Remembering Maud Lovisa Fuhriman

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What would great grandma

think if she could see me

sitting on my throne in

my climate-controlled house–

she who took the kids

out to the “shade” of the haystack

on hot summer afternoons?

 

I imagine her with her hair

pulled back in a tight bun,

sweat dripping down

the neck of her long-sleeved dress.

Mopping her head, she checks the bread

in the oven of the old wood stove.

Then she washes beets from the garden

and peels potatoes for dinner.

Heat and dust and flies are ever-present

on this homestead in the Idaho desert,

where she carries water in a bucket

to her seedling trees and pays her

son a penny for every hundred flies he kills.

 

Could she even imagine

eating fresh grapes and

watermelon and raspberries

grown by other people?

Would she be enthralled or appalled

by a life where you never

have to milk the cow

or churn the butter

or gather the eggs–

where there is no fire to start,

no wood to chop,

no chickens to feed?

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Time Traveler

family in front of car

I am an “emissary from a vanished world,” (1)
a world of photos with scalloped edges,
a realm where my mother wore house dresses
and baked cookies for us when we got off the school bus,
a place of black-and-white television
and neighbors listening in on party lines,
a world where ten year olds could take off on bikes
for whole afternoons of riding around town
or gallop off on ponies for a picnic.

 

It was a time when enemies lived in faraway places,
like Russia and China,
but no one worried about getting shot by other kids at school
or by neighbors at the movie theater.
It was a world of American Bandstand and I Love Lucy,
a world that went crazy for a British boy band, The Beatles.
It was a place of piano lessons and band practice and junior prom,
a world where we could temporarily lose our parents
because there was no cell phone tracking.

 

 

[1] From Sparrow. “The Art of Aging.” The Sun. April 2017.

 

 

Bucket List

bow bridge 

If I could walk upside down on the cobalt blue of the sky,

I would stride past Lincoln and Washington,

past the Revolutionary War and the Pilgrims at Plymouth,

and keep going until I came to Michelangelo painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

and walk right out of his painting into the colorful tumult of the Renaissance.

 

If I could catch the tail of a cloud as it floated by,

I would wrap myself in its periwinkle folds

and emerge on a misty Scottish moor

and walk around for a day and a night

looking for Heathcliff and other tortured souls.

 

My fondest dream, though, would be to ride a wave of migrating birds

and surf my way past contrails and comets,

to wave to the pilot of a 747, and then lean way, way back

and nod off to the calling of geese

and the mournful keen of a bagpipe.

Shopping List for Oregon Trail

Castle Rocks

Ezra Meeker’s 1852 Memorandum of Supplies1

Tiger and Lion

Twist and Dave

Bright and Berry

Pollup and Popcorn2

 

150 pounds bacon,

flour, sugar, salt,

coffee, tea, and beans,

5 pounds saleratus,3

 

tin pans, tea kettles,

coffee pot and mill,

bake kettle, frying pan,

water keg and wooden pail

 

8 pounds of candles,

9 bars of soap,

6 woolen blankets,

2 pairs shoes apiece,

 

guidebooks and grammar books,

text of arithmetic,

the Holy Bible, heavy quilts,

3 rifles, ammunition,

 

sewing needles, pins, and thread,

mirrors in gilt frames,

dark-colored calico,

jeans and shirts for all,

 

box of physic pills,

quart of castor oil,

citric acid, laudanum,

peppermint and rum.

 

 

1 from Seeing the Elephant: Voices from the Oregon Trail by Joyce Badgley Hunsaker, p. 15
2 oxen
3 baking soda

 

Digging Stick

camas lily 1

Camas (quamash)

Camas (or quamash) field near Fairfield, Idaho

Camas (or quamash) field near Fairfield, Idaho

 

At Ne Logulko,

“the place standing of big pines,”

Kamama joins the women

for the quamash harvest.

Only a few weeks earlier

the entire prairie had burst

into an ocean of violet-blue.

Now, clutching her fire-hardened digging stick,

she lifts the soil beneath the withered

brown remains of a quamash

and brings up the fat tuber,

a special gift from the gods

to chase away hunger.

 

The grandmothers circle Kamama,

giving her strength and blessing her work.

 “Seek the guardian spirits,” they say,

as they line the roasting pit

with rocks, wet slough grass, and alder;

next, they add quamash roots

and layers of bark and earth.

“Never dig the quamash with man-smell on you,”

they chant, piling sticks on top of the oven

and lighting them with a burning ember.

 

Later, when the quamash is lifted

steaming and golden from the roasting pit

and fresh venison crackles over the fire,

the Coeur d’Alenes celebrate

with feasting and pony races.

The ancient ones tell stories of

Coyote and Crane and

Chief Child of the Yellow Root.

Her parents give gifts.

 

When the moon is high in the sky,

Kamama places the stick her grandfather carved

under the bearskin that warms her at night.

No warrior is allowed to touch it.

With dried quamash,

she will fill her children’s bellies,

barter for horses and beaver skins,

even pay her daughter’s dowry.

And when the Great Spirit sends for her,

the digging stick will mark her grave.

1 Camas.

Hidden

Thocmentony or Shell Flower


Paralyzed with fear,
Thocmentony and her cousin
lay entombed
holding hands;
as mother earth
soaked up the tears
that seeped from
their tightly shut eyes,
they thought of white
flesh-eating monsters
and the terror of their mothers,
who had buried them in the
sandy soil with a sagebrush
planted over their faces
to shade them from the burning sun
and the lust of the white men.

Without even a cousin’s
hand to hold,
our children cower
in square little houses
and fourth-floor walkups,
isolated and alone,
planted in front
of video consoles
with only the people
on TV for friends–
forbidden to
answer the phone
or open the door,
waiting for
their mothers’ return.

Note: Thocmentony or Shell Flower, later known as Sarah Winnemucca, was a well-known Paiute educator, author, and activist (ca. 1844-1891). She and other children were buried in the sand to hide them from attacking white soldiers. Their mothers came back for them in the night.

At Three Island Crossing

3 island crossing

After a grueling uphill climb

achieved by brute force

of man and beast,

immigrants descended

a steep diagonal slope

to the banks of the Snake River

at Three Island Crossing,

wheels clanking against

rocks and wagon parts

groaning and straining.

At the crossing,

an army of asses

brayed like insistent foghorns

punctuated by squawky gasping hiccups;

horses snorted and whinnied,

shying back from the river’s edge;

becrazed oxen bellowed feverishly;

and desperate men

cursed and shouted and coaxed

to keep the wagons upright

in the roiling waters.

Unspooling

spools

Photo courtesy of Laurel Leaf Farm http://www.laurelleaffarm.com/

Great grandma Angie’s box
overflowed with wooden spools
left over from dresses and drapes,
quilts and petticoats,

wooden spools worn smooth
by girls and boys
making towers and towns,
ammunition, and counters for games,

remainders from hours at the treadle,
the thread moving up and down,
unwhirling from the bobbin
during countless hours

under Grandma’s able hands,
unwinding yards of pink and baby blue,
pristine white and practical black,
threads now absent from the spotless spools.

Respite at Rock Creek on the Oregon Trail

Rock Creek Today

Rock Creek Today

After weeks of subsisting on bread and bacon,
beans and biscuits, corn mush and scrapple,
and barely edible pilot bread dipped in coffee,
Emily Towell and her company crossed over Rock Creek.

Three men took pails to the creek for water
and found the stream brimful with trout,
a boon as rare and unexpected as the quail
that dropped out of the sky to feed Israel’s camp.

The weary travelers raced for buckets and bowls,
dishpans and pails, any vessel would do,
in a mad dash to scoop up the silvery shimmery fish,
a miraculous respite from dietary dullness.

Soon, the paradisial sound of crackling grease and the
blessed aroma of frying fish wafted over the wagons,
the succulent sweetness an unexpected godsend,
a moment to be savored in the stark, sterile landscape.

Minidoka Relocation Site

Image

In a bleak forsaken place,

tumbleweeds gather

and derelict barracks

and bare cement foundations

bear witness that thousands

of Japanese Americans

slogged through the mud

and baked in the heat

of Hunt Camp.

 

Silence reigns, save the

chuck-chucking of irrigation sprinklers,

making it hard to imagine

cook pots clanking,

old women gossiping,

generators humming,

vehicle tires crunching,

children reciting the pledge of allegiance

in a place surrounded with barbwire

and guarded by reluctant G.I.’s.

 

13,000 people were forced

to leave homes and livelihoods

to live inside tarpaper buildings.

Whole families were crammed

into 20 by 20 foot rooms

in a then, never-silent place.

Through paper-thin walls

seeped sounds of whispered quarreling,

children calling out for parents,

a neighbor’s husband snoring,

mothers sobbing for their soldier sons.

 

Now, a riverhawk circles overhead,

searching the sagebrush for carrion.

Paint peels from reclaimed buildings,

and the sun beats down where

incarcerated Japanese,

citizens and immigrants,

choked during dust storms,

suffered relentless winter winds,

and designed oriental gardens,

sculpting beauty out of heartbreak.