Smoother Spelling

Good morning everyone,

Today’s Ragtag Daily Prompt word is SMOOTH — an excellent, versatile word.

My dictionary claims this comes from the Old English smōth. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems English is the only language with a unique TH sound. And yet more, we’re blessed with two. Consider the SMOOTH TOOTH, for example. Do you have ny idea how much anguish these two sounds give ESL students?

It may have been much handier for learners — and certainly for spellers — had the ancients decided on separate spellings. FTH or THF for the one blown out and TH for the other — as in “this, that and the other” — which would make ‘tooth’ spelled toofth. Youngsters and people with missing teeth are apt to say “toof” anyway, and “fink” instead of think.

Back to things that are SMOOTH:
Once upon a time I took up the hobby of painting on rocks. Just bugs and such, as I don’t have access to the huge, smooth stones such as people by the ocean can find. With less than perfect stones you can use putty to fill in the dips and bumps, but rocks need to be tumbled in water for years, maybe even centuries, to polish them to a smooth roundness.

Beech & stone.Wokandapix
Art by Wokandapix  —  Pixabay

Along the Saskatchewan River, not so very far from us, there are rocks embedded in the soil on the hillsides, but the ones I see are chunky. Right here where we live the soil is classed as dune sand, a once-upon-a-time flood plain. You can dig down ten meters and rarely find a stone of any size. All this sand is great for purifying the rain-water that soaks in.

The water table is high, only about two metres down; the original settlers in this area dug their wells with a shovel. Now one enterprising young man has a high pressure water “drill” and drills holes for posts by washing out the sand and dirt mix. Talk about a smooth operation.

Baby Bird Shuffle

One Boy’s Efforts to Correct Nature’s Shortcomings

Finding herself an impoverished widow at the beginning of the Great Depression, Maida (Parlow) Knowles moved back to the old homestead her grandparents had established on the banks of the St Lawrence River. This abandoned farm had a large apple orchard, but the trees had been neglected for years. Rather than living in a seedy, cockroach-infested apartment and leaving her three young sons to roam the streets of Toronto while she tried to hold down a job, she wanted to bring the orchard back into production and earn a living for herself and her boys.

Having lived all their lives in the city, however, she and her three sons were having quite the learning experience getting their run-down farmhouse fixed up, and the apple orchard ready. When they arrived at the farm, she was appalled to see the house’s back porch and its roof lying on the ground. She was also dismayed, those first few nights, to lie in bed and see the stars through the holes in her roof.

One day during that first summer, she was outside picking up some of the porch roof shingles that were scattered. They made great kindling for the old wood stove, on which she was learning to cook their food. Suddenly she heard loud, angry voices and her three sons came along, the oldest two dragging five-year-old Alan by the arms.

“You’ll never guess what he did now, Mom!” The older boys glared in righteous indignation at the tearful transgressor. “He got into the birds’ nests in the apple trees and moved all the eggs and the baby birds around. They’re so mixed up now their poor mothers will never find them!”

“Yeah. Whatever is God thinking about the awful thing you did, Alan Knowles?”

She felt an urge to laugh at the very idea, but stifled it. This was, after all, a major crime to the two oldest boys. The accused hung his head and made no defence. (He told his mother later that he hadn’t dared to explain with his two big brothers screeching and glaring at him so furiously. They weren’t going to listen to a word he said, anyway.)

To defuse the issue a bit she told him he’d best go and tend to the cats so they wouldn’t find out about the confusion in the orchard before the baby birds learned to fly. Happy with his light sentence, he dried his tears and hurried off to the shed where their new cat family lived.

Looking back some years later, he explained to his mother the reason for his actions that day. “I’d been watching the birds coming and going to their nests and I noticed that some mother birds didn’t leave their nests for long; they seemed to grab some food and come back quickly. Others stayed away a lot longer. I was afraid the eggs and babies would get cold when their mothers were gone so long, so I just moved the eggs and baby birds to the nests where the mothers came back sooner, because I thought they’d be better looked after.”

It made perfect sense to him at the time. ☺

This was one of the accounts Maida recorded in the diary she kept during those first years and later published as her memoir: Apples Don’t Just Grow by Maida Parlow (Knowles) French
© 1954 by McClelland & Stewart Ltd

More Branches on the Family Tree

Our daughter and son-in-law have gotten interested in Ancestry.com, which revives my interest in my family. I googled my Mom’s grandfather, Leith Lyall Falconer and happened to find a record of his marriage. then my daughter did a census search and came up with more information.

So if there are any other Falconer or Harmon descendants out there doing research on this family, I’ll post this bit of information I’ve discovered:

Minnesota Census, May 1875, shows the family of John Falconer and his wife Jemimah, both born in Scotland:

John………………age 47
Jemimah…………age 45
Children:
Mary………………..16
Alexander…………..14
Catherine……………12
John B………………10
W.W. ……………….. 6
Leith Lyall………….. 2

Leith Lyall married Rebecca Working in 1893
Children:
Agnes Pearl………. Mar 12, 1897
Thelma Lenora…..   ? , 1899

Harmon connection:

James Welcome Harmon was born in Elk River, Minnesota, married Mary Wilson, and homesteaded at St Brieux, Saskatchewan.

Agnes married Jesse Lyn Harmon, son James W Harmon
Children: Glen, Aleitha, Olive, Jesse Jr.

Agnes died in 1950

Thelma married his brother Floyd on Oct 18, 1918
Children:
Rebecca, Louise Agnes, James, Ruby, Leith

Thelma died of cancer in 1937

Louise Agnes was my mother; she married Allen Vance in June 1951

Climate 1935-Style

Now that we’ve reached the end of January and are looking forward to warmer days ahead,  I thought this might be a great time to pause and look back at some of the weather our grandparents endured. This account reblogged from August 2012:

Worst of the Worst, Weather-Wise

Never before had western Canadians seen a year like 1935.  The first week in January temperatures fell to between -35̊ and -40̊ F (-37.5 to -40̊ C) all across the prairies and for two months winter held the prairie provinces in a frozen vice, lightened only by the occasional blizzard –some lasting for days– that would bring temperatures up a few degrees.

For the first two weeks in February temps rarely went above -30̊, a lot of days saw -40̊ or colder.  Winnipeg residents saw the line in their home thermometers sitting at -52̊ (-47̊ C) on the morning of Feb 6th.  Alas, the official Winnipeg thermometer had malfunctioned overnight, so the record was never officially recorded.

On February 16th saw -36̊ in Calgary, -51̊ in Edmonton, -43̊ at Saskatoon, -54̊ at Regina; other spots recorded -40̊.  City schools continued to open their doors, but streets were pretty much deserted; rural schools were closed and folks who didn’t have to leave home stayed put.  A lot of families huddled near the heater or wood stove, wrapped in all their blankets and tried to stay upbeat.  Spring was bound to come sooner or later.

Farmers put off going for fuel as long as they could.  They needed a team of horses and the air tires of a “Bennet buggy” to get anywhere, since blizzards had filled the roads with snowdrifts.  Otherwise it was impossible to go anywhere, even if a fellow could start his frozen engine.  (This was back in the days when vehicles had cranks as starters and all-season motor oil was unheard of.)  Every side road between Winnipeg and Calgary was blocked.

A thaw at the end of February brought an end to the severe cold; in April spring finally arrived.  Some folks who were hoping for some respite from the drought that had wiped out most of the 1934 crop saw a bit of light at the end of the tunnel: outside the Palliser Triangle* spring rains watered the parched earth.  Inside the Palliser Triangle: nada.

Hopes were soon dashed, though, as a giant heat wave built up on the US plains and sent high temps and dust-bearing winds rolling over the prairies.  The dry heat sucked up what soil moisture there was; crops turned pale, then brown.  By July 1st 90̊ and over temps were the rule, continuing across southern Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta for the next six weeks straight.

Streams and rivers ran dry; wildlife disappeared.  Heat-weary city folks tried to sleep in parks or on balconies to find some night time relief but had to contend with hoppers and crickets – and in places where there actually were bodies of water, mosquitoes.  Farmers often had to haul water many miles for their families and what livestock they had left.

During this time Ontario was hit by a ten-day heat wave as well and residents there began to appreciate what the West was going through.  For one solid week in July, from Windsor to Belleville, the thermometer registered 100̊ F or over every day.  Toronto recorded 105̊ on three successive days.  Surrounded by the Great Lakes as they are, the humidity would have been unbearable; 5000 succumbed to heat prostration during those ten days.

From Calgary to Winnipeg nothing grew but dust clouds and grasshoppers.  The blowing hot air was stifling, the grit inescapable.  One southern town saw temperatures fall below 90̊ on only three days during those six weeks!  Willow Creek, in SW Sask, recorded temperatures above 100̊ on thirteen July days.  People died every day.  In the West no one bothered to compile statistics; folks were in survival mode only.

In Manitoba the heat wave peaked on July 11th with temps of 108̊ in Winnipeg, 110̊ in Brandon & Morden, then hung at over 100̊ all through the third week of July.  A dozen people died daily, plus many of their pets.  Finally the heat spell ended in a destructive electrical storm that stretched from Winnipeg through the eastern part of the province.  But Sask and southern Alberta was shown no mercy from the blast furnace until the latter part of August.

Winter came early with brief but chilly waves throughout the fall.  In October the temperature dropped to -8̊F (just under 22̊ C) at times, to -20̊ in November and -40̊ in December.

During those years folks survived on hope.  If they’d been informed at Christmas of the upcoming winter being another severe one, or that the drought would last another two years, how many of them would have simply given up the ghost?

——————————————————————————————————————————
*Palliser Triangle: In 1857 the British government sent an expedition led by Captain John Palliser to assess the agricultural potential of the Northwest Territories .  When he was gave his report to his superiors, he drew a triangle on his map and said the land inside this triangle was unsuitable for farming. Severe winters, undependable rainfall, large tracts of sand that would blow or clay that would bake hard by early summer.  They’d had a hard enough time to cross it, never mind trying to farm it.  This triangle covered a lot of southern Alberta, all of southern Sask, and southwestern Manitoba, The base ran along the US border and the point was near Saskatoon.

Nonsense, the government replied, and sold it for farmland.  They put out promotional material awash with illustrations of lush wheat fields, information carefully vetted of any hints about severe cold or drought.  To make matters worse, government agricultural dept advised the inexperienced homesteaders to plow deep in the fall — a practice that brought on the disastrous “Dirty Thirties”.

My sources of information:
Winnipeg writer James H. Gray lived through the years of the Great Depression.  In his book, The Winter Years, he shares his own personal experience of being “on Relief” in Winnipeg as well as giving a political and economic overview of the era.
© 1966 by James H. Gray  Published by The Macmillan Company of Canada

Pierre Berton’s book, The GREAT DEPRESSION, 1929-1939
© 1990 by Pierre Berton Enterprises Ltd.  Published by Anchor Canada

Breaking the Land

It’s time for another Friday Fictioneers post and today’s prompt inspired me with a poem of sorts. Many thanks to our patient and inspiring host, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields, for shepherding our FF group through green pastures teeming with tales, and to Danny Bowman for the challenging prompt. I see the various muses have been productive even given this barren landscape to write about.

Speaking of productive, I’m delighted to tell you all that my book is published and now live on Amazon! (Fireworks and cartwheels 🙂 )  Silver Morning Song is a collection of poems, short stories and fables. I plan to publish it on Kobo as well; I’ll likely spend today doing that, plus setting up an Author Account on Amazon and generally telling the world. And as all authors will say, I’d really appreciate reviews. 🙂

On to today’s prompt:

Right now we seem to be in a world of unprecedented water and storms; eighty years ago it was unprecedented drought. I’ll dedicate this verse to all the poor inexperienced homesteaders who came to these Great Plains and were advised to deep-plough their fields every fall. Took the ‘Dirty Thirties’ to prove agricultural advisers of the day so wrong. Farmers today practice “no till” farming.

PHOTO © Danny Bowman

BREAKING THE LAND

We said we’d break this land
with hope and bare essentials.
Our ploughs cut deep
furrows across its face —
then we couldn’t catch it.

The wind owns this land,
had we only known!
Tore the dirt from our fields,
dumped it five miles east,
then threw it back at us
in the next west wind.
Our seed grain went with it;
clear to oblivion.

The land froze us in winter,
baked us in summer,
dried us like tumbleweeds in fall
and the wind blew us away.
Through long ragged years
tried to break this land,
‘til the land broke us.