Yesterday, I mentioned my maternal great-grandfather was from Ireland, and my maternal grandfather from northern Michigan. Fellow blogger, birdwatcher, and Michigander, Shelley, left a comment about the stories my granddad would have had from his working days as “barn boss” in the lumber camps. It started me thinking of some of the stories I’m heard from my mother about those times, so I thought I’d reminisce a little more today.
The UP (as Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is called) at the turn of the previous century was rich in resources – iron, copper, and white pine. As a barn boss in the early 1900s, my grandfather was in charge of the horse teams that the men took out to the camps, to haul the felled trees. I’m not completely clear on where they hauled them too. It might have been to a river; it may have been directly to town for processing, or both. The town, called Nahma, was/is a small one, with only about 1,000 people in its heyday, but it had a mill and a tall mysterious tower – the bark burner – that I loved as a kid spending summer there on the shores of Bay de Noc. Wherever they took the trees, the lumbermen would have spent a lot of time out in the woods, and the horses with them.
My grandfather was also what passed for a vet in those days. There were no veterinary degrees back then, no formal schooling of any kind up north. There was just hand-me-down horse-handler’s wisdom that probably went back to the very shores of Ireland. My grandfather kept a notebook; I looked through it when I was young. It contained all his cures and recipes for horse ointments and restoratives – treatments for all manner of horse ailments. The names of the ingredients were as strange and exotic as the colloquial names of the diseases. And all were written in the popular Spencerian script of the day, a surprisingly delicate, almost feminine hand for a rugged man of the woods. Other pages of his book were filled with inventories about hay and other blacksmith sundries.
I still have a recipe for a hearty pea soup, handed down from my grandmother. The story goes that they would make up big vat of this soup, and then they’d let it freeze in blocks that were taken out to the winter camps. When it came time to eat, the lumberjacks would simply saw off a chunk, throw it in a pot with a little water, and make themselves a hot meal. After my grandmother died, my grandfather came to live with us. He was up in his 80s then, and I was about 8 or 9, and was not really interested in what he might have had to say, so almost everything a remember comes from my mother. Some mornings she would ask me, “Did you hear grandpa last night, driving the teams in his sleep?” She told me she could hear him calling out “Git-up” or “Haw,” but I never heard him. Sometimes it seems like I did, but I think it was only from her telling me; memories can be like that.
Photo of Nahma bark burner at http://hunts-upguide.com/nahma_peninsula.html
The Cloud Messenger (Meghadūta) is a lyric poem by the respected Indian poet, Kālidāsa. The poem centers around a yaksa in exile. Longing for his beloved, waiting for him on a Himalayan mountain, he asks a cloud to take a message to her. The sights he tells the cloud it will see on its way make up most of the poem.
The idea of recording observations appeals to me. I thought The Cloud Messenger was the perfect title for a blog about the journey that we all make as we move through our days.
I'm a baby boomer who grew up dancing in the streets of Detroit during the classic Motown years, lived beside the Rocky Mountains for many years, now retired and living (and writing full time) in S. Ontario. I have one blog for rock 'n' roll oldies, and one for nature, poetry and life along the Lake.