It is Memorial Day week-end. The town is very quiet as people use this as the first three day break of the summer. School is out here. Typical Memorial Day activities are mowing your lawn, planting flowers, and visiting the graves where loved ones lie. It is also a military remembrance day and red poppies abound. Mom often talked about Memorial Day or she called it Remembrance Day which was a hold-over from World War I. The children in her rural community would go out and pick wild flowers to decorate the graves in the country cemetaries. The red poppies became a part of the Memorial Day observance coming out of the poem by Canadian veteran John McCrae:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
From the horrible carnage of that war, the poppies, which grew in open fields in Europe, were a reminder of life amidst death. The veterans’ groups here in town have programs at our veterans’ home and pass out the poppies.
Interesting that both Memorial Day observances and also Veterans’ Day in November are tied in to World War I. The November date was called Armistice’s Day and we celebrate it on the day peace came to Europe in 1918. The 11th day of the 11th month of the 11th hour. World War I is being remembered these days because it is 100 years since the American “doughboys” marched off to Europe and entered the battlefield of a war that was killing the best of Europe’s youth. To read about the trench warfare and the slaughter on ‘no man’s land’ is take a step back into the last of the wars of the 19th century and see the first of the wars of the 20th century.
America had been wrapped in isolationism and wanted nothing to do with Europe’s wars. With the sinking of the ship Lusitania by German U-boats a cause was established to push Congress in to approving the war. Anti-German feeling were whipped up and many German-Americans were persecuted like the Japanese-Americans in the next war and Arab-Americans today. It was not a good time.
But it is important to remember. To remember is to not forget. We are what we were when, someone has said. It is the strength and courage to admit the mistakes which are the lessons that shape us today.
The soldier and the lady who waited for him to come home. August 15, 1945.
Notice the poppy in the buttonhole --2009
The wind was blowing today. Now on the prairie that is not really anything new. The wind blows everyday or so it seems. If there is a time during the day when the wind isn’t blowing we greet each other on the street and say, “It’s a beautiful day. And the wind isn’t blowing!” The wind and the prairies are one. There is nothing to stop the wind as it blows over coulees and across the fields. Authors of prairie novels often talk about the wind and its influence on people. When reading prairie narratives by women, they often mention the constancy of the wind. All of them said it nearly drove them crazy.
I suppose if you live in another part of the country the wind has its own personality. Out here the wind sighs around corners and in the window-wells; it has an odor of earth and dry grass. Sometimes it is very strong, but other times it caresses your cheek lightly before it moves on.
One of the tragedies of the drought during the 1930s was the loss of tons of topsoil blown off the prairie. There are stories of Kansas soil showing up on ships in the Atlantic and the huge dust storms of the 1930s were clouds of dirt blowing across the prairies. My mother remembered a Memorial Day storm in Sioux Falls SD when she was in college. They had to turn the lights on in the middle of the day. My Dad’s little brother was riding his tricycle and got lost in a dust storm. His older sister and his mother had to fight through the wind and dirt to find him. In the central states like Oklahoma and Nebraska the dirt blew into drifts like snow. The wind can do great damage. We get a good rain and then the wind comes up and blows for a couple of days and dries up that moisture.
Shelter belts were the dream of government farm agencies in the 1930s. Millions of trees and bushes were planted to stop the wind and it worked. Driving across North Dakota you can see the shelter belts still separating the fields and holding back the erosion that is caused by the wind.
On a summer evening, the cool breezes are a real relief from the heat of the day. The curtains billow out and bring soothing, comfortable sleep. On a hot day any stirring air can ease the heat and give a little relief from the sun’s rays.
We measure the cold out here with the addition of wind chill which can send temperatures plummeting and do serious damage to animals, crops and exposed skin.
The wind is a force of nature which must be dealt with. It is as much with us as a next door neighbor. We live with the wind. You take your walk or spray your weeds or paint your shed in the early part of the day before the wind starts to blow. In the evening you throw open the doors and windows and welcome its refreshing touch.
In the book If you’re not from the prairie. . . the author (David Bouchard) describes the wind.
If you’re not from the prairie
You don’t know the wind,
You can’t know the wind.
Our cold winds of winter cut right to the core,
Hot summer wind devils can blow down the door,
As children we know when we play any game,
The wind will be there, yet we play just the same.
If you’re not from the prairies
You don’t know the wind.
Today was a lovely Spring day in eastern Montana. A friend and I drove along the Yellowstone River as far as Miles City. The company was delightful, the sky was clear, the prairies green from the recent rains, lambs in the pasture, pelicans on the river, ergo, it was a perfect day. So with that day behind me perhaps a little poetry is in order: James Russell Lowell
And what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries earth if it be in tune,
And over it softly her warm ear lays;
Whether we look, or whether we listen,
We hear life murmur, or see it glisten;
Every clod feels a stir of might,
An instinct within it that reaches and towers,
And, groping blindly above it for light,
Climbs to a soul in grass and flowers;
The flush of life may well be seen
Thrilling back over hills and valleys;
The cowslip startles in meadows green,
The buttercup catches the sun in its chalice,
And there's never a leaf nor a blade too mean
To be some happy creature's palace;
The little bird sits at his door in the sun,
Atilt like a blossom among the leaves,
And lets his illumined being o'errun
With the deluge of summer it receives;
His mate feels the eggs beneath her wings,
And the heart in her dumb breast flutters and sings;
He sings to the wide world, and she to her nest,
In the nice ear of Nature which song is the best?
Now is the high-tide of the year,
And whatever of life hath ebbed away
Comes flooding back with a ripply cheer,
Into every bare inlet and creek and bay;
Now the heart is so full that a drop overfills it,
We are happy now because God wills it;
No matter how barren the past may have been,
'Tis enough for us now that the leaves are green;
We sit in the warm shade and feel right well
How the sap creeps up and the blossoms swell;
We may shut our eyes but we cannot help knowing
That skies are clear and grass is growing;
The breeze comes whispering in our ear,
That dandelions are blossoming near,
That maize has sprouted, that streams are flowing,
That the river is bluer than the sky,
That the robin is plastering his house hard by;
And if the breeze kept the good news back,
For our couriers we should not lack;
We could guess it all by yon heifer's lowing,
And hark! How clear bold chanticleer,
Warmed with the new wine of the year,
Tells all in his lusty crowing!
Joy comes, grief goes, we know not how;
Everything is happy now,
Everything is upward striving;
'Tis as easy now for the heart to be true
As for grass to be green or skies to be blue,
'Tis for the natural way of living:
Who knows whither the clouds have fled?
In the unscarred heaven they leave not wake,
And the eyes forget the tears they have shed,
The heart forgets its sorrow and ache;
The soul partakes the season's youth,
And the sulphurous rifts of passion and woe
Lie deep 'neath a silence pure and smooth,
Like burnt-out craters healed with snow.
It’s raining in my part of the prairies today. Heard it was “pouring rain” further north and west in the county. The timing never seems to be spot on, farmers are trying to get their crops planted, but no one complains. It was a dry winter. I think I shoveled twice, swept a few times, and let the sunshine take care of the other days. And the snow we get is often a dry, powdery stuff with little or no moisture in it.
When you live in country where agriculture is central to the life of the community the weather is central to the life we live. As a school teacher years ago, we always had a smile when it rained about the time of the mill levy election for the district. It had an easier chance of passing when there was adequate moisture. Everyone just felt more comfortable.
If you can believe it, sometimes out here in this semi-arid area we can get too much rain and it can come at the wrong time. I remember one year the sugar beet farmers were trying to get their harvest done in the fall. The rain made it impossible to get the beets out because the machinery kept sinking into the mud.
When rain does come the prairies green up faster than you can believe and if the moisture falls all summer as it sometimes does, the comments about how green it was going west to Miles City or Billings is all you here.
In town it means we don’t have to turn on our sprinkler systems quite so early and it means the flowers and bushes will thrive. Usually when you are planting new bushes or perennials you try to buy drought-resistant because you never know what the year will bring.
I remember my folks talk about growing up on the South Dakota prairies during the dry years of the 1930s. There was a song Mom used to sing when telling us about those days: Sunshine and rain, refreshing, reviving rain. Light of hope and love, showers from above. Sunshine and rain, refreshing, reviving rain. Send us Lord the sunshine and the rain. That refrain is never out of date.