Memorial Day–Memories


While I was growing up, my mom grew peonies by the side of the vegetable garden.  Red, pink, white, huge spectacular blooms that always arrived around this time of year just in time for Memorial Day.  We would pick many, put them in mason jars and take them to my father’s and her family’s cemetery plots.  She has created a metal apparatus to hold them so the wind would not blow them over.  We took water to fill the jars.  We did this every Memorial Day always.

No one lives close any more.  There is no one left to take flowers there.

My mother’s family members are buried in the Mound City, Missouri Cemetery.

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My mother’s parents’ gravestone.  She was Nellie Narcissus Kaiser before she married rather late for back then–in her late twenties.  I never knew my grandfather.  He was so much older than she that even though he lived to be 80, he died long before I was born. My great-grandfather Kaiser was born in Switzerland and brought here as a child.

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The gravestone of my mother’s grandmother.  I know she lived with my grandmother and grandfather a lot of the time from family photos, but I also know that she died in San Diego.  No one ever told me how she got there or why.

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The gravestone of Aunt Julia, Mother’s sister.  She never married, loved fancy antiques and china.  I frequently use some of what she left me.  She came to see me rather often and we visited antique stores when she visited.  To say she was an independent woman is an understatement.

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My parents’ gravestone is on the right and Dad’s parents’ on the left–in the cemetery in Fillmore, Missouri.  My grandfather, Pleasant Lightle, had walked from Illinois to Missouri as a child according to family stories.  My parents met dancing. I always smile when I see the peonies planted at their graves.

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This is the gravestone of my great-grandfather, Dad’s mother’s father, who came to the US from Switzerland when he was 18.  According to my dad, he did not want to be conscripted into the Swiss army because at that time Swiss soldiers were being hired out as mercenaries.  His mother stood on the roof of their house waving until she could see him no longer.  They never saw each other again.  I grew up on the land he homesteaded in Andrew County, Missouri.  Andrew County is filled with descendants of immigrants who came from Switzerland.

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The old carriage house near the house where Dad spent the first ten years or so of his 90 years.  It is all that is left standing.

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The house where Dad lived the last 80 years of his life and where I grew up.

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When I was a child, the building in the foreground was used at various times as a farrowing house, once for Rhode Island Red chickens, and to store various farm supplies.  When I went to visit Dad after Mom died and we were at the cemetery on Memorial Day, a man came up to Dad and asked if he was Doyle Lightle.  They started chatting and I learned that when Dad first built it during Prohibition times, he held dances there.  The sheriff would send deputies to watch and make sure no one was drinking.  I had lived there and visited there for decades and had never heard this story.

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I took this photo standing on the levee next to the Missouri River looking toward the Rulo, Nebraska bridge.  This is the land my mother’s family owned.  On some Sundays as a treat, we would cross the bridge to a restaurant on the Nebraska side.  It was famous for its fried catfish and carp.

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This is country with lots of water and trees.  This picture was taken near Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge.  Several times in my life, I have seen flooding from the bluffs on the Missouri side all the way to the bluffs on the Kansas and Nebraska side of the river.  When I was a child, my uncle and aunt lived on the river farm until a flood reached half way up the second story of their house.  They gave up and moved to town.

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When I was a child, there were trees like this in lots of places on Mom’s family’s farm.  About this time of year we would hunt for morels and often pick a bushel basket full.  Mom dipped them in egg and cornmeal, then fried them.  We practically lived on them for week or two.  I was shocked as an adult to go into a fancy market and discover that dried morels were 95 dollars a pound.

 

 

 

 

Argentinian Adventure–La Finca


After sitting in the airport in Iguazu for four hours because the plane was delayed over and over, we finally arrived in Cordoba around midnight and rushed to La Finca, the family place out in the country, for dinner.  Yes, dinner.  Gaston’s family, including his 92 year old grandfather, uncles, cousins, aunts, everyone had actually stayed up and waited to meet us.  I could hardly believe it.

I know Argentinians are the biggest consumers of beef in the world.  We did not have beef; we had leg of lamb grilled over the special grill his father and uncles had built–a separate house just for grilling and eating.  It was a warm night and we ate outside. It is a family ritual for everyone to congregate on weekends, but especially Sunday afternoons at La Finca to eat and socialize.  Gaston and I went there both Saturday and Sunday.

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It was the end of summer (Southern Hemisphere in March).  The crop in the distance beyond the trees is potatoes.  Gaston’s grandfather, who is 92 now,  bought this land, planted the trees, created this peaceful get away in the country.  Gaston’s uncle and aunt now live there with their college age children.

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The building in the background houses the grill–chimney on the left–and the dining area I mentioned earlier.  We ate inside once around the table that must sit at least twenty.  The rest of the time they hauled the tables outside and we ate under the trees.

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Gaston’s grandfather and I standing before the trees he planted decades ago.

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The same trees upclose.  Yes, those are very sharp protuberances sticking out all over the tree.  You see these trees in cities too, but there they have cut off all the sharp pieces so people cannot get hurt on them.  I could just imagine what would happen if a person pushed another person against one of these.

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The drive from the main road to La Finca.  Sunday afternoon Gaston’s mom and I strolled up and down this drive while Gaston with his dad and uncle and a cousin installed a drip line to water the bushes on each side.  Like here, they are suffering a drought.  They did not want years of work to die.

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The original house where Gaston’s uncle and his family live is on the left.  I loved it here and felt very privileged to spend a weekend with the family doing whatever they do on weekends.  On Saturday, the men all went to help someone move while I sat with Gaston’s aunt, her friend, some cousins.  We chit chatted, drank mate, took naps, ate pear tart and other desserts, and whiled away an afternoon.

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Occasionally the peace was disturbed by the raucous chatter of parakeets.  The huge nest in this tree is shared by many parakeets.  They do not build individual nests.  When they get going, they are really loud.

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Just as in New Mexico in the US, water comes through acequias.  The drive goes over this little bridge in the foreground.

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Near this acequia the family grows lemon trees, vegetables, flowers, and other delectables for family use.

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It was so lovely and peaceful here, I did not want to leave.

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Gaston’s aunt and mother love succulents and flowers.  This is only a tiny portion of the plant collection growing everywhere around Gaston’s aunt and uncle’s house. His aunt is very proud of her plant collection. Many of her plants were familiar.  Some even have the same names in English and Spanish probably due to their Latin origins.

 

 

Like Tequila, Love Bats


Tequila is made from a specific species of agave plants that grow in certain areas of Mexico and Southwestern United States.  Did you know:  no bats, no tequila?

The Mexican long-nosed bat (Leptonycteris nivalis) remains crucial for tequila production because they pollinate tall, column-like cactuses and the blue agave from which tequila is made.  No bats, no agave, no tequila.

Every year these bats migrate from Central and Northern Mexico into the southern areas of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico and they are endangered.  These bats have been listed as an endangered species since 1988 in the US and since 1991 in Mexico.  Researchers at New Mexico State in Las Cruces are part of a conservation network working with Mexican counterparts to save these bats.  And tequila.

 

Whitney Plantation Visit


Whitney Plantation resides on the River Road about one hours drive from New Orleans.  A recent visit there provided much enlightening information about the slave trade, crops grown near New Orleans, and the history of this area. Tours can be scheduled all days of the week except Tuesday.  It is unique in that many different types of plantation buildings still exist there, including old slave cabins, a foundry,  and the outside kitchen.

A German immigrant started the plantation in the late 1700s.  At Habitation Haydel, its original name, he grew indigo.  After his death, his youngest son converted the main crop grown to sugar cane, which is still grown there today.  Both indigo and sugar cane required intensive labor for profitability.

Although, according to population data, only ten blacks lived in Louisiana in 1712, by the end of the century slavery was the main source of labor.  In 1795, there were 19,926 slaves in Louisiana.  Under Spanish rule the slave population steadily increased.  Although many were imported from Haiti, those from Africa came from what are now the countries of Senegal, Bissau, and Guinea.  After the initial importation of slaves, the United States imported few compared to islands in the West Indies and Latin America, e.g. Brazil.  The preferred method in the United States to obtain slaves was breeding.  Women and men were forced to breed.  Their owners specifically chose certain people to produce certain types of progeny just like in breeding livestock.  One woman complained of having 16 children by 16 different men.

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After leaving the visitor center, the first building on the tour is the church.  Inside the church are statues of various children who were the products of the breeding program at the plantation.

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The artist created these statues from specific information about the children.  The plantation owners maintained detailed inventories of all slaves and their value.  This particular plantation often owned as many as 100 slaves.

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From this inventory a memorial has been created with the names of the slaves.  Included are various statements made by the slaves themselves as recorded in slave narratives.

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The above tells the story of a child fathered by his owner and one of the slave women and how his father treated him.

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Even pregnant women could not escape beatings.

IMG_2735Because the area around New Orleans receives 60 inches of rain a year, the landscape everywhere is lush.  This is one of several pools at the plantation.

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These containers cooked the sugar cane.  Starting with the largest, the cane was boiled repeatedly until it cooked down and poured into increasingly smaller containers.  This was especially dangerous work due to the fires, the heat, and the boiling sugar cane. Sugar cane production was much more dangerous than cotton which was grown farther north in Louisiana.  The cane itself was cut with large machetes and the edges of the cane are also sharp.  Many people were severely injured.  The life expectancy of a sugar cane slave who worked in the fields or cooking the cane was approximately ten years from the time he or she went to work, often as young as ten. Although field slaves had a much harder life in terms of labor, they had less exposure to their owners and their families and therefore, in some ways, more freedom to talk and interact. House slaves were constantly watched and the women especially subject to sexual abuse.

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Slave cabins like this one contained four rooms.  Like the main plantation house, most buildings were built off the ground.  No levees existed then and the largest plantations were often built within sight of the Mississippi River and thus prone to flooding.

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This building housed the foundry.  Skilled slaves, like blacksmiths, were very valuable and received better treatment, e.g. enough food.  When the movie, “Django Unchained” was filmed, part of the movie was filmed here because the adjoining plantation did not have a blacksmith shop.  The branding portion was filmed at Whitney Plantation.

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The walkway, looking from the front of the main plantation house, is lined with giant oak trees.  Before the levees were built, the Mississippi River could be seen from the house.

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Originally, there was no first floor due to the flooding.  Later, after it will built and used for dining, an office, and a living area, whenever the floods came, the slaves were required to carry everything to the second floor until the water subsided. Then they would clean the first floor of mud and debris and return the furniture there.  Whitney Plantation possesses some unique characteristics, e.g. finely painted European style ceilings.

Cooking was not done inside the main house at any of the plantations due to the heat and fire danger. The cook, another skilled and valuable slave, was required to know how to cook various popular cuisines typical of the area, e.g. creole, European–French, Spanish.

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The various ferns and mosses growing from the limb of this large oak trees demonstrates the lushness and humidity typical of this area and why it is still used for sugar cane production.

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A short distance down the road is Evergreen Plantation where the main portion of “Django Unchained” was filmed.  It, too, still produces sugar cane and a family lives here.  Tours are available as well.

 

 

 

 

Rita Blanca National Grassland


Today, three of us drove up into the northwest corner of the Panhandle of Texas to visit this national grassland which adjoins the Kiowa National Grassland in New Mexico.  The two grasslands together equal more than 200,000 acres.  Originally, created after the Dust Bowl in an attempt by the government to mediate the destruction caused by the giant Dust Bowl storms, the grasslands are now managed by the US Forest Service.  The US acquired much of the land when its owners gave up and left the land owing money to banks.  As a consequence these national grasslands are interspersed with privately owned grassland.  Ranchers, some of whom refer to themselves as grass farmers, can lease this land and graze it along with their adjoining property.  Moderately grazed land often supports a more diverse wildlife and plant population than overgrazed or ungrazed land.

To reach the Rita Blanca we drove past Dalhart, Texas, and turned on a Farm to Market road which led to an area with camping and picnic tables plus restrooms.  Campers and picnickers must bring their own water.  The only trees are those deliberately planted in days long past.  We saw or heard many birds there, including orioles.  Below is the entrance to the Thompson Grove camping and picnic area.

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After a comprehensive briefing from the park ranger, a wildlife biologist, and a range specialist, we took a hike across the grassland.

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While this may look like a boring green sea to some, upon close inspection, this land teams with many species of grasses and flowers.  Flowers I saw today include Fineleaf Woolly-White, which is not white but bright yellow, Prairie Zinnia, Broomweed, Sundrops, Engelmann Daisy, Mexican Hat, Winecup, Tansey Aster, all of which I have at my own place an hour and 1/2 away.  However, I saw two flowers I have never seen before, White Pricklepoppy and a native Morning Glory which has huge hot pink flowers. While the Pricklepoppy has spectacular, large white flowers with gold centers, the plant looks like a very prickly grayish thistle.

Although I knew some of the species of grasses there, I could not identify the others.  However, the park ranger knew them all.  I might remember some with the help of a book.  Many I have around my land but still cannot identify all of them.  I do know blue grama, side oats grama, buffalo grass, and a few others.

Many grassland and wildlife research projects done there produce useful information.  One current project deals with seismic activity.

If you are driving cross country anywhere near Dalhart, Texas, or Clayton, New Mexico, take a short break and head to these grasslands.

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You, yes, you can make a difference


Many tell me or believe that one person, him or herself, cannot do much to change the world, to make a difference.  This short movie tells about a man in northeastern India who transformed a wasteland into a forest by planting one tree at a time over many years.  Now elephants, deer, and even tigers live there.  Take a look for yourself.  Look for the youtube video called “Forest Man”.  The web address is :

It won awards at several different film festivals including Cannes.

 

 

 

Top predators like wolves, bears, lions and tigers have declined dramatically around the world over the past century


Some parts of Eastern Europe have worked at figuring out how to balance saving predators and protecting farmers and herders. Spain has programs to reimburse herders.

Wolves of Douglas County WI Films

Conservationists widen toolkit for predator management

Source:Berkeley News
By Brett Israel, 12/13/16

Top predators like wolves, bears, lions and tigers have declined dramatically around the world over the past century. One major driver of these declines is retaliatory killing by people following predator attacks on domestic livestock. This lethal approach to predator management is increasingly controversial not only because of ethical concerns, but also the role predators can play in healthy ecosystems. A new UC Berkeley study shows that many non-lethal methods of predator control can be highly effective in protecting livestock from predators and in turn, saving predators from people.
A tiger drags a cow at Jennie Miller’s study site in India

The Berkeley study examined 66 published, peer-reviewed research papers that measured how four categories of lethal and non-lethal mitigation techniques — preventive livestock husbandry, predator deterrents, predator removal, and indirect management of land or wild prey…

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Romania bans trophy hunting of brown bears, wolves, lynx and wild cats


Wolf Is My Soul

October 5, 2016  Source

Unexpected move reverses a trend that has seen increasing numbers of large carnivores shot by hunters each year since Romania’s accession to the European Union.

In 2016, the largest hunting quotas yet gave hunters the mandate to shoot 550 bears, 600 wolves and 500 big cats over 12 months. Photograph: Radu Sigheti/Reuters

Romania has banned all trophy hunting of brown bears, wolves, lynx and wild cats in a surprise decision that gives Europe’s largest population of large carnivores a reprieve from its most severe and immediate threat.

The move on Tuesday reverses a trend which has seen the number of large carnivores being shot by hunters grow year on year since Romania’s accession into the European Union in 2007. In 2016, the largest hunting quotas yet gave hunters the mandate to shoot 550 bears, 600 wolves and 500 big cats over 12 months.

Over the…

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Seed Banks–the Genetic Future


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Most of us think minimally about our food, where it comes from, the seed.  With a rapidly growing world population the genetic diversity of the seed from which we grow food becomes increasingly crucial.

The United States contains 20 gene banks:  three in California, one in each of the following states, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Colorado, Hawaii, Texas, Iowa, Arkansas, Illinois, Wisconsin, Georgia, Ohio, New York, Maryland, Florida, and Puerto Rico and Washington D.C.  This system holds about 600,000 varieties.  The seed bank in Ames, Iowa, contains 53,000 genetic lines of maize (corn) and other crop seeds–1400 species.  The Illinois bank grows more than 2000 varieties of seeds per year.

Maintaining genetic integrity can be difficult.  Some crops like corn are particularly difficult because corn easily cross pollinates.  Researchers use these seeds to develop certain types of new varieties, e.g. varieties more resistant to disease, to drought.

Gene banks remain crucial to the future of agriculture and food even with the current controversies over GMO.  Some farmers note that any hybrid whether deliberate or by accident is genetically modified.  These modifications have existed since the beginning of agriculture.

A possibly more dire issue is the lack of wild relatives of key crops.  Global gene banks lack many of these.  The online journal, “Nature Plants” notes 1076 wild relatives of 81 crops were insufficiently safe-guarded.  Up to 300 species could not be located in any gene bank.  The lack of tropical crops in gene banks is particularly worrisome.  This is important for the future of agriculture and the world food supply.  Seed banks create safety nets for the future.

Perhaps the most remote and “safe” bank lies in Norway 800 miles from the North Pole.  The Svalbard Global Seed Vault can store seed for 25 years without power.  This vault stores seeds at -18 C and contains 825,000 crop varieties.

 

Note:  the photo is corn close to the Nile Falls near Bahir Dahr, Ethiopia