys and the ding of the bell as it reached the end of each row of typing.

1881 Hammond typewriter
In his article for Elle Decor, Michael Boodro recalled that he asked for a typewriter for Christmas when he was twelve, adding that he was an unashamed nerd.  In his editorial he used the evolution of typewriters to explore the impact of technology on the way we live.  However, he also pointed out that even those things which retain their function are often abandoned for reasons of style.  In other words, we often trade a perfectly serviceable automobile for a new model, or we discard clothing and furniture strictly because the styles change.

Mother's Underwood



The Underwood typewriter of unknown vintage pictured at left once belonged to my mother.  She used it to type her articles for the local newspaper, and although the sticker on the back of the machine states ownership of the copyright in Underwood Elliott Fisher Co. and production in the USA, it does not include a copyright date.  Mother loved writing, and becoming a news reporter in her senior years was like a dream come true.  I don't know where or when she acquired the Underwood typewriter, but it has a sticker from a Hutchinson business on the front, and I suspect she bought it when she became a reporter.

Although its date is uncertain, it seems older than the 1970s or early 1980s when Mother first became a reporter.  Unlike Michael Boodro, Mother would not have rejected it because it wasn't a new model.  Rather, it might have suited her imagination of what a 'girl reporter' would have used when she first dreamed of being one.
Nostalgic Mug

When Isaac Werner ordered a book on Spenserian penmanship, would he ever have imagined that slightly more than a century later students would no longer be taught cursive writing?  Will handwriting, even block printing, disappear except for jotting down brief notes as we communicate more and more by e-mail, text, tweets, and who knows what?

The advertisement for the mug pictured at right reads:  "The Lost Art of Penmanship Mug," and continues, "Kids today may not be taught cursive, but some of us fondly remember learning to mind our p's and q's...  Now you can enjoy the nostalgia of pretty penmanship with this 'educational' 12-ounce mug decorated with lower- and upper-case letters."  I believe the generally accepted origin of the saying about p's and q's relates to pub owners calling out to patrons to mind their pints and quarts in case they needed a refill before the legal hour prohibiting serving liquor arrived.  Will cursive penmanship soon be as obscure as the origin of that saying?

Many, including me, have argued that cursive writing deserves to be taught, not only for aesthetic reasons but also because taking the pains to write legibly--even beautifully--encourages thoughtful reflection, something often lost in the hasty pounding of a keyboard, abbreviated texting, and scribbled printing.  The essay in Elle Decor was directed toward the impact of technology on furnishing our homes, but perhaps Boodro's ideas should also cause us to reflect on the impact of technology on communication and reason, as well as beauty.



Thursday, July 20, 2017

Sedimentary Formations


Natural Bridge near Sun City before demolition
Some of you who are long-time followers of this blog may remember the blogs about the Natural Bridge near Sun City, KS, and you may also remember the blogs about Isaac Werner's potato-selling trips to Sun City, during which he ruminated about the unusual terrain and rock formations.

The photograph at right clearly shows the layering of sedimentary rock in the Natural Bridge near Sun City taken prior to its destruction.  It also shows how water gradually cut an opening in the rock to create the bridge.

Photo credit:  Moondigger
Many beautiful formations can be found in the United States.  The picture at left, taken from below with the camera aimed skyward "Inside Lower Antelope Canyon" by Moondigger, shows the effect of erosion by wind and water that has exposed the elegant sculpturing of layers of sandstone.

In Southwestern Utah a more rugged example of Sedimentary Formations consisting of siltstones and limestones from the Middle Triassic Period illustrates another means of layering in sedimentary Formations.

Viewed by us but not my photograph
Others of you who follow the blog regularly will also remember my posting of photographs taken of Castle Rock and surrounding outcroppings in that area of northwestern Kansas.

My fascination with sedimentary formations caused me to see one particular circumstance in a geological manner, rather than observing it for what is actually was.

Castle Rock in Kansas
A Kansas "mountain range"
Use your imagination to picture the "mountain range" at right as a sedimentary formation, laid down layer by layer.  That is exactly what I did for a split second as we drove by a Kansas field.  Of course, what I saw was not a mountain range built up layer by layer over eons but rather piles of grain unloaded side-by-side by a Kansas farmer who must have found himself lacking granary storage space.

While it may not have been a mountain range, it was beautiful and offered an interesting comparison of how different materials deposited on top of each other over many eons created the sedimentary rock formations we see today in such places as those pictured above.

The photograph at right shows the grain auger used to transfer the grain from the truck that brought it to the site onto the cleared area on which the grain is being temporarily stored.

The last image shows more closely the layering resulting as the auger deposits the grain on the pile, truck load by truck load.

Beauty is all around us, and with a little imagination, what we see can transport us to imagined places--a wind-shaped canyon, a far-away desert, a distant planet!

Remember, you can enlarge the images by clicking on them.