Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Trees and the Hand of Man

Isaac Werner must have planted his peach orchard soon after arriving on his claim, for by the time he resumed writing in his journal, he was already enjoying peaches from his trees.  In fact, he admitted that sometimes he was so hungry for fruit that when his peaches finally ripened he was so greedy to enjoy them that he gave himself a 'tummy ache.'

He had melons from his garden, and he tried to add apples to his orchard, especially looking forward to sharing them with his horses, but the delivery of a dozen young trees was too late in the season and his attempt to wrap their roots for planting in the spring failed.  He does mention a single apple tree later in his journal, but whether it was the lone survivor or a different tree planted earlier I do not know.

This blog, however, is inspired by my favorite tree at the farm.  Its spiral-like trunk makes me smile every time I see it, and when we relax on our front porch, I never fail to look over at Mother Nature's own bonsai tree.

When we returned to the farm, there was more than just the old house in need of attention.  Trees had survived, but they needed pruning, and some needed to be removed. We did a great deal of work, but we also had to call in the professionals.

The little spiral tree was in a crowded maze of trees, and most of them were removed.  I can't remember who did the work in that crowd of trees, but thank goodness the interesting trunk was noticed and left to make me smile each time I see it.

Although Mother Nature trained my favorite tree, humans have many ways to alter the appearance of trees.  I found the website of Sudbury Design Group online and am using their definitions for the various alterations.  A visit to their website offers an enjoyable collection of images.

Believe it or not, the two figures at right are trees, an example of Pooktre done by the Sudbury Design Group, by gradually shaping trees into a desired form by starting with a cutting and working with the vine-like area on the branch behind the growing tip.  The new growth follows a wire form, and where it needs to divert, a graft is bonded, which continues growing until the shape is complete.


      Espalier and Pleaching have similar training requirements as well as similar purposes.  Espalier is training a tree to grow up a wall or other flat surface--decorative or to increase fruit production.  Pleaching is weaving tree branches that are aligned to create a mass of plant material, creating a knit look, tunnels, and arbors.  When we traveled to Canada once, we visited a garden in which pleaching had been used to create a path much like the one in the picture.  I don't know what type of tree it was, but its flowers were yellow, and the day we were there not only were the lovely flowers blooming in the branches, the blossoms had begun to fall, and walking through this tunnel of trees was like being rained on by gold.  It was one of those rare moments of being someplace at just the right time to experience magic.

Pollarding involves removing branches (6 to 8 feet high) to create a full top of foliage and branches.  The picture at left shows such a tree in winter, when it has no leaves, but in summer, when the tree is filled with leaves, it is like a bouquet of leaves held in the grasp of the bare branches below.  Pollarding helps maintain trees at a specific height, such as you might want to do with trees lining a street.

The last two examples of man's hand in the growth of trees demand artistry and patience--as Pooktre obviously requires as well.  Probably the most amazing display of Topiary I have ever seen was at Longwood Gardens.  Forms and animals are created by gradually trimming hedges to become a desired shape.  I once saw a picture of a lawn with a series of topiaries, in the lead a fox, and chasing the fox several topiary hounds running after him.  Of course, because hedges constantly grow, maintaining the shapes requires constant trimming. 

In contrast to the speed of growth that requires regular attention, Bonsai requires the opposite.  Growing a mini tree in a pot to mimic its shape in nature through special pruning requires patience.  Shrubs can also be used for creating Bonsai, which would allow a shorter time in which to reach a desired appearance, but shaping a tree grown in a small container to stunt its growth could take a lifetime.  The magnificent example at left must have taken years of careful training and clipping to give the appearance of an ancient tree along a rocky shoreline with prevailing winds constantly directing its grown inland.

I wonder if Isaac had ever heard of such manipulations of plants.  Perhaps his large library pictured such things, and if so, I would suspect his remarkable curiosity would have tempted him to give it a try.  He obviously had the skill to plant and nurture trees, which he writes about in his journal.  He was an inventor, and I find it hard to believe that if he had known about some of the ways to train trees mentioned in this blog he could have resisted.  Even if he had not tried topiary or bonsai, he might have experimented with  pleaching or espalier of his fruit trees to get the advantage of sunlight or protection from strong Kansas winds.  I believe Isaac would have loved the challenge!  

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

How Quickly We Forget

1.  Can you name this once famous New York Yankee hitter?

 I was shocked when I read that most people do not know their grandmother's maiden name.  Part of that may be attributable to the fact that today families scatter, not necessarily finding employment in the community, or even in the same state, where they were raised.  It remains customary for wives to take the surname of their husbands, but wives today are less likely to forego their given names to become a  Mrs. John Jones rather than Mrs. Mary Jones, using their own given name.  As an attorney, I sometimes had to prepare affidavits for women who had signed documents as Mrs. John Jones and who later needed to prove that Mary Jones was the one and only Mrs. John Jones, especially for women who survived their husbands and were left with no 'legal' name of their own.

For those doing genealogy research, it is often difficult to trace female ancestors because their maiden names disappeared at the time of their marriage.  If you wander through old cemeteries you will frequently find headstones of a woman engraved as Mrs. John Jones, providing you not only with no maiden name but also no given name.  In our region, where settlers sometimes moved on, the death of a young wife buried at a grave site at which no other family member was buried, provides no clue to who she was, and some of those headstones actually read, "Wife of John Jones," further ignoring her as a person.

2.  Remember this singer whose daughter also became a singer/songwriter?

You might try a simple test out of curiosity by asking a grandchild what his or her grandmother's maiden name is.  Surveys have shown that the majority will be unable to provide an answer, especially in today's world where families do not always remain in the same community of their parents and grandparents. 

However, it is not just family names that we forget.  Fame can be a fleeting thing.  If you were a sports fan who knew the names of every player the year they won the title, how many of those million dollar players can you name today?  Can you name the player at the beginning of this blog?   

If you were determined to get to the poles to vote in an important Presidential election a few decades ago, can you remember that name of his running mate, whether or not your candidate won?   

3.  This movie won 4 Academy Awards.  Can you remember the year and what the awards were?

If you and your sweetheart had a special song, or a movie that you saw together, what was the song or the movie called?  

History also falls victim to short memories.  My book, Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Kansas Homesteader and the Populist Movement is about the era that created the People's Party, the most successful 3rd Party in American history.  Yet, many people living today, even in the region where the party was so successful and even if their ancestors participated in the movement, have never heard of that once famous political event.

Mark Twain said, 'History doesn't repeat itself but it often rhymes.'  I'm not sure what the moral to this story is intended to be...whether I want you to realize that sometimes things that seem tragically monumental will gradually be overcome, or whether I am disappointed by how quickly we forget things that deserve to be remembered, things from which we could learn beneficial lessons.

Maybe both can be true.

Answers to the quiz  images:

1.  Bobby Richardson was the best hitter for the New York Yankees in 1962 when they won the World Series.  He had a lifetime 266 batting average, with 1,432 hits and 390 RBI.

2.  The wonderful Nat King Cole was popular from the 1940s into the 1960s, and his daughter, Natalie Cole achieved her own success.  With the help of technology, they recorded a duet that topped the charts in 1991, 20 years after his death.  Natalie died in 2015.

3. "Ordinary People" won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screen Play, and Best Supporting Actor in 1980.  Robert Redford won as Best Director with his Directorial Debut, and Timothy Hutton won best Supporting Actor as the young son.  

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

FHSU Homecoming 2021

When my husband and I attended Fort Hays State University, we scheduled all of our classes in the morning so that we could work 30 hours a week--afternoons, late Thursday evenings, and all day Saturday.  We watched the Homecoming Parade through the Duckwall and J.C. Penny plate glass windows.  This year we rode in the parade!

Because the recipients of the 2020 Alumni Achievement Award were honored virtually, we were invited to participate in the festivities for the 2021 recipients at Homecoming, including the parade.  What fun, and what support from the people who lined the street, despite the rain.  Mother Nature must be a FHSU fan, since the rain stopped just as the parade began.  I waved and smiled so much that my face hurt, and people waved back, even the children I disappointed by failing to remember to buy candy to throw.  I even got a hand bump from someone who ran out to tell me he was going to buy my book.

We were kept busy for three days, with more high lights than I can share, but among them was the ribbon cutting for the new Fischli-Wills Center for Student Success, a state of the art building located next to the Union, with a connecting walkway on the second level.

Those of us whose college days go back a few decades know that changes on campus are not just the new buildings.  The book stores we remember from our youth have changed with students using the internet to buy their books, and the former book store in the FHSU Union is now a wonderful shop filled with clothing and other collectibles.  

However, for one afternoon during Homecoming it was once again a place to buy books, as they hosted "Prairie Bachelor" for a book signing!  Thank you to everyone who stopped by to buy a book or just to say "hi."  There are still some books there available for purchase, and I signed some book plates in case you would like one for your book.

Those of you who are FHSUers, whether as graduates or as spouses, parents, or 'adoption by choice,' already know that once a Tiger, always a Tiger, even if you live far away and return to campus in retirement.  FHSU continues to grow and change, but the Tiger Pact that appears as you enter the new Fischli-Wills Center makes clear the goals the University strives to instill.   


Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Kansas Deserves More Attention!

Importance of Country Schools--School Isaac Werner helped build

In the 1920s, a Kansas City reporter wrote:  "Even historians don't understand Kansas.  I wonder sometimes if anybody except God understands Kansas and sometimes I think Kansas even has him fooled."  Craig Minor, a history professor at Wichita State prior to his untimely death, and the author of several books on Kansas history, including his thick volume, "Kansas, The History of the Sunflower State, 1884-2000," expressed a similar concern about how poorly even we Kansans know our own history.

"Until the Kansas everybody knows--Amelia Earhart, John Brown, Wyatt Earp, Ike Eisenhower--or think they know--Matt Dillion or Dorothy Gale--are joined by many others, our sense of place and our understanding of the local legacy will be palid."

Craig Minor's words explain my motivation for writing "Prairie Bachelor."  When I discovered Isaac Werner's journal and realized how little I knew about Kansas in the late 1800s, even though I was born and raised in the house my homesteading ancestors built, I knew there were almost certainly many other Kansans--with ancestors living at that time or relative newcomers to the state--who had no idea of the significant role Kansans played in the Populist Movement nor of the influence that Movement continues to play even today.

The Importance of early Churches: Macksville Methodist Church

Scholars know about that, but I did not want to write a scholarly book.  I wanted to write a book for readers who enjoy stories--in my case, real stories about forgotten people who played a big role in this nation.  My research for the book provides new information for scholars as well, but what excites me is hearing from friends and strangers who tell me that they fell in love with Isaac, that they have an ancestor who lived in the communities about which I write and have new respect and understanding for what their ancestors achieved, or that they relate to to "Prairie Bachelor" in some other way.  I even enjoyed the scoldings I got from two friends--one telling me she stopped reading for several days because she was angry I let Isaac die, and the other blaming me for her lazy day finishing the book after getting so involved in reading it over her morning coffee  that she couldn't put the book down until she finished it.

Importance of early businesses:  St. John, F. B. Gillmore Building

So many people have sent supportive messages during the writing of the book and compliments after reading the book, and in last weeks blog I tried to express how much all those comments have meant to me.  The blog was my effort to thank as many of you as possible--those I know and those I don't.  Thanks so much to all of you.

Like Craig Minor, who through his classes and his books sought to add to the awareness of our state and its people, I was motivated to write "Prairie Bachelor" for the same reason.  Each of you who enjoys the book justifies for me the decade of researching and writing it.  Thank you.  

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Honoring the Kansas Notable Books of 2021

Eric Norris, Lyn Fenwick, Dr. Ted Daughety
Photo Credit:  Larry Fenwick

This past weekend was the Kansas Book Festival held at Washburn University.  My husband and I  arrived Friday afternoon, in time for the Pre-Festival Presentation by author, Rebekah Taussig.  The title of her book describes its subject, "Sitting Pretty: The View from My Ordinary Resilient Disabled Body," but to describe Rebekah I must put the emphasis on 'Sitting Pretty,' for Rebekah refuses to be defined by her disabilities.  As she prefers to say, 'All of us are disabled in some way at some point in our lives.'  We had the pleasure of meeting her parents as well, and this is definitely a family determined to live their best life possible, working with and around the obstacles and getting on with life!  Of course we came home with a signed copy of her book, and we may have to flip a coin to see who gets to read it first. 

The first event the following morning was The Presentation of Notable Book Awards 2021 at the the Mabee Library.  Everyone at the Library was so welcoming and helpful, and after being the first event of the day, we proudly wore our awards (as we were asked to do) for the rest of the day.  The awards were announced by our State Librarian, Eric Norris, who included a brief description of each book as we were called forward to receive the award.  After which, we received the award itself from our Kansas First Gentleman, Dr. Ted Daughety.  The photograph above shows me standing between these two gentlemen, State Librarian Norris on my right and Dr. Daughety on my left.

The break-out group presentations by a variety of authors and poets began at 10 a.m., with new groups beginning at the top of each hour.  Outside were a variety of booths hosted by publishers displaying books for sale.  I had studied the break-out groups carefully in advance, trying to decide which group to select when I wished I could attend all of them.  As it turned out, I was only able to attend two programs and a few minutes of a third.  For those of you reading this blog who might attend in the future, I think you will be tempted by all of the options.  Of course, there were writers, poets, and would-be writers and poets in attendance, but there were also people who love books and those who came to hear specific speakers.

Photo credit:  Larry Fenwick

Of course, I wanted to visit the University Press of Kansas tent, where I got to meet in person Kevin L. Smith, Dean of Libraries at the University of Kanas and also Director of the University Press of Kansas,  and Editor in Chief, Joyce Harrison and her husband (Not pictured).  I have worked with Joyce for over two years during and since the publication of "Prairie Bachelor," so I was delighted to finally meet her in person.

In late August, I was asked by Kaye McIntyre, Producer, KPR Presents, on Kansas Public Radio, if I would be available during the Book Festival to join her for an interview.  Of course, I was delighted.

Cropped images taken through window:  Photo Credit, Larry Fenwick

It was pre-recorded for a later program, but I do not have the date it will be broadcast.  McIntyre is a wonderful interviewer, and I hope listening to it will be as much fun for her audience as I felt during the interview.  Our conversation covered Isaac, his community, and the populist movement of which he was a part, supplemented with comments about the adventure of writing and questions she was curious about from having read the book. The interview felt like a chat with a friend.  For those of you who know my voice, don't be surprised by the husky sound.  Apparently, the pollen and dust I breathed in while cleaning out my iris beds for winter gave me a double dose of autumn allergies.  

 I will close with a group picture of those notable book authors attending the festival, also including Dr. Daughety and State Librarian Norris.  I wish it included Cindy Roupe, who did such a wonderful job putting all of the Notable Book details together, but she was, as often, busy in the background, behind the camera making sure to get a photograph of all of us instead of joining us in the picture.

This particular photo credit:  Larry Fenwick

 Thank you to so many people.  From the moment I sat down to read the first few pages of Isaac's Journal. I have accumulated a sense of gratitude owed to more people than I can count.  So many helped me along the way, and many of you continue to help expand the reach of Isaac's story and the history of the populist movement across America and beyond.  Thank you for the notes and compliments that you continue to send my way.  Thank you to so many people who were involved in the Kansas Book Festival, as well as many others who were involved with programs at which I spoke and which continue to be scheduled.  From my first book club group, to the many other ways others have helped to  publicize "Prairie Bachelor," by buying books, recommending it to friends, asking for it in their local library or book shop, with articles in newspapers, and gifting "Prairie Bachelor" to friends and others, I recognize how important that has been.  And especially, thank you to my driver, photographer, publicist, and so many other things he does to encourage this adventure we share.  I am in the picture above, but so very many more of you helped place that award around my neck.  I thank all of you!


Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Kansas Book Festival 2021

Display of 2021 KS Notable Books at Watermark Bookstore  
Photo Credit:  Larry Fenwick

 This weekend is the Kansas Book Festival 2021 in Topeka, hosted by Mabee Library on the campus of Washburn University.   Friday, September 17, at 4 p.m. Rebekah Taussig kicks off the Festival with a book talk about her book, "Sitting Pretty, The View From My Ordinary Resilient Disabled Body."  Admission is free and the public is welcome. 

Saturday morning at 9 a.m., September 18, the Notable Book Award Ceremony starts the full day of activities. State Librarian Eric Norris will describe the Notable Book Program, followed by the introduction of the recipients which will include a short description of each of their books.  The books recognized with an award may include Fiction, Narrative Nonfiction (history, biography, memoir, essays), Cook Books/Food Related, Poetry, Children's Literature, and Art & Architecture.  My book, Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Kansas Homesteader and the Populist Movement, falls within the narrative nonfiction category.  This year's selections include youth books, as well as  poetry, memoir, art, and narrative. 

Photo Credit:  Larry Fenwick

In addition to recognizing books, the Kansas Book Festival program includes a grant program, begun by former First Lady Mary Brownback.  This year, ten libraries received grants, among which were both public and school libraries.  Grants included not only books but also technology, especially important during the pandemic.  The director of the Wamego Public Library explained, "The effects of the pandemic have pushed many into isolation in a way that once seemed unfathomable. is no longer just a luxury but a necessity." 

Among this year's recipients of a Notable Book Award is Aimee Nezherkumatathil's World of Wonders:  In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments, for which she was also recognized by National Public Radio and Barnes and Noble as a Book of the Year.  As the New York Times concluded its review of her book, "A very fine book indeed."

A part of the celebration of books and authors has included a Youth Writing Contest for students Grades 3-12, and although it has been interrupted by Covid, plans for its return in 2022 are being made.

During the time my husband and I lived in Georgia, I received the Georgia Author of the Year Award for my book Should the Children Pray, which was presented to me at the state capital by the Governor.  It is customary to receive the awards for Kansas Notable Books from the Kansas Governor, but because our governor has a conflict, we have the privilege of receiving our awards this year from Dr. Ted Daughety, the First Gentleman of Kansas.  Later that afternoon, I will be visiting with Kay M. McIntyre  of Kansas Public Radio.  Between my two scheduled meetings, I have the challenge of deciding which of the multiple programs available to the public during the day to attend.  Unfortunately, I can't attend all of them and must choose from among some tempting topics! 

I am looking forward to a wonderful day celebrating books and reading at the Washburn University Mabee Library!  Perhaps I will see some of you there.



Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Remembering Nine Eleven, Two Thousand One

A Personal Memorial by guest, Larry D. Fenwick 

During the decade of the 1980s, and the early part of the 1990s, I worked in the investment world of Wall Street and frequently attended monthly and quarterly meetings in New York City.  Our home office was located in the South Tower,  known by the name 2 World Trade Center.  The North Tower was slightly taller than the South Tower, 2 World Trade Center, and when you accounted for the spire which was atop the 1 World Trade Center, the height came to 1,728 feet.
Towers Under Construction

Both of the buildings were 110 stories tall.  Our offices were in the floors above 100, but were not on the top floor.  The Windows of the World restaurant was located on the 106th and 107th floors of 1 World Trade Center.  The Center actually consisted of seven buildings in lower Manhattan, and the area was so large and employed so many people that it had its own zip code.

I began my investment training on Wall Street in 1971, and while both of the World Trade Center buildings were under construction during that time, neither had been completed.  Construction actually began in 1968, but all seven buildings in the complex were not completed until 1987.

In 1983 I joined an investment firm in Dallas and became the Regional Sales Manager for the Central Division of our firm.  I covered the state of Kansas and nine other central states during those years, and in 1988 my job changed and I became the Divisional Director of Sales and Marketing for the same firm out of Atlanta.  In that position, I covered Georgia and eleven other Southeastern states.

Completed Twin Towers

During those years, when we were in meetings in New York, we stayed at the Vista Hotel located in the 3 World Trade Center building, connected to the South Tower by both an overhead skywalk, an underground tunnel, or corridors as well.  The NYC subway system had a large terminal station under some of the WTC buildings.

Both Twin Tower buildings had some unbelievable banks of elevators to service their buildings--99 each.  As in all high rise office buildings, you had to know the floor you were visiting in order to "get on the proper bank of elevators."  If you were going to the upper ten floors--where our companies were located--there was a special bank of elevators that travelled at 'warp speed' to ascend quickly to the top.  They traveled so fast that when they began to brake for a stop, you truly felt some moments of weightlessness. 

Our firm acquired Lehman Bros in the mid-80s, and we came into possession of most of their corporate furniture.  On one of the top floors at the Executive Dining Room of the firm, you entered a huge room that had an enormous table that could seat at least fifty people.  It had been the former Lehman Bros partners' table.  If you have seen some of the pictures of dining halls of historic castles in England, you can envision the Dining Room setting--minus the armory, swords, and ancient battle ware.

From that floor, you could walk to the west side of the building and look out the large windows to the left and, at night, see the illuminated Statue of Liberty in all it's glory, and then look to the right toward uptown along the Hudson river and see the Empire State Building in midtown, and further up, the Chrysler, Pan Am, and so many other notable landmarks of the city.  On a clear night, it was truly a special moment to feel good about America and American capitalism.

I often think back to the special meetings and my fellow work associates I shared that time with in those buildings.  Once, while I was standing at one of those large windows, a senior officer of the firm came over to me and said, "Fenwick, this is a long way from Kansas."  I am not sure what I said in response, but in fact he was correct; it was a long way from the plains of Kansas.

Memorial at the Twin Towers Site

On that tragic day of September 11, 2001, twenty years ago this week--when America lost so much, I also lost some friends.  In total, 2,606 people were killed in the Towers that day, including over 300 firemen who perished as first responders working to help rescue others.  Additionally, 157 people who were aboard the two planes that hit the towers also died.  Others were killed in two more hi-jacked planes, one of which hit the Pentagon, and others aboard United Flight 93 died when a courageous group of passengers led by Todd Beamer, who spoke the memorable words, "Let's Roll" as they attempted to regain control of the flight deck.  Although the plane crashed into the ground at Shanksville, PA, that brave group of passengers prevented the plane from crashing into its intended target in Washington, DC.

My wife and I have never been back to NYC nor Ground Zero since that horrific day, but we will.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Watching the Sky for Weather

I have previously posted a blog on the topic of weather predicting in the 1800s, and in this series about the impact of outer space I  return to the perspective of we earthlings.   

Photo Credit:  Lyn Fenwck
Isaac Werner began every entry in his daily journaling with the weather.  Following a long interruption from his journaling in Illinois, he finally resumed writing daily on the Kansas prairie, starting on page 129, August 24, 1884:  "Some light raining during the night, and similar prospect this A.M."  Following that entry, he wrote every day until he filled his journal, always beginning with the weather.  On June 10th, 1891, at page 480, he wrote:  "Occassional wind during night whirling bended peach trees, still partly cloudy, clouding over from N.W. & cool wind." 

Isaac was following the advice of Henry Ward Beecher, a famous minister and the brother of Harriet Beecher Stow.  A newspaper clipping by Beecher, titled "Keeping a Diary," was glued on the inside  front cover page of Isaac's journal.  Beecher concluded his article with these words:  "One may trace, from day to day, the mere facts of his history, the proceedings of the farm, or the books read, visits made or received, the events in society, the conversations with men of mark, the facts of the weather, the seasons, the aspects of nature, and in short, a journal of knowledge, in distinction from feeling..." Isaac Werner followed that advice exactly, which is what made him an excellent reporter of his time and location.

Photo credit: Lyn Fenwick
It also made him a capable weather reporter, with the ability to turn to specific dates to determine the previous years' weather, building a record of weather from year to year.  In a new environment, where less was known about seasonal changes, Isaac's journal gradually collected that information so that he acquired some weather predictability.

At a web site online I found advice for becoming a Citizen Weather Reporter.  Although weather forecasters today have many sophisticated means for predicting the weather, citizen reporters can still help.  Although meteorologists can see snow showing up on radar, citizen reporters can alert these professional men and women to what is happening in specific locations, and of such things as when snow changes to freezing rain.  They can also report tornadoes, hail, and wind damage, with specific information that could help save lives during a severe weather event.

For example, precipitation is extremely localized.  Recently, we received no rain at our home, and we were quite surprised when we found large mud holes on the road only a quarter-mile south of our house the next morning.  I also remember driving through heavy rain and suddenly driving out of the rain onto dry pavement.  I understand that rain must stop somewhere, but the the abruptness of driving out of rain, rather than simply the rain gradually becoming less heavy, (or as my father used to say, "letting up,") surprised me. 

Photo Credit:  Lyn Fenwick
The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network utilizes thousands of citizens with official rain gauges and snow rulers to measure precipitation right in their backyards.  This is particularly helpful for meteorologists to use figuring out areas prone to flash flooding in future storms.

Skywarn is an official weather spotter training program run by the National Weather Service to teach the basics of spotting severe and hazardous weather and properly reporting that weather back to the NWA.

Some amateurs want to learn how to do their own forecasting, and that can be a fun hobby.  However, professionals warn that there are many events involved that are not intuitive about how air, water, and solar radiation interact and evolve to create weather conditions.  While amateurs may enjoy forecasting for their own pleasure, they should not encourage others to rely on their predictions.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Science, Folklore, and Weather Predictions

 When I posted about folklore weather predictions some time ago, I shared several traditional examples.  The ability to predict weather in Isaac Werner's time was limited, although he did buy "Dr. J.H. McLean's Almanac and Diary...Also Storm Calendar and Weather Forecasts by Rev. Irl Hicks, the 'Storm Prophet.'"  These weather predictors lacked the knowledge and technology of today's forecasters, although some of them purported to rely on "secret" charts.

Many early settlers, not only in Isaac Werner's community but also around the world, relied on folklore.  In fact, some of the traditional rhymes and folklore had a scientific basis, although those who relied on the traditional predictions may not have known anything about science.  Many of the predictions related to the activity of animals and insects, and farmers learned to watch the animals for signs, although they did not know the scientific explanations for what the animals did.  

Birds are particularly sensitive to changes in air pressure, but other animals also react to pressure changes.  If you pay attention, as air pressure changes sheep will turn their backs to the wind, cows will lie down, and cats may sneeze.

Credit: Lyn Fenwick

By paying attention to birds, certain assumptions can be made.  Swallows respond when barometric pressure drops; they will fly close to the ground where air density is greatest.  In general, low-flying birds are signs of rain, while high flying birds indicate fair weather.

One summer a swallow couple chose our upstairs porch for their nursery and I was fortunate to photograph feeding time.  Notice the mud nest on the side of a glass light fixture...quite an achievement, getting the mud to stick.

Credit:  Lyn Fenwick

There is an old saying that crickets can tell time, and as strange as it may seem, that saying has significant truth.  Because crickets are cold blooded, they have a chemical reaction to temperature, and their chirps relate to the temperature.  If you count the number of chirps you hear within 14 seconds and then you add 40 to that number, you will get close to the time.  If you do that several times you can get a closer average.  At least, that is what I have read.

Credit:  Lyn Fenwick
More understandable are the predictions possible from observing spiders spinning webs.  Spiders are sensitive to humidity, and high humidity causes webs to absorb moisture and break.  In low humidity, spiders sense that and spin webs because the chances for dry weather are good.

So, when our ancestors made up little rhymes about the weather that include animals and insects in their prediction, they may very well have been basing their verses on science without knowing that scientific explanations were the reasons for the activities of the animals.

I noticed a spider nest with dew on it and what appears to be the spider's hiding hole, either to jump out to seize prey or to retreat from the dew.  I could not resist photographing it.

Credit:  Lyn Fenwick

In his journal, Isaac Werner regularly recorded the seasonal flights of birds.  While he believed their flights north predicted the arrival of spring, and in contrast, their flights a the end of summer predicted the approach of autumn, he may not have connected the movements of birds to science.  What is certain, however, is how much he enjoyed the birds and how he looked forward to their arrivals each spring.       

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Isaac Would have Cheered

 One of my favorite entries from Isaac Werner's journal is his explanation for ordering a book on public speaking.  It was his opinion that Women's issues would be important for quite some time, and he was considering becoming a public speaker in support of women getting the vote, as well as other rights, so he ordered the book to polish his skill.

He was supportive of women active in the populist movement during the 1880s, corresponding with Mary Elizabeth Lease and attending a rally in Pratt, Kansas with Mrs. Van de Vort as the main speaker. In the early 1870s, he wrote in his journal about the unfairness of men's treatment of women, specifically disapproving of his landlord's disrespectful comments about his wife, and also disagreeing with a fellow merchant's interference in the store's female bookkeeper's personal life. 

When I saw Wally Funk burst out of Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, I imagined how excited Isaac Werner would have been had he witnessed her achievement.  He encouraged women's participation in the populist movement, participation that included women lecturers, and he supported women getting the vote.  I do not doubt that he would have been cheering Wally that day.

23-year-old Wally Funk's headline

Like women generations before her who had to wait for the vote, Wally Funk had to wait much too long for her chance to go into space.  The headline in the San Diego Union-Tribune reads:  "'Wally' Funk Likes Her Chances To Be 1st U.S. Woman In Space."  She had no idea that she would be 82 years old when she finally got her chance!  

It wasn't as if Wally had started late.  On the contrary, she got her pilot's license at the age of 17.  Born February 1, 1939, the myth-making about her future in flying goes back to the age of 1, when it is said that when her parents took her to an airport, she walked right up to a Douglas DC-3 and reach out to touch it.  At 20 years old she was a professional aviator.  Reading her list of "firsts" is remarkable!  Skipping past all of those piloting achievements, her preparation for flying in space continued. 

In 1961 she learned about the "Women in Space" Program, and although it was not an official government program, she applied, along with 18 other women.  The physical and mental testing they endured was rigorous, but she passed the tests, finishing third best, although she was only 21.  The program was canceled before the women underwent their last test.
When NASA finally opened the program to women in the late 1970s, she applied--3 times, She was turned down for not having an engineering degree or background as a test pilot, despite her other impressive credentials.  It was Lt. Col. Eileen Collins who became the first female to pilot a Space Shuttle, and although Wally was one of the seven women from that original "Women in Space" group from 1961 invited as guests of Collins to watch the launch and receive a behind the scenes VIP tour of the Kennedy Space Center complex, Wally's age meant her own dream of piloting a NASA shuttle was never going to happen.

Yet, when Wally exited Blue Origin, the joy she expressed looked like someone fulfilling a dream.  That is not to say that Wally doesn't want more, even after becoming the oldest person to go to space, passing John Glenn's 23-year record.  She already holds many records--the first female air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, the first female civilian flight instructor of Army pilots, and the first female Federal Aviation Agency inspector. as well as so many other achievements.

Isaac Werner was correct.  Women's issues did remain important for the rest of his life and continue to this day.  The essay that appeared in the New York Times after the flight quoted Cady Coleman, a NASA astronaut who served aboard the space shuttle and the space station, saying "When Wally flies, we all fly with her."  However, Katie Mack, an astrophysicist shared the thrill of Wally's flight, but she pointed out that while she wholeheartedly supported Bezos's decision to include Wally on the flight, she is concerned that the exclusion of women by NASA for so long may now become "Selection of space crew on whim and money rather than based on selections by governmental agencies," a shift that may  continue to exclude qualified women.


Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Imagination or Predictions?

Jules Verne

Isaac Werner did not have a horse, and he broke the sod for his timber claim by hand, gently placing the cuttings of cottonwood trees into the virgin prairie soil, and hand weeding the sunflowers that tried to steal the meager rainfall from the young trees.  He traded his labor with neighbors who had horses to break the tough prairie sod.  Only after several years did he finally buy a horse and the simple implements needed to work his land.  What would he have thought of the massive tractors and implements that farmers of today use in farming the same land?  Isaac knew about trains, but what would he have thought of airplanes?  Even with his imagination and gift for invention, what would he have thought of space ships landing on the moon?

I could not help but think of Isaac when I watched the successful launches of passenger rockets developed by Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson soar into the sky in the summer of 2021, carrying the first passengers into space on privately funded spacecraft.

H. G. Wells
Men have long dreamed of space travel, and for decades fiction has predicted it.  Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, both sometimes called the "father of science fiction" have written of unbelievable achievements.  Jules Verne tended to keep his adventures earthbound, with books like Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864) and Twenty Leagues Under the Seas (1870).  It was H. G. Wells who made flying a part of his science fiction, with books like The War of the Worlds (1898) and The First Men on the Moon (1901)  However, it is Arthur C. Clarke who probably came closest to predicting most accurately the potential for future space travel.

Not only that, however, he described many other things that came into existence in a form quite consistent with his descriptions.  For example, in 1959 he wrote about a 'personal transceiver' small enough to carry, with which personal communication worldwide would be possible and global positioning could avoid getting lost.  These are the things we take for granted now with our smart phones.  In an interview five years later he described telecommuting and telemedicine.

Arthur C. Clarke
However, it was a short story competition in 1948 that caught the eye of Stanley Kubrick that led to Clarke and Kubrick developing the story into a novel and a movie in 1964, which may have fueled the imaginations of many people to believed that space travel would someday be possible.  Consider some of the other projections from "2001: A Space Odyssey" that have come true, particularly the iPad, and computer software that was able to read lips (which allowed H.A.L to know what the humans were saying.)

Clarke's stories have predicted what he called 'automatic control cars;' the potential of enabling a satellite to remain in a fixed orbit to transmit radio and television signals; and remarkably, he predicted in 1947 the year of the first moon rocket to be 1959.

Some of his predictions remain unfulfilled, like settlements on Venus and Mars by 1980.  But, that does not belittle the potential influence he may have had on the dreamers of today, like Jeff Bezos and  Richard Branson.  

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Other Space Adventurers

 The inception of the People's Party, our nation's most successful 3rd party, arose out of the Populist Movement, from men and women who thought they had a better idea for a political party that would represent the ideas and needs of workers.  People with the notion they have better ideas exist in nearly everything, from automobile manufacturers to restauranteurs to dress designers to baseball fans to nearly anything you can imagine.  Those who long to travel in space are no different, and the competition to create the best transportation into space includes more than just Sir Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos.  The space race of governments has cooled, but now the civilians, especially very wealthy men, are in the race.

A previous blog introduced you to the two men who succeeded in their quest, Branson and Bezos, but this blog post will share a few others who have responded to the challenge.

Elon Musk

Elon Musk probably deserves to be introduced next, as the founder, CEO, and Chief Engineer at SpaceX.  Among the very wealthy men in the race into space, Musk may be the wealthiest, a healthy portion of which came from the sale of PayPal in 2002 for $1.5 billion.  Now, in addition to his interest in space travel, he is CEO of Tesla, which is the electric vehicle manufacturer (Tesla Motors) and SolarCity, a solar energy services company (Tesla Energy).  His success story is particularly interesting because he says that 25 years ago he could not afford an office and an apartment, so he slept on the office couch and showered at the YMCA.

Paul Allen

Paul Allen was among those excited by the prospect of space travel, and having co-founded Microsoft Corporation with Bill Gates he had achieved the wealth to pursue other dreams.  His dreams sounded like a lot of fun, including owning the Seattle Seahawks, the Portland Trail Blazers, and part ownership of  the Seattle Sounders Major League Soccer team.  In 2018 Forbes estimated his net worth at $20.3 billion, and in addition to the sports' teams his portfolio included real estate, technology, scientific research, and media companies.  However, his holdings in private space flight ventures are what puts him in this group.  Sadly, he died in 2018.

Naveen Jain

Naveen Jain grew up in New Delhi and in villages in India.  He obtained an engineering degree from the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee in 1979 and moved to the United States that same year.  He proudly calls himself an entrepreneur, admitting that he has never started two companies in the same industry and feels that has forced him " ask all the curious questions that children love to ask--those we sometimes call 'stupid questions' but which are often brilliant." He co-founded Moon Express, and after facing a series of lawsuits, he announced that Moon Express had become the first private enterprise to receive regulatory approval from the US government to send a robotic lander to the moon.  There goal was to use the robot to mine materials like gold, cobalt, platinum, and Helium from the moon.  I found no further news after the 2017 article.

Robert Thomas Bigelow

Robert Thomas Bigelow made his wealth with the hotel chain Budget Suites of America.  Of all the space adventurers, he is perhaps the most unconventional.  After acquiring his wealth from a hotel chain, he was finally able to begin the space travel career he had chosen for himself at the age of 12.  He is drawn to parapsychological topics, including the continuation of consciousness after death.   By 2011 Forbes estimated his wealth at $700 million.  In 1999 he founded Bigelow Aerospace, and his module, called BEAM, was installed on the International Space Station to test its expandable habitat technology.  News reports indicate that in March of 2020 all 88 members of the company's staff were terminated in what someone called "a perfect storm of problems," including the fact that the Nevada governor had signed a covid emergency directive ordering all 'nonessential' businesses to close.  The most recent information I found indicated that in March of 2021, he sued NASA for $1.05 million. 

My sources are public information, and I have no ability to verify further.  All that I can be fairly certain of is that this group is particularly intrigued about space.  

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Challenging Space Travel

Richard Branson

 Isaac Werner may have been seen as a dreamer--leaving the security of the community where family lived to become a druggist in Illinois, and then leaving a successful business to try other careers, resulting in staking a claim on the untamed prairie!  Isaac made a success of his claim, despite years of struggle.

I thought of Isaac as I watched Richard Branson onboard Virgin Galactic, flying to the edge of space on July 11, 2021.  Only a few days later, I thought of Isaac again when Jeff Bezos boarded his own Blue Origin NS-16 to make his own flight.  Certainly, both men had to be dreamers to have imagined the ventures that lead them to achieve the first steps of their dream.

Jeff Bezos
I confess.  With so many issues on earth in need of financial assistance, I found it difficult to fully applaud their achievements.  However, when Jeff Bezos combined his dream of space travel with generosity for things on earth, I was impressed.  I learned that he, through his philanthropic initiative, had gifted $200 million to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum.  $70 million will be applied to the renovation of the National Air & Space Museum, but $130 million will launch a new education center.  The focus will be on helping teachers utilize the Smithsonian's collections, and programs will be designed to inspire students to explore careers in STEM, the program to encourage emphasis on science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics.  The intention is to reach students and teachers not only in the Washington, D.C. area but also in communities across the country.

That gift alone was quite impressive, but Bezos was not finished.  During the Blue Origin's post flight press conference, Bezos had another surprise--the creation of the "Courage and Civility Award."  Bezos is certainly excited about the role space travel has for future generations, ideas that include moving industries that are currently harming our planet with pollutants to the moon, as one example.  But he also recognizes that problems on earth need to be addressed.  He told the CNN interviewer, "We have to do both...we have lots of problems here and now on Earth, and we need to work on those.  We always need to look to the future.  ...We have to do both."

The present short flights that Branson and Bezos have achieved seem more like billionaires' amusement rides, but Bezos sees their purpose differently.  He believes the opportunity for people to actually "see with your own eyes how fragile it [our planet] really is" will change their perspective on the urgency to protect and save our planet.

That is why he is not only using space travel to allow those with the wealth to by a ticket to see our precious planet differently in hopes they will return from their flights inspired to use their wealth to help solve the Earth's urgent problems.  He is also setting an example through the "Courage and Civility Award," and while he had the world's attention right after the flight, he introduced the first two recipients of that award, giving two men $100 million dollars to make charitable donations of their own choices.

Jose Andres
His first two "Courage and Civility" recipients both have a track record for philanthropic achievements.  Celebrity Chef and restauranteur Jose Ramon Andres Puerta is well known for his non-profit devoted to providing meals in the wake of natural disasters.  He has frequently been recognized for his generosity and organizational ability:  2014 he received an honorary doctorate degree in public service from George Washington University; 2015 he received the National Humanities Medal from the National Endowment for the Humanities; 2012 & 2018 he was named one of the world's most influential people by Time; 2018 he received the James Beard Foundation Award for Humanitarian of the Year; and 2018 he received an honorary Doctor of Public Service degree from Tufts University.  In 2018 he was also named a Nobel Peace Prize nominee for his humanitarian work.

Van Jones
The other recipient of  the "Courage and Civility" award is lawyer Van Jones, perhaps best known from his commentating on CNN from 2013-2019, as well as from his three best-selling books.  However, he is also the founder or co-founder of several non-profit organizations, particularly focusing on resolving problems in the Black community and combining Black jobs with the Green Movement.  He joined with Newt Gingrich and Patrick J. Kennedy on rebuilding the Dream Movement & advocating for Opioid Recovery.  His focus on "green pathways out of poverty" led to his book, whose title plays on the reference to "White Collar" jobs with the title "The Green Collar Economy."  This emphasis on "green pathways out of poverty" included the "Green-Collar Jobs Campaign.  Like the other recipient, he also has received a great many awards.

Isaac Werner received no awards, that I am aware of, but he too served his communities, especially active in his roles in educating farmers.  Perhaps in his small way he met the criteria Bezos set for the recipients of his "Courage and Civility" award, as "leaders who aim high, pursue solutions with courage and always do so with civility." 

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

A Life-long Passion for Learning


Titles Isaac owned, Credit: Lyn Fenwick

Those of you who follow this blog are already aware of Isaac Werner's life-long passion for learning.  At the time of his death, I documented over 400 books in his library, and by that time he had given away many of his books.  It was a remarkable collection for that era, especially for a man who was far from wealthy.  The books in the photograph above are titles Isaac owned with publication dates near the dates Isaac would have been acquiring his library.

The life-long passion for learning continues for many people even today.  Next week I begin my virtual Osher Class through the Lifelong Learning Institute at Kansas University, a part of KU's Professional & Continuing Education.  KU and other universities across the nation offer a diverse collection of courses to participants age 50 and older, although all ages can join.  Those teaching the classes are chosen from having "the academic qualifications, a passion for the topic, and a love of teaching."  Most classes are a single meeting, but the classes may be three separate gatherings.  With Covid limitations, the current classes at KU are virtual.  I am pleased to have the opportunity to share the rise and fall of the People's Party in three classes, beginning next week.  My research for "Prairie Bachelor" included far more information than appears in the book, and I am excited to share that history.  Obviously, I meet the requirement for "a passion for the topic."

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes were begun by Bernard Osher, who envisioned noncredit courses with no assignments or grades for adults over the age of 50.  Grants from the Bernard Osher Foundation make his vision come true at over 120 universities and colleges throughout the nation.

The life-long passion for learning is recognized by other opportunities for seniors, and among those is the not-for-profit Road Scholar travel program.  Road Scholar offers, according to their web site, "5,500 learning adventures in 150 countries and all 50 states, serving more than 100,000 participants per year."  This may not reflect their scheduled adventures during Covid, but their purpose is to provide opportunities to experience the world "by meeting new people, touching history where it happened and delving deep into the cultures and landscape we explore."

Education for seniors happens across the nation.  There are many Americans who choose to go back to school after they retire.  NBC news reported that students over the age of 35 made up 17% of all college and graduate students in 2009, with an expectation that the number would rise.  Certainly their survey was not confined to seniors, but retirees make the decision for many reasons, including those who failed to complete their degrees and do so in retirement.

Community and state colleges are also recognizing the desire for continuing learning, with tuition waivers for those over 60 at some schools, while others offer the opportunity to audit classes without paying, and although they gain no credit, they do gain knowledge.

Our own community has Club 62+ Senior Program for senior citizens in the service area of Pratt, Kiowa, Barber, Kingman, Harper, Comanche and Stafford counties.  Among the offerings at Pratt Community College are "casino trips, special speakers, and murder mysteries."  You need to check with the College regarding their current schedule.

Among the benefits of continued education are Social Connections, Cognitive Improvement, and Skill Enhancement.  Isaac Werner knew all of that.  Not only was he passionate about reading, he was also involved in his local community in various organizations, and he traveled to St. John, Pratt, and Stafford to attend lectures and other programs.  Life-long learning is nothing new!