Sunday, March 27, 2011

Out Like a Lion

Sue--a native Ohioan, so she's allowed to be critical--says that in Missouri, March comes in like a lamb, and out like a lion--and this year (again), that seems to be the case.

Wow, all that snow we got yesterday! We got about five inches! Fortunately, most of it melted today, and we (and my foot-cast) made it to the Wurstfest in Hermann. What a great time! But more on that in a bit.

Tonight, I want to share with you some of the photos Sue took yesterday of our pretty spring flowers as it was snowing!

We had big, wet, clumped-up flakes.

Here's a picture of some of the pansies in our front planters. This cracks me up--it looks like someone nailed that purple one right in the face with a snowball!

And then, these peony shoots look like they're getting ready to throw some snowballs!

And our daffodils? When Sue showed me this picture, she put on a funny voice and said, "--Hey, I can't see!"

I wasn't too worried about how these flowers would handle the snow; the forecast wasn't showing much chance of truly nasty-cold weather, and these early spring flowers are surprisingly hardy when it comes to a little spring snow.

The first year I lived in Montana, I was dismayed one morning when the flowers I had planted were inundated with snow. (Realize . . . in Montana, it can snow just about every month of the year! Bad place to try to grow tomatoes!) But a friendly native Montanan reassured me, using a phrase that I've recalled just about every spring since then: "Aww, a little spring snow never hurt anything."

And yeah, she was right.

Teale's Merry Oldsmobile

Hey, folks, I had fun with that last post. I even had fun trying to figure out what kind of car it was in the background of that one photograph. I Googled and Googled. It was a heck of a note!

Then, once I'd figured out the one in the picture was a 1961 Olds (a 98, not an 88, apparently), I found this. Maybe you'll enjoy it, too.

(And yes, that song in the background is "In My Merry Oldsmobile," a song written in 1905!)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Teale’s North with the Spring: A Natural History Classic

At some point when I was in college, my inveterate book collecting transitioned from “literature” to “natural history literature,” and it was about that time I discovered the prolific Edwin Way Teale (1899–1980). (Follow this link to see the Wikipedia entry about him.) His manuscripts and papers are archived at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center at the University of Connecticut.

Here is a photo of Teale that appeared in his book North with the Spring.

It bugs me that he seems so little-read today; in the middle twentieth century, his writings and photographs were everywhere: In bookstores and libraries, in magazines like Natural History and Popular Science, and in the glowing reviews of his books in the New York Times, the Atlantic, and Scientific American. He was the author or editor of more than thirty books.

He won the John Burroughs Medal for distinguished nature writing in 1943 for one of his early books, Near Horizons, “the story of an insect garden.” Some other authors who have won the Burroughs medal are David Quammen, John Alcock (who also wrote of his own insect garden, in Tempe, Arizona), John McPhee, David Rains Wallace, Peter Matthiessen, Barry Lopez, Aldo Leopold, Ann Zwinger, Hal Borland, Loren Eiseley, Joseph Wood Krutch, Rachel Carson, Roger Tory Peterson, Ernest Thompson Seton, and William Beebe. And these are distinguished authors indeed.

Teale also won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction, which puts him into a category of even more famous authors. His book that won the Pulitzer, Wandering through Winter (1965), was an offshoot of the book I’m focusing on today.

North with the Spring

Teale was an established nature writer when he began the North with the Spring project; it’s not clear to me that it even started out as a book. Instead, it began with the simple human desire to escape winter. But during the years of planning, his desire to remove himself to a warmer place intensified: Teale and his wife, Nellie, lost their only son, David, in action during World War II. I think at that point the Teales just wanted to get away, to go driving. But it had started with a late-winter yearning for an extended road trip, one that would give them a grand tour of the North American spring:

Bare trees imprinted the black lace of their twigs on a gray and somber sky. Dingy with soot, snowdrifts had melted into slush and were freezing again. Behind us, as we drove south, city pallor was increasing. Tempers were growing short in the dead air of underventilated offices. . . . February, at once the shortest and the longest month of the twelve, had outstayed its welcome. The year seemed stuck on the ridge of winter.

At such a time, when you look with dread upon the winter weeks that lie before you, have you ever dreamed—in office or kitchen or school—of leaving winter behind, of meeting spring under far-southern skies, of following its triumphal pilgrimage up the map with flowers all the way, with singing birds and soft air, green grass and trees new-clothed, of coming north with the spring? That is a dream of the winter-weary. And, for nearly a decade, it was, for Nellie and me, both a dream and a plan. (1)

They had been contemplating a springtime-long trip for years, but had put it off. “And while we waited, the world changed and our lives changed with it. The spring trip was something we looked forward to during the terrible years of World War II, during the strain and grief of losing David, our only son, in battle.” The book (plus the three other “seasons” books that followed) is dedicated to David, “who traveled with us in our hearts.”

It was on Valentine’s Day in 1947 that the Teales loaded up their Buick with maps, binoculars, field guides, notebooks, and camera equipment, and departed from their New York home for the southern tip of Florida, where “spring” is more of a concept than an observable event.

Starting in the Everglades, the Teales drove a widely zigzagging route all the way to Maine. From February to the summer solstice in June, they “witnessed the defeat of winter” in twenty-three states, and put 17,000 miles on their Buick.

Here is the map printed on the endpapers of North with the Spring; a similar map appears in each book of the quartet. Once Wandering through Winter was done, it and each reprint of the others included a map showing all four routes together. There are only a few states that get short shrift.

And they took excellent notes; they met fascinating people, both famous and unknown. They visited a gracious Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (author of The Yearling) at her Florida home (now a historic state park)—the visit Teale documents, it turns out, was only six years before Rawlings died; she treated them to a lovely picnic lunch out in the Florida scrub at a cool sinkhole that had inspired a location in her most popular novel.

Teale documents equally well a day spent with a Mrs. Toy Miller, a snuff-using backwoods herbwoman in Kite Hollow, North Carolina. She showed the Teales how she collects medicinal plants for the Greer Drug Company, which at that time was a wholesaler of pollen, ginseng, goldenseal, and all manner of other wildcrafted botanicals (today, the company has become Greer Laboratories; look here).

Each chapter is a snapshot of a time and a place, all revolving around nature and the way human lives were interacting with it at midcentury. The book is a travelogue by an insightful and knowledgeable pair of travelers. Reading the book in 2011, sixty years after the publication of North with the Spring, fills me with curiosity about “the rest of the story.”

Teale tells of viewing a lone whooping crane at the zoo in Audubon Park, New Orleans, likening his experience to what people must have felt upon viewing the last living passenger pigeon at a zoo in 1914. As of 1941, there were probably only about twenty-one whooping cranes in the whole world. But, Teale writes, not long after he saw this individual crane, it was used in a captive-breeding program and became the mother of the first whooping crane hatched in captivity. In the sixty years since Teale saw this bird (named Jo), the cranes have rebounded somewhat; today there are some four hundred in the wild. It is still one of the most endangered birds in America, but it’s much better off than when Teale visited the zoo that day in 1947.

Teale mentions details that make me nostalgic for the Americana that was disappearing when I was a little girl—they spend the night in “tourist courts”; they purchase gas at service stations, where attendants pump gas into their car for them and offer up friendly, colorful comments. It was America before interstate highways, when driving faster than fifty was “careening.”

Here is a photo of Nellie Teale (and their nifty 1961 Oldsmobile) that appeared in Wandering through Winter. The caption notes that she is identifying a desert plant.

So much has changed since Teale wrote. In some ways, his “seasons” books are sadly “out of date.” But by now, we can read them knowing full well that science has marched on and refuted some of the knowledge that had been gained at midcentury; meanwhile, we can appreciate the America of the past, despite its faults and naivety. Reading North with the Spring aloud to Sue, I kind of choked when I came to this passage, describing scenes they witnessed in South Carolina: “With green, freshly cut bamboo poles, Negroes were out for the spring fishing, angling for ‘stump-knockers’ in brimming roadside ditches” (136). I don’t find the diction as thought-provoking as I do the scene of people fishing with the crudest of implements in flooded roadside ditches. There are clues to the past in these books that I’m not sure Teale quite intended to provide.

Teale’s Quartet of Seasons

North with the Spring
was the first book in a quartet that took twenty years to complete; after its publication in 1951, the Teales completed three more trips, each carefully planned to maximize their experience of seasonal progress across the United States. In 1952, the couple traveled from Cape Cod to Point Reyes (north of San Francisco) to experience Autumn across America (published in 1956). Their Journey into Summer took place in 1957, and the book came out in 1960; the Teales’ summer travels covered the entire eastern three-quarters of the United States, beginning in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and ending at the top of Pike’s Peak in Colorado. Wandering through Winter, the final book of the quartet and the volume that won the Pulitzer Prize, was published in 1965, based on their 1961–1962 trip that stretched from the Silver Strand, south of San Diego, to the northeastern corner of Maine.

By the time they were done with their travels for the four books, including return trips to some places to check facts or obtain additional information, Teale states in his acknowledgments in Wandering through Winter that they had logged “well over 100,000 miles by automobile, airplane, ferry, mudboat, snow Weasel, scout car, Jeep, cog railway, canoe, on foot and on showshoes.” (If you don’t know what a snow Weasel is, you have to look at the winter volume!) (By the way, using the current IRS mileage reimbursement rate for business-related travel, that amount of traveling would count for $51,000 in 2011!)

These books represent America as it was, and America as it is (for much in the natural world changes little, even though human fashions change); the Teales are like gentle, reflective, knowledgeable grandparents. Sometimes, perhaps, Teale waxes a little too much about the birds they see (one reviewer on Amazon complained wearily: “He points out every single bird he sees!”)—but mostly, the reason I think Teale is not so popular today is that he simply takes his time. He reflects on the things they witness; he reflects on humanity. The Teales poke along on America’s back roads. Teale explains things well; he occasionally goes off on tangents. But all his tangents are interesting!

When I read these books, I feel as if Teale is speaking to me. There are occasional moments when Teale, in addition to addressing his contemporary audience, also nods to the posterity who would hear his voice in their minds long after his death. Here is one such passage from North with the Spring:

Later . . . we stopped by the wooden bridge once more. . . . The limpkins were snail hunting among the eelgrass of the shallow borders. The river rang with the wildness of their calls. Theirs was a voice that spoke for an older time, a long-ago time. . . . It was the voice of the dark, the swamp, the vast wilderness of ancient times. It links us—as it will link men and women of an even more urbanized, regimented, crowded tomorrow—with days of a lost wilderness. (93)

Reading this makes me want to hear limpkins, too, and not just on Cornell’s ornithology website.

Teale understood that he was placing himself at a distinct moment in time, that he was writing for the future, in addition to his many contemporary readers. This is most evident on pages 346–47, at the end of Wandering through Winter, the volume that finishes the quartet:

And so we came home at last. We came home rich in memories. We drove down the long lane to the 160-year-old white cottage under the hickory trees. We unlocked the door in spring that we had locked in autumn. We found calendars of another year hanging on the wall....

Another spring is coming in as these words are written. The white magic of another winter is gone. Another night is falling over our woods and fields and pond. I switch on the lamp above my study desk. Its soft light falls on typed sheets of fieldnotes, on marked maps, on odds and ends, mementos of our winter travels. I am nearly at the end of that self-imposed task that for more than two decades has been my work and my relaxation, my livelihood and my diversion. While I have been wandering across the country and writing of what I have seen . . . two new states, Alaska and Hawaii, have been added to the Union, the population of the United States has grown by 50,000,000 and the earth has traveled through space 10,000,000,000 miles.

I set down these final words in the dusk of an early spring day. You are reading them when, where, under what conditions? Now the light—my light here, your light wherever you are—falls on the last page of the last book of the last season. We have traveled far together. We have watched the successive seasons flow and merge and intermingle. We have seen the beauty of the land through the whole cycle of the year. To those of you who have journeyed so long, who have traversed the four seasons in our company, to all farewell.
For here ends the story of our travels
through the spring and summer
and autumn and winter of
The American Year.

This is the year, I think, that I will reread all four of these books during their respective seasons. What a rich, pleasant exercise! I think the only thing that could be better than this would be to grab our binoculars, field guides, laptops, pack our bags, get in the Honda with Sue and her photography equipment, and disappear for some months, retracing one of the Teales’ seasonal paths, looking to see what’s become of the places and people his books today memorialize. . . . And finding all new adventures along the way.

Well, Boo-Hiss!

Sue says that March in Missouri always comes in like a lamb and goes out like a lion, and here we go. They're predicting up to 5 inches of snow here in Jeff (though as of last night, it wasn't looking like there was much chance at all). So, pooh.

Although I'm not using crutches at this point (I'm "weight-bearing"), and therefore balance on a slippery surface isn't such a problem, I'm still in a cast. Since I'm not allowed to get it wet, and since Hermann is getting just about the same amount of snow we're getting . . . I guess we have to put off our trip to the Wurstfest. Tomorrow the driving will be better. And so will the limping.

I hope there's some sausage left by the time we get there!

But dang, I'm sorry to be missing the Braunschweiger Ball!

. . . Next year.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

32nd Annual Wurstfest

Hey, folks, I know this is late notice, but I'd be horribly remiss if I didn't remind you about Hermann, Missouri's annual Wurstfest.

It's this weekend! Here's a link to it.

There's something new this year, which I found out via a kind comment by Constance LaBoube--check this out!

A fun new addition to the Wurstfest is the Bank Bar Braunschweiger Ball. This event, the first of its kind ever last year, will begin at 7 p.m., Saturday, March 26 at the corner of 2nd and Schiller Streets (115) in Hermann. Contestants will be entering Braunschweiger Balls for judging. This is a zany, quirky, fun event. Prizes will be awarded - 1st and 2nd - best tasting. 1st - Best Presentation. Music will be provided by The Bluff-Tones. There is no charge for entering, but donations to the food pantry will be accepted by the band the evening of the event.

Whoaaaah, Nelly!!! A Braunschweiger Ball! It's a braunschweiger-pâté-making contest and a dance! What a perfect Opulent Opossum kind of event! (As you know, for a while I was on a roll with my "Jefferson City Braunschweiger Reports"! I even shared a Lutheran-ladies retro braunschweiger ball recipe with you.)

(The only thing that slowed me down on that was the realization that such activity was leading me toward the brain sandwiches up at the Towne Grille--you know: "Food at it's best" [sic]--and I'm not sure I'm ready to "go there.")

But I'm soooooo ready to hit the road for Hermann this weekend!

I hope to see some of you there--this is an awesome "foodie" event. You get to sample locally produced, gourmet sausages from many different small meat markets. And then, you can buy the ones you like! We always bring a cooler, buy a bunch, and freeze sausage to be used over the next months.

Plus, there's all the music and dancing, wine-tasting and winery tours, that new Tin Mill microbrewery to visit, the weiner-dog races, museums and historic sites, etc., etc.

Again, here's the link for more information on Hermann's wonderful Wurstfest.

And (for fun), here's a link to my "Wurstjaegering" post I wrote a few years ago describing the event. I like to think it's fun to read. I hope you'll agree!

See you there!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Joy Spring, Karrin Allyson

Here's a YouTube that somebody made with the music of one of my favorite Karrin Allyson songs, from one of my favorite Karrin Allyson CDs!

The album is Collage, made in 1996 when Allyson was still based in Kansas City. Click here to buy a copy of this album, where K.A. shows she can swing hard, scat with taste, break your heart with a ballad, and slay you with the blues. She also sings a Beatles tune and one by Monk, a Cole Porter tune, one by Billy Joel--and she even sings in French and Portuguese on this CD! A terrific sampler of her eclectic talent.

This song must be very difficult to sing, but she makes it sound easy!

Without further ado . . .

Info: The jazz standard "Joy Spring" was written by the immortal Clifford Brown. Karrin Allyson is on vocals, Kim Park on alto saxophone, Mike Metheny on fluegelhorn, Danny Embry on electric guitar, Bob Bowman on bass, Paul Smith on piano, Todd Strait on drums. All these folks were based in Kansas City when this was recorded; only Karrin and Todd (I think) have departed for greener pastures.

Monday, March 21, 2011

First Day of Spring

Happy Vernal Equinox, y'all!

It feels special, doesn't it! Here in Jeff City, we're getting the warmest weather we've had this year, and this also marks the first time we've had our windows open constantly for more than twenty-four hours.

The "young people" across from us on Broadway had an impromptu bongo-drums jam session on their front porch this evening, and though it was rather loud, I make exceptions for my "noise complaints" when the music is acoustic, homemade. (And is completely finished by 10 p.m.!) Live, real music doesn't annoy me the way recorded sound systems--boom cars and boom houses--do.

Birds all over the place today--grackles, mourning and Eurasian collared doves, cardinals, jays, titmice, chickadees, house sparrows, juncos, downy woodpeckers, starlings--have I left any out? Oh, yeah: Robins! Gosh, they were busy.

And we saw Beth again today--our local woodchuck, recently emerged from hibernation. Squirrels are about, too, of course. And the garter snakes are awake again, sliding through our patchy grass. Happy, happy, joy, joy!

Per our custom, we planted pansies by our front doors today, in a small commemoration of my Grandma S's birthday (she would have been 106 tomorrow)--but mainly because the first day of spring is the perfect time for planting them.

I've noticed that whoever's currently living in the house she was born in, across the street from us, has been putting some work into the yard. Real work. Hallelujah! That poor house has had a series of low-life tenants ever since the death of its longtime owner a few years ago. Fortunately, not all tenants are low-lifes. I think maybe we've got a good'un this time around.

Well, what else can I tell you about? I haven't been doing much that's really "bloggable," since I can't drive. Soon, however, I'll be able to collect more stories than what's going on in the yard and neighborhood. By this time next week, hopefully, I'll be out of this cast and back in the driver's seat!

And now that you've read this far, I'll reward you with this fun YouTube by Manjula Jain, a gracious Indian lady living in the United States who has a wonderful series of videos demonstrating how to cook vegetarian Indian food. She's an excellent cooking teacher!

I highly recommend her YouTube site as well as her own website, If you had an Indian mom to teach you how to cook, she would be a lot like Manjula, I'll bet.

Here's her video for making rotis, or chapatis, which are a whole-wheat flatbread very similar to Mexican flour tortillas. I've heard they're pretty tricky to make and take a lot of practice, but Manjula makes it look simple. I love the way she makes them puff up! It is like watching a magician at work. Enjoy!

By the way: the word she uses to greet her viewers at the beginning of each video is Namaste, which means "I bow to you"--a common greeting in India and Nepal. This form of saying "hi" expresses respect tinged with a reverence for the divine aspects within all of us.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Signs of Spring

I’m still pretty cooped up with my busted ankle, but spring’s arrival is unmistakable, and what a welcome thing it is!

I’m going to warn you right now that this is going to be a disjointed post. But that’s what I have these days: A bunch of little thoughts. Or thoughtlets, you might say. I guess I could do like other bloggers and make each little thoughtlet into a separate post, but nah. I’ll just bring you up to date all at once.

On the ankle: as of Monday, I’ve been cleared to start putting weight on my foot. I had some trepidation about this, since I’d stumbled going up our front steps the week before and had been experiencing pain. But the surgeon says it’s okay; I didn’t damage his fine work. I can start using it some. And you know what? Almost as soon as I changed my “non-weight-bearing” crutching to “partial-weight-bearing” crutching, the pain has almost completely gone away. Hmmm!

So I’m on track to get the cast off at the end of this month. No one’s said anything about transitioning through a “moon boot,” so I’m hoping that when this cast comes off, I’m scot-free. (Just in time to start thinking about cutting grass!)

It will be nice to be able to drive again!

Okay—there are actual signs of spring I wanted to write about. Lots of fresh buds.

Yes, I’ve commemorated spring before. It’s hard not to!

The stuff that overwintered in my herb garden is looking pretty good. I had some red-veined sorrel that survived, and that’s terrific! It makes a beautiful, tart addition to salads.

The mints are starting to reawaken, too. Peppermint, and a clump of grapefruit mint that I’ve had for at least a decade. (I transplanted it from our apartment in Columbia!) I’ve really been missing my fresh mint. I cook with it a lot, and I have a hard time purchasing those pricey little packets of it at the store.

The peppermint will be particularly welcome, though it has a ways to go:

Here is the grapefruit mint getting started:

Sue’s bonsai are starting to bud out; here are the upper branches of an amur maple. This is an exciting time for bonsai, as the soft new leaves emerge the same time the weather is grossly unpredictable. That hailstorm we had could have been disastrous if it had happened when the leaves were at their tenderest.

Here’s another sign of spring: Pansies! We picked up some yesterday.

I’ve told you before that we do a little commemoration of my Grandma S. every year on the first day of spring, since her birthday was March 21. We call it “Edna Day.” Putting pansies into our front flower planters is a tradition that began when my dad was young: Dad, his brothers, and their father would walk to Busch’s Florist over on Dunklin and pick out the pansy plants, and then present them to their mom on her birthday.

Since she was an inveterate gardener, this was the perfect birthday gift.

And since March 21 is just about the perfect time to plant pansies around here, I see no reason not to keep up the tradition.

I love their little faces.

Flowers by the front door do people a valuable service. Don’t underestimate the power of having flowers at your front door.

Plus, our daffodils are almost at their peak along the front of the house—they really look great, and I’m always so proud of them.

Yesterday was the day the forsythia decided to open its flowers. There were hardly any open blossoms in the morning, but by the end of the day, the whole bush was yellow.

Finally, here’s one more “sign of spring”—eggs standing up on end! I took this picture yesterday, though I might as well have taken it three months ago. That whole “standing an egg on end on the vernal equinox” thing is a total myth, but I think it’s entirely reasonable to be thinking about eggs in springtime. I mean, look at Easter, huh?

The birds in our backyard are certainly starting to think about eggs, at any rate! Every morning I hear hormone-jazzed robins, cardinals, and doves, and the grackles are arriving and sky-pointing, too. (Though it’s hard to describe the sound they make as “singing.”)

There’s something poetic about the egg standing upright, perfectly balanced, silent and prophetic like that monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. So what if you can stand an egg up at any time of year? We only do it on the first day of spring! Thus another symbol is raised.

Okay; more about springtime in another post.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Grandma Meets Elvis!

Okay, now that I’ve got your attention, I’d like to announce two birthdays: Sue’s, and the Opulent Opossum’s!

Sue’s birthday is today—happy birthday, Sue!

And the Op Op turned two early this month. Two years I’ve been associated with America’s native marsupial! By choice! And it’s been fun.

To celebrate, I’m sharing a dessert recipe with you—it’s something I made up just for Sue’s birthday, since she adores peanut butter, and peanut-butter-and-banana is therefore a favorite flavor combo. (Yeah! She has something in common with The King!)

It’s based on my cherished fruit kuchen recipe from my Grandma Schroeder—a German recipe she learned from her mom—I hope my relatives won’t mind me playing “fast and loose” with the sacred formula. Usually, this is made with seasonal fruit (apples, peaches, berries, grapes), and no peanut butter. But here, the idea is peanut-buttery shortbread-type pastry topped with sliced bananas in a gooey, brown-sugary custard, topped with meringue.

And yeah, it’s pretty good!

Sue’s Elvis Kuchen
(Peanut Butter and Banana Baked Dessert)

2 + 1/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch salt
1/2 + 1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 stick butter
3/4 cup peanut butter (chunky is good—room temperature)
4 eggs
1/2 + 1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 to 3 cups bananas, sliced
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat oven: 350 degrees F.

First, make the dough: Combine 2 cups flour, baking powder, salt, and 1/2 cup white sugar; then cut in the butter and peanut butter. Then, add 1 beaten egg and enough milk (about 1/2 cup) to make it the consistency of cookie dough. You can set this in the fridge while you do the next steps.

Separate 3 eggs (the whites will be used for meringue—let those sit to reach room temperature); beat the yolks, then add 1/4 cup milk, 1/2 cup brown sugar, and 1/4 cup flour. Slice bananas if not already done.

Spread the dough on the bottom and slightly up the sides of a 9 x 9 inch pan. (This is easiest if you push the dough around with your hands— wet your hands with cold water to keep dough from sticking.) Then, add about two layers of sliced bananas. Drizzle the custard over and around the bananas. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes or until dough is cooked/lightly browned, and custard is set.

While this is baking, prepare the meringue: Beat the 3 room-temperature egg whites on medium with vanilla and cream of tartar for about a minute (until soft peaks form); then switch to high speed and gradually add 1/2 cup white sugar; beat for about four minutes, or until shiny and stiff peaks form.

When the pastry is done, remove from oven and top with meringue. Return to oven for about five minutes or until meringue is lightly brown. Let cool gradually; once cooled, store in refrigerator.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Midwestern View: The Artists of the Ste. Genevieve Art Colony

They do things so well here! The Museum of Art and Archaeology, in Pickard Hall on the University of Missouri–Columbia campus, is a perfect gem, and if you’re in Central Missouri, you should visit it regularly. They have a wonderful series of changing exhibits.

Right now, the museum is hosting a special exhibition that my readers might be interested in, as it involves Missouri history, Missouri landscapes, and Missouri art.

The show features about thirty works by several artists, in different styles and media, and of varying subjects; all are connected to an art colony that existed in the 1930s in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri.

Jessie Beard Rickly (Poplar Bluff, Mo., 1895–St. Louis, Mo., 1975). Still Life—Lilies and Fruit, ca. 1930. Watercolor. Lent by John and Susan Horseman.

This annual summertime gathering of artists has been overshadowed by the fame of Thomas Hart Benton and by the war that pulled the curtain on the colony. (For more information on the Ste. Genevieve art colony, look at this book here.)

Indeed, although many of the Ste. Genevieve artists received favorable recognition and led successful lives as artists, hardly any of them became well-known; I know of Frank Nuderscher because he painted the famous “turning bridge” lunette at the state capitol (The Artery of Trade—the Eads Bridge). And there’s a single work in this exhibition by Thomas Hart Benton, who apparently spent one day with the Ste. Genevieve group—but the spotlight is on neither of these men.

If growing skills, expanding artistic vision, networking with other artists, and producing memorable, fine artworks are an indication of an art colony’s success, then I’d say the Ste. Genevieve gatherings hit their target. And because many of the works feature Missouri places, this colony did our state a great service by representing it so soulfully on canvas.

If you go to this exhibit anticipating pictures of “cabins, cattle, and colored people,” you’re in luck, because Regionalism, with a strong social conscience, is well represented in the collection. However, if farmers, erosion, and humble homes are all you are expecting, you will be surprised.

For example, there is a modernist landscape by Joe Jones of the St. Louis waterfront—a composition of cool grays in flat planes with smooth gradients. Other works depict people of the European underground in World War II, a nearly cubistic view of an entry gate to St. Louis’s upscale Westmoreland Place (which somehow reminds me of M. C. Escher’s infinite staircases), a few abstract compositions, and a number of satisfying still lifes.

But face it—the colony’s “Missouriness” is the main reason we’re interested in this group, and much of the collection evokes history, geography, and culture.

Joseph Paul Vorst (Essen, Germany, 1897–St. Louis, Mo., 1947). Sharecroppers’ Revolt, ca. 1940. Oil on panel. Lent by John and Susan Horseman.

A painting by Joseph Paul Vorst, Sharecroppers’ Revolt, depicts jobless tenant farmers trying to keep warm near a pitiful shanty covered by an old quilt. This painting must be related to the 1939 Sharecropper Protest down in the Bootheel; I’m guessing that Vorst must have witnessed that event, where hundreds of cotton laborers, organized by the Southern Tenant Farmers Union, lined federal highways to protest their exploitation and misery.

I mean, you can read about the protest, and you can see photographs of it—but Vorst’s oil-on-canvas helps you to feel it.

See what I mean? A time, a place, a culture.

Here’s another one: The Quarry, by Bernard E. Peters. This painting is a landscape; the subject of the painting, a quarry of stark bright limestone with miscellaneous weedy foliage at its base, all gaily reflecting sunshine, occupies the back/upper half of the painting. The front half of the scene is all in cool, shady greens: a small Ozark farmhouse surrounded by small but long-established crop fields, shade trees, and a winding lane.

Bernard E. Peters (St. Louis, Mo., 1893–St. Louis, Mo., 1949). The Quarry. Oil on board. Lent by John and Susan Horseman.

Both halves of the landscape have been modified by humans. One gathers that the quarry, and the broad expanse of cropland beyond it, is new, and the farm old. The quarry and the expansive new field with its precisely parallel rows are newly disrupted lands; the homestead is settled and quiet. The quarry and mechanized agriculture is the future, the little farm the past. Yet the farm also provides a glimpse of the future, perhaps: The yellow-highlighted plants invading the quarry site remind me that nature in these parts tends, eventually, to the wooded, cool, and shady.

Another landscape, by E. Oscar Thalinger, also strongly evokes a particular place and time. In Farm Landscape in Winter, you see what is probably a late February view of a 1930s farm, with a gray sky and damp ground—the kind of gray and dampness we’ve had for weeks—with leafless trees and fields that are muddy but just starting to green up. Next to the humble home and barn, and nearly lost in the surrounding browns and grays, is a woman with a head scarf and her chickens. As I looked at this painting, I said silently to her: “I know what you’re feeling: I want spring to get here, too!”

E. Oscar Thalinger (Alsace-Lorraine, France, 1885–St. Louis, Mo., 1965). Farm Landscape in Winter, ca. 1932. Oil on board. Lent by the St. Louis Mercantile Library at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

And although most of the still-lifes in this collection are quite colorful with lovely jewel-like tones, there is a small untitled oil—and early work by Aimee Schweig—that is monochromatically brown. The small scene is of the most humble of subjects: a worn wooden table with a coffee grinder and a few Irish potatoes on it . . . and a little cotton kitchen towel. And that’s it—no vase of pretty flowers, no blue skies, not even a shaft of sunlight to spice it up. The paint isn’t even shiny.

Aimee Schweig (St. Louis, Mo., 1897–St. Louis, Mo., 1987). Still life, n.d. Oil on board. Lent by Terrie Liberman and Martin Schweig.

Still, we can sense in this humble collection of objects a time (the now-antique coffee mill) and a place (a rural kitchen). And via this painting—the fact that it exists at all—we learn something about the painter. The note alongside the work points out that Schweig and others of her generation had been influenced by the comments of artist Charles Hawthorne, who said, “We must teach ourselves to see the beauty of the ugly, the see the beauty of the commonplace.”

I don’t know about “ugly,” but I do know that Missouri (and all places) can be full of the commonplace. And perhaps that’s why this exhibition is so much fun—like all art, it helps us to see our world with fresh, appreciative eyes. And what a beautiful world it is.

Bernard E. Peters (St. Louis. Mo., 1893–St. Louis, Mo., 1949). Untitled (Landscape), ca. 1930s. Oil on canvas. Lent by John and Susan Horseman.

Exhibition Information

A Midwestern View: The Artists of the Ste. Genevieve Art Colony
January 29–May 15, 2011

Admission is free, free, free!

Museum of Art and Archaeology
University of Missouri–Columbia
1 Pickard Hall
Columbia, MO 65211-1420

Phone: 573-882-3591

Galleries are open
Tuesday through Friday: 9–4
Thursday evenings: until 8 pm
Saturday and Sunday: noon to 4 pm
(Closed Mondays and on University holidays)

The museum (Pickard Hall) is located on MU’s Francis Quadrangle; you can find it at the intersection of S. Ninth St. and University Ave.

My grateful thanks to the Museum of Art and Archaeology for providing me with high-quality jpg’s of the six paintings. I also thank the museum for granting me permission to take additional photos of the exhibition.

Monday, March 7, 2011

We Had Hail on Friday

What can I say? My ankle’s busted, I can’t drive, and I’m cooped up inside the house. I’m reduced to writing about the weather, which I mostly experience through a windowpane.

Friday afternoon, we had a real nice thunderstorm. The sky in the west got dark and ominous; it was almost like nighttime. I was on the sunporch so I got a great view.

Big ol’ raindrops, and strong winds. Thunder. The kitties hid.

It rained like the dickens! It started to hail—but it was no big deal; it was only pea or M&M (plain M&M) sized. But there was a lot of it. It kinda looked like snow.

Sue and I went around looking out the windows.

It was a real gully washer, toad strangler, duck drownder. It certainly cleaned out the street gutters—nice, how springlike rains help wash away the grit of winter.

We had puddles in our backyard, and that’s saying something, because we live on a hill.

I took some pictures from the second floor, and Sue got a nice picture of my car getting pelted.

Afterward, Sue went out and took pictures before it all melted (most of these pictures are from her).

Luckily, the daffodils weren’t up so high that they got damaged.

And then, as suddenly as it came on, the storm passed over, and the sun came back out, and somehow it was midafternoon again. Robins returned to our backyard, hunting excitedly for swimming earthworms.

All I could do was sit there in amazement.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Miss Rhue and the Deer Print

I thought you’d like to read this. After reading my last post, my dad sent me an e-mail that said:

Since I don’t do blogging or Facebook, this will have to do. I enjoyed your vignette of Lena Rhue. When I started reading, I expected to find something about the deer painting at your front door, probably because I took time the other day to look at it closely again and reread what was written on the back. Mom treasured it not just because of its beauty but because, well, as Mom would say, “Lena gave that to me!” Lena gave away a lot of her precious “things.” I suppose many people around central Missouri have mementos of her.

The other thing on my mind is my Mom talked to her about her name, Rhue, which is pronounced just like the German Ruhe, meaning peace. Mom thought it fitted her perfectly—a peaceful lady.

So I will share with you a few views of this painting (actually a silkscreen print), front and back, so you can see for yourself how my grandma treasured this gift.

I believe the work is entitled Frolic. If you search the Internet with the artist’s names, you’ll find more silkscreens of this very image for sale on eBay and elsewhere. (Fifteen bucks!)

I haven’t been able to tell when the original was painted, though the artist, Percy Tsisete Sandy, or Kai Sa (Red Moon), lived from 1918 (he was born on Armistice Day!) to 1974. Apparently Lena Rhue bought this print during a trip to Taos, where, I assume, they were selling them at Carl Schlosser’s trading post (now, I think, it’s part of a bed and breakfast). (The “Knpobo” on the back is Cradle Flower, the wife of Schlosser—Google her name, and you can find many nifty silkscreen prints featuring her poetry.)

Kai Sa studied painting in Albuquerque and at Santa Fe; the “maiden” he married was Peggy Mirabel, from Taos Pueblo. Apparently, Kai Sa became unwelcome in his home pueblo, Zuni, because he had had the temerity to depict sensitive, sacred subjects in his artworks. Thus he relocated to Taos.

Another interesting fact about Kai Sa: He was the illustrator for a children’s book by Ann Nolan Clark entitled Sun Journey: A Story of Zuni Pueblo (1945). (Maybe this is the artwork that got him in trouble with his pueblo?) It’s the story of a ten-year-old Zuni boy who has spent the last three years at a government boarding school and has forgotten or missed out on his own culture. But now, he has returned to his pueblo, and his grandfather and others teach him what it means to be Zuni. Thus, in the course of the book, this child is reintroduced to his people. And the reader learns about Zuni lifeways along with the protagonist.

I think this was a progressive notion for 1945, and I found it even more interesting when I read that the book was originally published by the education branch of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. I had thought the BIA in those years was generally insensitive to Native cultures—and I understand the bureau is still controversial among Native Americans—but here, they employed Clark to provide multicultural educational materials for both Native children and mainstream Americans. Fascinating, huh?

Clark, by the way, was born and educated in New Mexico and spent many years teaching Native American children. She discovered (naturally) that the children learned better when the reading material bore some relation to their own lives, so she ended up writing her own books and primers. She eventually wrote more than forty children’s books that we would today call “multicultural.”

So, Lena Rhue, an unmarried woman and professional sociologist, visited Taos at some point, and I can infer that she had a prescient interest in multiculturalism, too. She gave this picture to my grandma, who in turn gave it to me, in 1993. And now I get to look at it every time I head out the front door—and feel layers of appreciation.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Lena Rhue of Apartment B

Grandma Schroeder’s house has always been a duplex—well, ever since it stopped being a church building, anyway. The original idea, when my grandparents got married, was that the downstairs apartment was going to be where Grandma’s mom and dad spent their golden years. But since it was the Great Depression, my great-grandparents chose to occupy a bedroom on the second floor, allowing the family to rent out the first-floor apartment for extra income.

Back in those days, renters would stay for several years before moving on to whatever was next; also, because they lived under the same roof as their landlords, they became friends. Grandma was extroverted and good-natured. Most of the renters visited with Grandma and Grandpa on summer evenings in the backyard.

The renter I remember most was “Miss Rhue,” who was elderly when I was a little kid. I don’t know when she moved in, but she must have passed away in the 1970s.

She was friendly and inquisitive. You could say she was “sweet.” It seems she always had a candy dish with lemon drops in it. I remember it being on a corner table in the dining room. As a kid, I didn’t visit her very often (I grew up with the idea that the tenants downstairs were not to be harassed by children)—but when I did visit her, she was gracious and pleased to have company. And she was generous with the lemon drops. Maybe I remember her as talkative because I was always quietly sucking on candy when I was with her.

She wasn’t tall, and she kept her little-old-lady white hair in a bun. I recall she wore reading glasses. And she had what was described to me as a “harelip”—a thankfully obsolete term for a cleft lip or palate. It had been repaired, but the surgical techniques of the early twentieth century weren’t as perfected as they are now. I distinctly recall her unique voice, kind of airy, which I suppose resulted from the irregularities in her palate. It reminded me of Sterling Holloway’s. (To a child of the seventies, any voice like Winnie the Pooh’s would have seemed comforting, eh?)

I suppose her deformity might be one reason she had not married. (Though, of course, there are lots of other reasons not to become married, or officially married, as well.) But more than anything, I suspect her lack of a husband resulted from the plain fact that in her life, she had other things to do.

My dad says she was a sociologist, and, of course, for a woman of her vintage to have earned a college degree is fairly remarkable. But in addition to the bachelor of science degree she earned in 1919 at the University of Illinois, she went on to receive a master’s—we think at Chicago. She had intellect, and curiosity; she was darned smart; she had had a profession.

Like other women who left no progeny, it’s difficult to find information on her. Her older brother, Perry, never married, and he left no heirs as well, so except perhaps for cousins and their descendants, there don’t seem to be any family left.

Perry, by the way, born in 1896, was a veteran of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in France; part of a machine-gun battalion, he’d been wounded in action. Like her, he got his bachelor’s degree at the University of Illinois.

Perry and Lena were the children of Jessie William and Sidney Elizabeth (or Elizabeth S.?) (Cochonour) Rhue and grew up in the Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, area.

Somehow or other, her path seems to have led from commerce and agricultural interests to social welfare work, because her professional position in this state was with the Missouri Association for Social Welfare, whose papers from 1908 to 1971 are housed at the Western Historical Manuscripts Collection in Columbia. I guess I can see how, during the Great Depression, agricultural work could easily have turned into social work.

Maybe I’ll have to go visit those records someday. I wonder how Lena got to Missouri? My dad says she played an important role during the foundational years of the Missouri Association for Social Welfare, that she did great work on behalf of orphans, destitute folks, and others in need.

Dad recalls how Lena came to leave this house; she had gotten quite elderly, and she started seeing things that weren’t there, and talking to people only she could see. One day, Dad said, she had her front door open to let air through the screen door (which by itself is no big deal), and he knocked lightly to get her attention and then opened the screen door a little in order to hand in her newspaper, which had been lying outside. At this, she suddenly exclaimed that a small dog had just rushed into her apartment as he opened the door! A dog only she could see. It wasn’t long after this that some of her trusted friends found alternative living arrangements for her, and she never returned to good old Elm Street.

I understand she was buried, near her brother, in the Champaign area.

Sometimes I wonder why I think of her so much. Partly, it’s the “if these walls could talk” syndrome. She lived under this same roof for many years, and everyone who lives in an old house wonders about the lives of their predecessors. But partly, too, I see in her a kindred path.

I, too, am the mother and grandmother to no one, and my papers and photos will, after my death, be tossed out. On any lists where I am included, mine will be a name that no one looks for. Who will remember me when I’m gone—even if just for a bowl of lemon drops, or a silly bean salad recipe? Well, maybe someone.

Do unto others.

So when’s the last time you had three-bean salad? I found this recipe in my Grandma’s collection. I have to say, this is a mild salad—not bitey with vinegar—and the flavors of the beans come through nicely. I suggest interpreting the last “ingredient” as 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. black pepper. The “cans” are the usual 16-ounce size. And if, like me, you don’t “do” dried onion flakes, try a little minced shallot or onion.

Lena Rhue’s Bean Salad

1 can each of green, wax, and red kidney beans, drained.
1/2 green pepper cut fine
onion flakes
2/3 cup vinegar
1/3 cup salad oil
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. salt and pepper

Mix and let stand over nite stir occasionally.

Lena Rhue
May 1964