Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Validation of a Life Lived

Earlier this year, I attended a family reunion mostly composed of descendants from my 2nd great grandfather and his two wives. Because my grandmother was getting a new shoulder at the time, I alone was the representative of my 2nd great grandfather's first wife while the other 60+ people there were descendants of his second wife. This was my second time to attend this family reunion, the last being four or five years ago.

Part of the reason I wanted to attend this particular reunion is because I was finally able to find the smoking gun that conclusively linked this family to the Chickens.  The family surname was Chicken until my 3rd great grandfather for reasons unknown decided to change the surname to Baker. During his time, some fought the change and kept the Chicken surname which lives on to this day, but other branches, mine included, adopted more generic surnames.

By request, I brought along my research and spent much of the reunion talking about how we were all Chickens. It was so well received, that it inspired me to write down all this information in a story format which I have since completed and sent out to those I have email addresses for. It was a lot of work but made easier by many of the stories already written in the archives of this blog. It was very satisfying to have people read it and comment on how much it meant to them to have all of it written down.

It got me to thinking. Is there any better validation of your life than to have your name written down somewhere in a book for someone else in the future to find. I suppose that is why genealogists like myself, spend hours tramping through graveyards to find that tombstone with the family name on it to validate that yes our ancestor lived and here they now lie a mere six feet away. However with a history book, it means something more. It meant that they meant enough to someone else that they were mentioned in a book. These thoughts weighed on my mind for awhile until they forced me to go down to the library in our basement and retrieve a book.

The book is The History of Buffalo County 1885-1985, Gann Valley, South Dakota. I bought it several years back when I was doing research on my 4th great grandfather Joseph Chicken who moved out there to prove up on some land later in life. In fact, it was after his son's death, my third great grandfather and the one who changed the family surname to Baker, that he moved out there and eventually owned 320 acres of land before his death. When I first got the book, I checked the index of family names and to my disappointment, his name was not listed. I flipped through it looking at pictures and such but never same a records of him in it. It had eventually found its way to my shelf and has been there ever since, until recently.

The first part of the book is full of first hand written accounts of life back in the late 1800's during the time Joseph Chicken lived out there. I started reading these accounts to get a sense of the life Joseph led and quickly realized that these stories were full of surnames not mentioned in the index. Last night as I read through one of these stories, I finally found the name Joseph Chicken mentioned as being a respected old settler in the county. Though I have been to his grave and seen his name chiseled in stone, I felt a sense of validation that he existed and was known. Known well enough that his name is forever printed on the pages of a book for all those such as myself to discover well after he was gone.

Monday, August 31, 2015

First Day

My daughter was much like I was, excited to be going back to school. She was up 45 minutes early and within a few minutes she was dressed and combing her hair, a record for sure. We made sure we were out at the bus stop 10 minutes early since this was the first day and the buses always have to iron out the kinks. Since this was also to be the third bus company to run buses for our school since we have lived here, I especially figured there would be kinks. Five minutes early or late of the time they had told me was certainly possible.

Twenty minutes later and 10 minutes after the agree upon pickup time, the bus still hadn't come.  The bus had only been this late once before and that had been due to a fender bender. The lady at the bus company told me that the bus was running late due to road construction and would be there. I gave her my address and asked her if she was sure since there was no road construction on the route and I had been told they were running the same route and times as last year. She assured me it was coming and to be patient with them.

Ten minutes after that phone conversation and now ten minutes before school was to start, the bus still hadn't come. As we got into the car so I could drive my daughter to school, I called the company again on the speaker phone and asked if the bus was still running late or something else was going on. She said it was and then I told her that it was now 20 minutes late and I assured her that I could be clear across town and back, road construction or not in that amount of time. She asked what the bus number was. I told her that I have never seen the bus and this was the first year her company has been doing this route so I didn't know. I gave her my address and my daughter's name and after five minutes of discussion, she said that my daughter wasn't in their system. I asked her why she told me the bus for our route was late after giving the same information now 15 minutes ago. I told her that I had spoken to this company two days ago to verify all this and they had told me my daughter was in their system then and even gave me the 7:30 pickup time. She didn't know how she got off the list but assured me she wasn't on the list.

At this point, a man picked up the phone and proceeded to ask me all the information that I had covered with them two days ago and for the last ten minutes of phone conversations. After being put on hold for two lengthy periods of time, he told me that he couldn't reach the bus but that it should have been there at 7:30. I  told him that I had waited until 7:50 and it wasn't there and at this point it was 8:10. He said my daughter was in their system despite what I had just been told. He said he would send out another bus to pick up my daughter. I thanked him but said that during this time talking with his company to get everything straightened out, I had driven to school, dropped my daughter off and was now pulling into the garage as we speak. I said I was more concerned about her getting a ride home after school and what would happen tomorrow morning. I was assured that these problems would be ironed out. We'll see.

Friday, August 28, 2015

In Hot Water

About a week before we left on vacation, I was down in the basement digging out some hiking gear when I noticed our water heater had a slow leak coming out of it. Of course it had a leak a week before our vacation. I turned down the heat to reduce the metal expansion and called my plumber to see what it would take to get a new water heater. He gave me a price but couldn't get to it that week. I was gone the following week. He was gone the week after that. Of course that was the way it would happen.

I knew when we first bought the place that this day would happen because the water heater is 27 years old. In our neck of the wood where the water if fairly hard, getting 27 years out of a water heater is unheard. On average I would say 10 years is more normal. I also knew from taking a shower, that the 40 gallon capacity was severely diminished due to sediment buildup. You have to be quick with a shower if you want hot water which was no problem for me but with three sometimes four women in the house, it was a problem... for them. I looked at it as more of a water conservation program myself.

Needless to say, I turned the water supply off before leaving on vacation and after a week of it being cold, I monitored it when we got back and I turned the heat back on to it. Nothing like a ruptured hot water heater flooding the basement to put a damper on your post vacation high. However the water heater held together long enough for the plumber to finally come and replace it. I would have liked an on demand heater but it really doesn't make financial sense with our hard water. (They get about 15 year life expediencies here but cost five times as much.) The plumber initially tried to sell me on a forced air model which is supposed to be safer in tighter houses but also requires you to go without hot water in a power outage, something we get fairly often in the winter months and also requires yet another vent pipe to be routed through the side of the house. Since we like our hot water even in a power outage and our old vent through the roof works just fine, we went conventional although I did up the capacity to 50 gallons.

Its amazing at how efficient a tank empty of sediment is compared to one full of sediment. When we emptied out the old tank to remove it, we only drained about 10 gallons of water out of it which meant that it had 30 gallons of sediment. It was a heavy son of a gun to truck out of the basement. The old one took half a day to heat up and at the hottest setting, didn't quite get the water to scalding skin temperatures. The new one took about an hour and a half and at the lowest setting caused me to pull my hand out of the hot water very quickly. The drawback to all this is with three sometimes four women in the house and two daughters who think they are teenagers and will sooner than I like be teenagers, I'm sure my water bill is going to be going up a tick or two.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Temperance River and Carlton Peak

Temperance River
 On our final full day, we decided to do another hike but longer than our previous ones. This one was also along the Superior Hiking Trail and required us to drop a vehicle off at one end prior to driving to the other end so we didn't have to do the same section twice. We started our hike along the Temperance River where as we were becoming accustomed too with this trip, was full of hordes of people. Also as expected, as soon as we got away from the well groomed trails and the waterfalls near the main road and everyone's cars, we had the place mostly to ourselves.

Our youngest daughter did okay for the most part but for awhile in the middle of the hike, we finally had our first real crisis of the trip. The weather had been mild on the previous days but on this day it was up into the low 80's. Not bad if you are hiking and can catch a breeze here and there. But for a nearly three year old sandwiched in a pack with only her head and shoulders sticking out, it can get pretty hot. We ended up making very slow progress for awhile and letting her out to cool off wherever the trail was relatively flat. At one point however, the trail started heading up the steep rocky sides of Carlton peak while she was out of the pack and that little girl decided hiking was her best option. With lots of grunting and baby talk, she hiked for a long ways up that mountain with help from me to get her over the really difficult parts. I could see her coordination improving dramatically from the first day of hiking we had done. I was so proud of her.

Temperance River
 From the direction we were hiking, we were taking the longest route to Carlton peak so when we got to the peak itself, we did start running into a handful of people coming from the nearer trail head on the other side. But compared to the hordes below near their vehicles, I wasn't complaining. When we finally topped out on Carlton peak some 1500+ feet above sea level, we shared it with another couple for a few minutes and then had the place to ourselves for the next couple hours as we soaked in the views and ate lunch. At one time the forest service used to have a fire lookout tower on top of this peak but modernization and the slimming down of the Forest Service has led them to get rid of most of the towers and instead just use airplanes after lightening storms.

View from Carlton Peak
From the peak, you could see out over Lake Superior and in the distance spot a taconite loading facility off in the distance. Using my zoom, you can see the facility below at full zoom. Taconite is a low grade iron ore which gives these mountains their name (i.e. Iron Range) and it still mined in places though I have never spotted a mine yet. It is also the same substance that the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald of Gordon Lightfoot fame was hauling when it sank become the largest such vessel to do so on Lake Superior.

Eventually we heard quite a few people heading up the trail from the short side of our route and decided to let them have there time so we packed up and headed down the trail. As with the other places we have hiked along the Superior Hiking Trail, the way was loaded with raspberry bushes full of ripe fruit so we took it slow waiting for our oldest daughter to graze her way down the trail. We all helped in the grazing to some extent. 

In the evening another bicycle ride along the shore was completed along with one last swim and a couple soaks in the resort hot tub before we officially called this vacation a success. The following morning we packed up and drove back home. 

Taconite loading facility on Lake Superior

Monday, August 24, 2015

Poutine & Crazy Canadians

Along the shore of Lake Superior
 Let me preface this post by saying that I don't think Canadians are crazy, at least not all of them and had I done the proper amount of research, I could have found something more representative than poutine. Now lets start at the beginning.

I have been all over the world and yet I've never been to Canada. I've been close a time or two and have flown over it more times than I can count, but I've never set foot on Canadian soil. So we decided the time was right to remedy that error and set out one day for a day in Canada, specifically in the Thunder Bay area. I have never driven across a border of a country before so I didn't know what to expect. Being that this was Canada and in a fairly isolated part of the country, I envisioned a much scaled down version to what I see on television between California and Mexico. As we approached the border, the U.S. customs cops had a semi pulled over with cop cars blocking two of the four approach lanes. Perhaps a 100 yards out, a cop looked up, walked out between the cars and started pointing at a spot in the lane next to the car. I naturally assumed that he wanted to question us, perhaps let a dog sniff our car, etc. I pulled to a stop where he was pointing, still 50 yards short of the physical border and rolled down the window to hear what he wanted. He proceeded to lecture me about my stupidity for not giving him a full lane of buffer around his car as required by state law and how he could ticket me if he wanted too. Now I could have pointed out that I hadn't actually yet gone by him and thus could still give the one lane buffer as required by law. I could have pointed out that his pointing for me to switch lanes looked really similar to pointing to spot where I should stop for questioning. I could have suggested he be more polite to others who might be coming into our country for the first time instead of acting like a d$#k. Instead I just apologized every pause in the conversation until he finally let me go to proceed to the border and a very nice Canadian lady.

Poutine (half gone already)

We proceeded into Canada for the how every many kilometer drive to Thunder Bay making sure to obey the speed limit for fear the American cop would come throw my ass in some Canadian jail just for sport. Not having any maps or computer aided device that worked in Canada, we didn't drive all over Thunder Bay which turned out to be much much larger than I expected. We found the actual bay and though we didn't hear any thunder, we did enjoy a nice walk along it for awhile. Getting hungry we decided to get some grub and since my motto has always been, when in Rome, eat like the Romans, we set off in search of something Canadian. We found a hole in the wall called Nippy's that seemed to be getting a lot of local traffic and stopped.

Two young Canadian guys sold us some food which included Poutine, seen below. It consists of french fries topped with cheese and hot gravy. It was delicious even though I could feel my arteries hardening as I ate the stuff. That is why I insist that if this is a delicacy in this part of Canada, then whomever eats this on a regular basis must be crazy... and extremely satisfied after such a delicious treat. I'm sure Kymber, the only Canadian I know who reads my blog, could have pointed me towards something a little more healthy and uniquely Canadian but I hadn't thought to ask before my excursion. Let me know Kymber and I will get some next time!

Wood fired pottery kiln
Our journey back across the border was routine and there were no cops... or mounties that gave me a hard time or confused me with hand gestures. We did stop once to turn the kids loose along the shores of Lake Superior to burn off some of the chicken fingers and french fries (they don't eat like Romans when in Rome unfortunately) by playing in the rocks and cold water. One item of note is that just before crossing back to the States, we saw a simply hand painted sign that said pottery pointing up a winding two track lane that disappeared into a stand of trees. Who could resist?

At the end of the lane we found a hand built house and a man named Fritz who made wood fired pottery. Fritz was a very interesting guy and showed us not only his wares for sale but also his kiln tucked away in the barn and showed us how he fired his stuff, twice a year. Each time went through nearly a cord of finger sizes split wood and took 22 hours of continuous monitoring. The results, though not like the pristine stuff you get in modern gas and electric kilns, was beautiful in its own right. The fire and ash provided all the coloring in the glaze and every pot had rough spots where ash had fused to the clay during the process. We ended up buying a little vase because we liked the rustic nature of how it looked and mostly just because of the story that went with it. The next time I'm in the area, I will definitely stop in and say hello to Fritz and perhaps relieve him of some more of his pottery.

Wood fired vase