Fire in the Forest

The Ragtag Daily Prompt this morning was COUNTLESS BRANCHES

A forest of living, greening branches can be an inspiring sight, but here’s an account of a raging blaze started in the felled trees on a homesteader’s farm. They were set ablze by the hired man, who had good intentions, but seriously lacked common sense. The REBLOG button on his post isn’t working, so I’ve reprinted this from Flatlander Faith.com. See the original post HERE.

[This is an excerpt from a Canadian Classic, Roughing it in the Bush, by Susanna Moodie, first published in 1852.  At the climax of the crisis described here, she buries her head in her apron. It was her custom to  pull up her apron to cover her head for privacy when praying.]

The winter and spring of 1834 had passed away. The latter was uncommonly cold and backward; so much so that we had a very heavy fall of snow upon the 14th and 15th of May

A late, cold spring in Canada is generally succeeded by a burning, hot summer; and the summer of ’34 was the hottest I ever remember.  No rain fell upon the earth for many weeks, till nature drooped and withered beneath one bright blaze of sunlight; and the ague and fever in the woods, and the cholera in the large towns and cities, spread death and sickness through the country.

Moodie had made during the winter a large clearing of twenty acres around the house. The progress of the workmen had been watched by me with the keenest interest. Every tree that reached the ground opened a wider gap in the dark wood, giving us a broader ray of light and a clearer glimpse of the blue sky. But when the dark cedar swamp fronting the house fell beneath the strokes of the axe, and we got a first view of the lake my joy was complete: a new and beautiful object was now constantly before me, which gave me the greatest pleasure.

The confusion of an uncleared fallow spread around us on every side. Huge trunks of trees and piles of brush gave a littered and uncomfortable appearance to the locality, and as the weather had been very dry for some weeks, I heard my husband talking with his choppers as to the expediency of firing the fallow. They still urged him to wait a little longer, until he could get a good breeze to carry the fire well through the brush.

Business called him suddenly to Toronto, but he left a strict charge with old Thomas and his sons, who were engaged in the job, by no means to attempt to burn it off till he returned, as he wished to be upon the premises himself in case of any danger. He had previously burnt all the heaps immediately about the doors. While he was absent, old Thomas and his second son fell sick with the ague, and went home to their own township, leaving John, a surly, obstinate young man, in charge of the shanty, where they slept, and kept their tools and provisions.

The day was sultry, and towards noon a strong wind sprang up that roared in the pine tops like the dashing of distant billows, but without in the least degree abating the heat. The children were lying listlessly on the floor for coolness, and the girl and I were finishing sun-bonnets, when Mary suddenly exclaimed, “Bless us, mistress, what a smoke!” I ran immediately to the door, but was not able to distinguish ten yards before me. The swamp immediately below us was on fire, and the heavy wind was driving a dense black cloud of smoke directly towards us.

“What can this mean?” I cried. “Who can have set fire to the fallow?”

John Thomas stood pale and trembling before me. “John, what is the meaning of this fire?”

“Oh, ma’am, I hope you will forgive me; it was I set fire to it, and I would give all I have in the world if I had not done it.”

“What is the danger?”

“Oh, I’m terribly feared that we shall all be burnt up,” said the fellow, beginning to whimper.

“We must get out of it as fast as we can, and leave the house to its fate.”

“We can’t get out,” said the man, in a low, hollow tone, which seemed the concentration of fear; “I would have got out if I could; but just step to the back door, ma’am, and see.”

I had not felt the least alarm up to this minute. Judge then my horror, when, on going to the back door, I saw that the fellow, to make sure of his work, had fired the field in fifty different places. Behind, before, on every side, we were surrounded by a wall of fire, burning ferociously within a hundred yards of us, and cutting off all possibility of retreat.

I closed the door and went back to the parlour. Fear was knocking loudly at my heart – I felt stupefied. The girl sat upon the floor by the children, who had both fallen asleep. She was silently weeping; while the fool who had caused the mischief was crying aloud.

A strange calm succeeded my first alarm; tears and lamentations were useless; a horrible death was impending over us, and yet I could not believe that we were to die.

My eye fell upon the sleeping angels, locked peacefully in each other’s arms, and my tears flowed for the first time. Mary, the servant-girl, looked piteously up in my face. The good, faithful creature had not uttered one word of complaint, but now she faltered forth, “The dear precious lambs! Oh such a death!”

I threw myself down upon the floor beside them, and pressed them alternately to my heart, while inwardly I thanked God that they were asleep, unconscious of danger.

The heat soon became suffocating. We were parched with thirst, and there was not a drop of water in the house. I turned once more to the door, hoping that a passage might have been burnt through to the water. I saw nothing but a dense cloud of fire and smoke – could hear nothing but the crackling and roaring of the flames, which were gaining so fast on us that I felt their scorching breath in my face.

“Ah,” thought I – and it was a most bitter thought – “what will my beloved husband say when he returns and finds that poor Susy and his dear girls have perished in this miserable manner? But God can save us yet.”

The thought had scarcely found a voice in my heart before the wind rose to a hurricane, scattering the flames on all sides into a tempest of burning billows. I buried my head in my apron, for I thought that our time was come, and that all was lost, when a most terrific crash of thunder burst over our heads, and, like the breaking of a water-spout, down came the rushing torrent of rain which had been pent up for so many weeks. In a few minutes the chip-yard was all afloat, and the fire effectually checked. The storm which, unnoticed by us, had been gathering all day, and which was the only one of any note we had that summer, continued to rage all night, and before morning had quite subdued the cruel enemy whose approach we had viewed with such dread.

The imminent danger in which we had been placed struck me more forcibly after it was past than at the time, and both the girl and myself sank to our knees and offered up our hearts in humble thanksgiving to that God who had saved us by an act of His Providence from an awful and sudden death. When all hope from human assistance was lost, His hand was mercifully stretched forth, making His strength more perfectly manifested in our weakness.

“He is their stay when earthly hope is lost,
The light and anchor of the tempest-toss’d.”

Ben Wicks and British History

The Ragtag Daily Prompt this morning is ENGLISH

England.David Rock DesignAn ocean of ink wouldn’t cover this topic, but I’m going to tell you about several books I’ve enjoyed. When I was a teen Ben Wicks was a popular cartoon artist, drawing the life of the indolent Andy Capp and his long-suffering wife, Florrie. After he’d immigrated to Canada, Mr Wicks wrote or compiled a number of books centering around World War 2. Great for readers who are interested in British history through the eyes of those who lived it.

Wicks was a boy in London when World War II was declared and one of the evacuees, but made his way back home in time to watch the dogfights in the London skies during the Battle of Britain. He writes about his own experiences during those years, plus he has contacted and interviewed hundreds of other evacuees and shares their stories in his books, No Time to Wave Goodbye and The Day They Took the Children.

The English government feared—and rightly so—that major cities like London would be targeted for heavy bombing. If schools would be hit thousands of children’s lives could be lost. So the plan was hatched: as soon as war was declared all school age children, a number of teachers, also a number of young moms with preschoolers, would be evacuated from London and other southern cities.

It was fruit-basket upset. The children and their teachers marched to the stations one morning, given gas masks, loaded onto trains and shipped into the country. Many inner city children had never seen it before. Small town and country folks with a spare room or two had been ordered to take them in; at the train station it was “come and take your pick” from the weary, frightened lot that arrived. Cute little girls and big boys who could work were picked first. Siblings who clung to each other, refusing to be parted, and children with disabilities had to wait and wait, wondering if anyone would take them in.

I’ve read No Time to Wave Goodbye* and it’s a fascinating collection. The book is written in a positive note, but the stories are frank. Some children made friends for life, while others were starved, neglected, even abused. Some homes found themselves with slum children who’d never learned manners or personal hygiene; some children came from well-to-do homes and found themselves boarded with rustic families in cramped quarters. Many were evacuated to areas where they couldn’t understand the local dialect at all.
*© 1989 by Ben Wicks. My copy published by General Paperbacks, Toronto, ON

Promise Me You’ll Take Care of My Daughter* is another interesting book of experiences, this time those of War Brides who married Canadian soldiers. There were 48,000 women who came to Canada after World War II as wives of Canadian soldiers. Ben Wicks has managed to contact a good sampling of them and has sections of the different aspects of their experiences: meeting their soldier; the wedding day; the good-byes for home and family; coming across; the new home; meeting the in-laws.
*©1992 by Ben Wicks. Stoddart Publishing Co, Ltd., Toronto, ON

He also wrote Nell’s War and When the Boys Came Marching Home, the latter a book about the joy and turmoil returning soldiers experienced after the war was over.

Whatnot Wednesday

Fellow blogger Biff has done another Whatnot Wednesday and invites other bloggers to respond by likewise posting a bit of misc trivia. Here’s my contribution. (To further reinforce my caution in this morning’s post about name-calling.)

A Belisha beacon, consists of a lamp with an amber globe sitting atop a tall black and white pole, marked pedestrian crossings in the United Kingdom and other countries historically influenced by Britain. The flashing light warns motorists to watch for pedestrians crossing.

It was named after Leslie Hore-Belisha, the Minister of Transport who in 1934 added beacons to pedestrian crossings. The first one became operational on July 4, 1935. These crossings were later painted in black and white stripes, and have become known as “zebra crossings.” Since then, Belisha beacons have been replaced by WALK signals for pedestrians.

Not long after Belisha beacons were set up in London the King and his Queen were enjoying a pleasant drive through the city in the royal limousine. They passed an intersection where one of these lights had been installed.

“Pull over,” King Edward instructed their chauffeur. “I want to test one of these crossings and see how well they actually work,” he told the Queen.

The chauffeur parked the car a short way down the street and the King got out. He walked back up the street to the crossing and about five minutes later he returned. As he climbed back into the car he was chuckling.

The Queen looked at him curiously and asked, “What’s so amusing?”

He grinned at her. “One of my loyal subjects just called me a doddering old fool.”

OFF WITH HIS HEAD!
the red queen

flexes her guillotine
toady or kneel

Brunch for Mother

The Haiku Foundation Poet’s Dialogue is doing a series on Food and the Senses. I’ve been inspired with that idea, but tend to miss the submission deadlines, so here’s the family brunch I’ve put together.

cutlery clatter
Matthew sets the table
wanted to crack the eggs

thunk thunk the wooden spoon
Jenna stirs the grape juice
pop goes the toaster

Brittany sneezes
Father performs the frying
sprinkling more pepper

Cole opens windows
tries to hush the smoke alarm
mother’s to be surprised

brunch is ready
Mother expresses delight
smoke alarm hiccups

Book: Love of Finished Years

When I read a good book, I like to tell people about it. This story reminds me of something British writer D E Stevenson, another excellent author, would write.

Love of Finished Years
by Gregory Erich Phillips

This moving debut novel by Gregory Erich Phillips won the Grand Prize for best book of the year in the Chanticleer Reviews International writing Competition.

From the first paragraph to the last, this compelling story illustrates the desperate poverty of one immigrant family from Germany who landed at Ellis Island in 1905. After struggling to earn a living for several years, their dejected father abandons the family, so the mother and two daughters work in sweatshops, determined to survive.

The heroine of our story, Elsa, finds a friend at work who teaches her English. Later she manages to find work as a secretary, ostensibly a German-English translator for an American businessman, but Esla basically becomes the companion of his daughter Dafne and is introduced to the world of the privileged.

This story is so realistic it could have been a biography. I felt along with Elsa and her family as they faced a new life in an alien world. I believe this reflects the lot of many immigrants. Slowly the three immigrant women manage to pull their way out of desperate poverty, maintaining close ties. Then comes World War I and they must cope with anti-German hostilities and the tragedy that results.

While she is companion to Dafne, the debutante is engaged to Glenn and when war comes he’s eager to go and serve his country, do his part to deliver the world from the evil aggressor. Glenn’s war experience and his enlightenment was very realistic. I have to agree with the writer’s take on the idea of a “just” war: all the “save the world” idealism is a thin veneer covering various hidden agenda.

I thought the writer portrayed Dafne with fairness, too. An immature, spoiled debutante carried away by adult dreams too big for her to really comprehend, she really needed more parental guidance than she got. Thankfully, through their years together Elsa filled the place of a big sister and guided her in many ways.

It really is an engaging, well written tale.

All My Kin

Today’s Word of the Day prompt is the word KINDRED. Something everyone has, whether they know it or not.

I’ve written before about my adventures on Ancestry.com — and now I’ve built another family tree on MyHeritage.com, so I’ve got lots of information coming at me in regards to my forebears. Basically my Vance great-great-great-grandfather David had his origins in Gallowayshire, Scotland, and moved to Wigtownshire, married thirteen-year-old Agnes Jones and had a large family, mostly boys. He was killed at age 34 in a storm, after which several of his sons left that area hoping for a better life in Canada. They emigrated circa 1835.

David’s son, my great-great gr. Joseph, married Sarah Shannon and had one son, then she passed away. He brought his son John along when he came to Canada. En route to Oxford County he met another Sarah, the daughter of Samuel Russell and Sarah Jane (nee Powers) Allen of upstate New York. Joseph and Sarah were married and their first son — and possibly their daughter as well — appear to have been born in Quebec. The two offspring, true to form, were named Joseph and Sarah Jane.

This tendency to name the oldest children after their parents sometimes helps matters and sometimes confuses the issue. My great-great grandparents named their children after all of Joseph’s brothers, plus Samuel after Samuel Allen, I’m supposing, and the youngest one was William, some other kinsman’s name.

Joseph’s oldest son Joseph name his two oldest children Joseph and Sarah Jane; so did Great-uncle George and James, if I have it right. To add to the confusion of all the same-name cousins, I also discovered that three of my great-grandfather’s brothers married Margarets. Wouldn’t that have given some interesting family gatherings?

Samuel, my great grandfather, was the second youngest of Joseph and Sarah’s six sons, born after they were settled and farming in Oxford County, Ontario. Most of the kindred settled in the Tavistock area and from there have spread out in every direction. Great-grandpa Sam and his brother James came west; at least two of his brothers went to Michigan when land was opening up there; some moved farther north in Ontario, to Huron and Lambton Counties.

Great-grandfather never had a girl to name after his mother, but he named his oldest son Allen, so that family was represented. Maybe he figured there were already enough Josephs in the clan, as his second son was William James after his two brothers.

Grandfather Allen Vance kept up the tradition: his older sons were Samuel Charles, William Steven, and Joseph Daniel. My father, the youngest, was Wilfred Allen, but his dad died when he was a boy and he started calling himself Allen Wilfred. My brother is James Allen. Looks like that’s where the tradition will end.

And that’s enough — probably a lot more than you wanted to know — about my kindred.