LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Got That Darned Garage Sale Out Of The Way!

Finally, that darned garage sale is finished! My sister, Beckie, and I pulled it off Saturday, in my driveway.

Since we both had perennials for sale, I figured why not? Just when I figured the whole exercise was a waste, someone would drive up and buy stuff. We did best selling our plants. Had I charged for garden tours, I would have cleaned up!

People were very kind in their admiration for the front yard. Late this summer, we will have a perennial-only sale in her driveway. Watch for notices on that.

After assisting with setup, both Jim and Beckie went back to their chores (well, Jim went fishing, so I’m not sure that counts as a “chore”). I managed to multitask, and while I kept an eye on the driveway, I got my impatiens planted.

I put in a small handful of bone meal with each plant and they thrive. \It is so nice to have the bright pops of color here and there in the midst of the hosta/rock garden.

My garden has 114 varieties of hosta. Between Beckie and I, we have 220 varieties of daylily. We belong to the Central Dakota Daylily Society and have built our collection over many years of gardening.

Today, life gets back to normal. I can hang out in the backyard, planting the last of the annuals there. Well, that is, until I make another run at an area plant store.  I have a little jingle in my pocket after the garage sale, and I will reward myself with more beauty for the yard.  Then, to the bank with the balance.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Gardening In North Dakota In May

So here we are. Gardening in North Dakota. Not for sissies.

The weather has changed. Again. Frost warnings. I’ve taken in some of the patio pots.

It’s a drag, but it is what we must do. Too much invested in these plants, after all. It’ll just be a couple of days, and we’ll be back to normal.

The columbine have begun to bloom. There will be more.

And I just love the tiny lime green shoots that the globe blue spruce send out this time of year.

This cold snap will pass in a couple of days, and then it’ll be time for me to put out my annual seedlings. Remember, I’m the more cautious gardener of this household. Then, besides the constant pulling of weeds and dead-heading, it will be time to enjoy the beauty and wait for the vegetables.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Busy Times At Red Oak House

It is such a busy time at Red Oak House. So much is happening in the garden.  More on that later.

But first, this past weekend was filled with the gift of family. My sister, Sarah, brought my daughter, Rachel, from Dickinson, N.D., for the weekend. Sunday, my day started with brunch with my daughters and husband. They presented me with perhaps the nicest Mother’s Day gift I’ve ever received, a print of one of my daughter’s standout photographs of a wild stallion taken in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Then we had my mother and my sisters over for a picnic of fried chicken and the fixings on the patio and sat and visited, honoring the tradition much like so many across the U.S. Our good-natured husbands and my nephew, Ryan Walby, joined in on the fun, but dodged the picture-taking.

There are new blossoms in the garden daily. After company left, I completed the hard labor of dividing and moving daylilies as per my notes of last summer. There is already so much new growth on the daylilies that it is difficult to cut them back and dig them up, but this is what must be done. I make a mental note and confer with my sister, and we hope to confine our future dividing to fall instead. (Last fall, we were too busy settling our mother into her new apartment to get to it).

I brought a huge vase of lilacs into our bedroom and sent home a vaseful with my mother as this is perhaps her favorite flower.

New birds in the yard this weekend were the yellow warbler and a least flycatcher. This evening, I captured this charming one-minute video of the house wren adding material to the wren house. In this case, he is placing a blossom from the crabapple tree to pad his nest. I would have liked to have captured his song, but oh well …

Now it is time to turn attention to pulling off the rummage sale this weekend I’ve been planning for months. I’ve not held one for about 12 years, and the last time I said I’d never do it again, and this time I’m saying I’ll never do it again. It is nice to have the basement clean and tidy.  Wish me luck!

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — An Homage To The Late Sheila Schafer

In honor of what would have been Sheila Schafer’s birthday, today I want to share my personal memories of her, a bright spirit of this world who departed a little over a year ago.

That said, it is so very challenging to capture Sheila’s essence. She exuded joy. I’ll share some of my memories and, to that, add some links to stories written by others about her.

Like any good North Dakotan, I heard about Harold and Sheila when I was growing up. Much later in life I came to know her personally through my husband, Jim Fuglie, who’d been friends with her for decades and who’d worked for Harold.

Me, Sheila, and Jim in front of the Rough Riders Hotel in Medora.
Me, Sheila, and Jim in front of the Rough Riders Hotel in Medora.

Sheila loved Medora like no other and this time of the year, she’d be happily packing up her car for her move from her Bismarck condo to her Medora house, where she would spend the summer attending the musical as often as she could manage, hosting an endless line of company and walking around town greeting visitors with her cheerful, “Hi nice people!” There is good reason she was known by all as the First Lady of Medora.

She threw the most wonderful parties and was always eager to learn new things. Very late in life, she made up her mind to finish the college degree she had started 60 years or more ago, and she was the oldest graduate of Bismarck State College. Many of us attended commencement that year in the Civic Center and were so proud of her.

One day she called me and asked me to come over to her condo. I did, and when I got there, she asked me to teach her how to text with her phone. She was a quick study and so very grateful. Another time, when she was a BSC student, she asked me to come over and help her do some research for a term paper she was writing on bison.  Books were always scattered about her houses, and one winter, she set her mind to reading all of William Shakespeare’s works — and she did it!

Sheila made the most delicious homemade buns and generously shared her recipe. She also wrote beautiful notes, thousands and thousands of these. Although she lived with many serious health issues, she had perhaps the most joie de vivre of anyone I’ve ever known. She told everyone that she would wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and clap for herself that she was alive another day.

She loved our mutual friend, Clay Jenkinson, and always made sure she invited all of her friends to his events. At the book launch for his newly published “For the Love of North Dakota,” she arrived looking, as always, stunning, in a print dress that was covered with impressions of New York Times headlines and stories. A woman chatting with her expressed her admiration for the dress.  Sheila disappeared and we were all looking around for her. Out she came from the women’s restroom with wearing just her winter coat and, with great drama, handed that dress to that woman! This was the essence of her, and good friends learned to be careful when admiring her possessions.

She was a widow for a very long time, and we would tease her that many men would be delighted to be her new mate. Her response was to cackle and tell us, “I was married to Santa Claus (Harold), so why on earth would I want to remarry Never!”

Jim and Sheila at the annual meeting of the Theodore Roosevelt Association, held in Medora. She worked tirelessly on this event, created a N.D. Chapter of TRA and was, at an earlier meeting, a recipient of the TRA's prestigious Rose Award.
Jim and Sheila at the annual meeting of the Theodore Roosevelt Association, held in Medora. She worked tirelessly on this event, created a N.D. Chapter of TRA and was, at an earlier meeting, a recipient of the TRA’s prestigious Rose Award.

My husband and Sheila had a very special relationship. Once I teased her that he had more pictures of her on his dresser than of me. She just laughed and gave him a big hug.

When Jim’s mother died, Sheila called and said that she wanted to give us some trees for our yard in his mother’s honor, and she came over the day these were delivered, so excited to watch the planting.  ur aspen and crabapple trees thrive to this day, and when I look at these trees, I smile and think of Sheila and, of course, my mother-in-law.

Today, she would be driving into Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and, as had been her tradition for many a year, climbing Buck Hill to survey the Bad Lands she loved so much.

Here is a video of Sheila on the Friends of Theodore Roosevelt web page, talking about the Park.

And here are some more articles about her, as well as a blog that my husband wrote about her.

Happy birthday Sheila Schafer

First Lady of Medora passes away

North Dakota loses a legend

Sheila Schafer exit stage right

Guest post Clay Jenkinson pays tribute to Sheila


LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — One Of My Favorite Desert Mystics, Ed Abbey

It had long been my intention, should I ever get to Tucson again, to visit the Special Collections Library on the University of Arizona campus. This past April, I spent a perfectly blissful week in the southern Arizona city, with good friends, and had a few days for solo exploring. One day I took a Lyft cab to the campus and headed straight for the libraries.

The dedicated librarians at the Special Collections Library led me to the computer to search for my topic, a longtime favorite author of mine, Edward Abbey, who upon his death had instructed that his papers be deposited in this safe place. The staff brought me my requested gray archival boxes, one at a time, jammed packed with treasures, and I spent a rapt couple of hours looking through these, making notes, and taking photographs.

The iconoclastic Abbey was known as a “desert mystic” and published a number of books, the most well-known being “Desert Solitaire” and “The Monkey Wrench Gang.”

His biography is well-known.Born and raised in Pennsylvania, he was basically a hobo on a westward train, got out, after which was never the same because he became enraptured with the American West and thus wrote passionately about the West and other topics until he died.

He studied philosophy at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, and he tramped around the American West, in various odd jobs, including stints in fire lookouts in national forests; perhaps the most famous time spent living in a trailer in Arches National Park as a seasonal employee for the National Park Service.

 In his “Journal: a Lookout’s Logbook Glacier National Park,” he wrote: “the secret log” and “forest fires: Smokey the Bore is full of shit” and “whose rights take priority? How about wilderness areas banned to all humans?”

He scribbled many thousands of words in his notebooks and drew pictures, keeping track of his wanderings of his deeply insightful observations. He published beloved books that galvanized a generation of Americans hungry for his words about his wildlife, inspired by his writings and his activism.

He also gave a number of memorable speeches, including one time when he walked to the podium, took out his pistol, placed it in plain sight of the audience and proceeded to hold forth on his thoughts about wild places and the need to protect them.

One of the most famous speeches he gave was captured on film and is known as “The Cracking of Glen Canyon Dam.”

He spoke to a gathering of people who were outraged that the dam had flooded gorgeous places along the Colorado that no one would ever see again. The reason it is called “The Cracking of Glen Canyon Dam” is because this merry band of environmentalist gathered on the dam and let out a roll of black plastic across the front of the dam symbolizing their hopes and dreams for the Colorado to flow wild once again.

The Cracking of Glen Canyon Dam” was brought to you by the Sacred Land Film Project. A friend of mine, Bart Koehler, was at this event, and was like the vast majority of the people in attendance, not interested in violent opposition but rather in passionate engagement and resistance to out-of-control development in some of the country’s last wild lands. Bart was singing and playing his guitar at this event and went by the moniker “Johnny Sagebrush.”  I’m proud of him and can report that he is still, all these years later, working hard to protect wild places, no matter what life has thrown him in his pathway. Here are a couple of newspaper articles describing Bart and the magic he makes with his guitar.

But back to Abbey.  A thrill went through me as I held in my hands his notebooks and manuscripts.

In his journal notes from a hike in the Cabeza Prieta Wilderness, he writes that it will be a “self-imposed ordeal” … “Why? The need, I guess, for authentic experience, as opposed to the synthetic (books, movies, TV).

This is going to be a long fucking march.

Abbey gave his old friends very specific instructions to follow upon his untimely death. They wrapped up his corpse in an old sleeping bag, put him in the back of a pickup and drove the body to the Cabeza Prieta Wilderness, where they stashed it in an undisclosed location for the vultures to pick. To this day, many make the pilgrimage convinced they might just be the one to find the remains.

In “Desert Solitaire” he wrote:

In these hours and days of dual solitude on the river we hope to discover something quite different, to renew our affection for ourselves and the human kind in general by a temporary, legal separation from the mass. And in what other way is it possible for those not saints? And who wants to be a saint? Are saints human?

 “Cutting the bloody cord, that’s what we feel, the delirious exhiliration of independence, a rebirth backward in time and into primeval liberty, into freedom in the most simple, literal, primitive meaning of the word, the only meaning that really counts.” (page 137, c1988 edition)

If necessary, we agree, a man could live out his life in this place, once he had adjusted his nervous system to the awful quietude, the fearful tranquility. The silence–meaning here not the total absence of sound, for the river and its canyon are bright with a native music, but rather the total absence of confusion and clamour — that would be the problem. What Churchill spoke of as “bloody peace” — could we bear it for very long? Yet having known this, how could we ever return to the other?” (page 141, c1988 edition)

No, wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.” (page 148, c 1988 edition)

In “The Journey Home,” he wrote:

One wishes to go on. On this great river one could glide forever–and here we discover the definition of bliss, salvation, Heaven, all the old Mediterranean dreams: a journey from wonder to wonder, drifting through eternity into ever-deeper, always changing grandeur, through beauty continually surpassing itself: the ultimate Homeric voyage.”  (page 201 Dutton edition, c 1977)

He continues:

The boundary around a wilderness area may well be an artificial, self-imposed, sophisticated construction, but once inside that line you discover the artificiality beginning to drop away; and the deeper you go, the longer you stay, the more interesting things get — sometimes fatally interesting.” (page 230 Dutton edition, c1977)

In his chapter from “The Journey Home” titled “Freedom and Wilderness,” he writes perhaps some of his most profound words:

What has all this fantasizing to do with wilderness and freedom? we can have wilderness without freedom; we can have wilderness without wilderness, we cannot have freedom without wilderness, we cannot have freedom without leagues of open space beyond the cities, where boys and girls, men and women, can live at least part of their lives under no control but their own desires and abilities, free from any and all direct administration by their fellow men. ‘A world without wilderness is a cage,’ as Dave Brower says.” (page 235 Dutton edition, c 1977)

My story would not be complete without the telling of this odd tale. Once shortly after 9/11, I flew to Davis, Calif., to see a friend. I changed my return flight, something that immediately “red-flags” a flier for the TSA. I got to the airport for the flight and realized that the book I had in hand was “The Monkey Wrench Gang.” Perhaps this was not the best choice for airplane reading. With this combination of coincidences, I got pulled aside for additional screening.

You can see from this photo of our Red Oak House bookshelves that Abbey is a household favorite as his works take an entire shelf. If you’ve not read his works, sit down with one, and I promise you it will be an escape to a hot and quiet place somewhere in the American West, to some of Abbey’s favorite wild places.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — The Fragrance Of The Day

Tuesday my yard was filled with the intoxicating fragrance of our blooming crabapple trees. Sunday there was a hint of blossom in the fat buds, and with Monday’s sunshine, these fully opened.

Bismarck is filled with crabapple and other blossoming trees, and the pollinators are quite busy.

Although we don’t have one, the fragrance of the plum trees takes me back to my childhood. When we would get off the school bus at the mailbox located on the main road, the air would be filled with the sweet smell of the blossoms of the plums growing next to the farmhouse, welcoming children happy to be home from the cares of the school day. In our pastures grew the wild plum bushes and one time, in the late summer, while baling hale, my father ate so many plums from the nearby bushes he came back to the house with a stomachache.

We have no room left in our yard for trees but I'm fortunate that my neighbors have plum trees and the fragrance wafts over to Red Oak House.
We have no room left in our yard for trees but I’m fortunate that my neighbors have plum trees and the fragrance wafts over to Red Oak House.

When my father retired from the U.S. Army, we moved home to the maternal farm in Slope County, N.D., in June. I was enamoured with the ritual of loading up what was called “lunch,” really a midafternoon snack for the men working the fields. Coffee in jars and cookies or cake were carefully packed into a cardboard by Grandma Lilly and my Mom. This was also a break for us from our chores in the house and the farmyard.

One of my fond memories is helping my mother and grandma feed the wet clothes from the washing into the electric wringer and watching these come out flattened, ready to take out to the clothesline (near the chicken coop) for hanging from the wire with wooden clothespins. The wringer washer was fascinating to little ole me, and I know I accidentally put my fingers into it for a time or two before I learned that painful lesson.

In my yard Tuesday, I mowed and then planted some flowers, marveling at the miracle of the tiny seeds that will hopefully sprout and bring us beauty and food.

The dandelion digger my mother gave to me
The dandelion digger my mother gave to me

My other tool of the day was the dandelion digger.  lthough I have a laptop, wifi, a Zen notepad, a big screen TV, an Apple TV device and a Google Pixel phone, the tool of choice for digging dandelions and other weeds is 16th-century technology that gets the job done. Yes, I do know the critical role that dandelions play for pollinators, but I assure you my neighbors provide them with plenty — and then there are the aforementioned blooming trees.

Leonardo da Vinci said the average human being “looks without seeing, listens without hearing, touches without feeling, eats without tasting, moves without physical awareness, inhales without awareness of odor or fragrance, and talks without thinking.”

Strive to be above average.

My husband was a the best fisherman on the river Tuesday. His lucky green bucket helps, too.
My husband was a the best fisherman on the river Tuesday. His lucky green bucket helps, too.

My husband has called to alert me that he is feeding us walleye freshly caught in the Missouri River this morning.  What an amazing world we live in!

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Wild Violets

It was a blustery spring day Monday at Red Oak House with the front passing through that brought thunder and rain to the northern Plains and a stiff breeze to rustle the new leaves everywhere. I could hear the chipping sparrows in the backyard. Any day, now the white-crowned sparrows will pass through.

We are mostly done with the cleanup from Sunday evening’s backyard party that brought together some of the finest friends and family that anyone could ever hope for — kind, interesting, smart and witty folks — and I’m basking in the afterglow of their good company.

In the garden, the wild violets that the Smeenks planted are fully in bloom (the original owners of the house — we are the third owners — I shall write about them more on another day).

Birch tree, still bedecked with this season's catkins.
Birch tree, still bedecked with this season’s catkins.

The new leaves are unfurling on the birch tree, but it is still bedecked with this season’s catkins. Soon this tree will fully shade Jim’s office.

With the ground saturated, it is time for a brief pause from gardening chores to catch up with indoor tasks and reading and such.

I hope, gentle reader, that the sky is as blue where you are as it is here.

P.S. I am rejoicing in the news that Macron was elected. Viva la France!

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Garden Update

Here at Red Oak House, it was a sunny 84-degree Saturday, and so many things in the garden are popping it is worthy of a photo update.

It was a very busy day here. Jim did some cultivating and got some vegetables planted.

It is pine pollen season, and everything is coated with the fine chartreuse pollen dust, including the furniture inside I just cleaned this morning.

Oh, and for the record, we did drink coffee and eat breakfast on the back patio.


LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Grubbing Raspberries With Homemade Margaritas For My Reward

After my morning yoga class, I made another foray to one of our local nurseries, then it was home to the work in the garden. After I’d planted my new treasures, I had to turn to grubbing raspberries.

Until the last couple of years, I’d not had much experience with growing raspberries. When we grew them at our Dunn County place, the Gumbo Lily Ranch, I was busy with my career and raising my children, and raspberries are my husband’s favorite, so he was in charge of these. He likes to say if there would only be one fruit, it would be, in his view, raspberries.

We planted these the very first spring we were living in Red Oak House, and I had no idea that these spread by suckers (I guess I thought these spread by the billions of tiny seeds found on the fruit).

My sister, Beckie Walby, has her patch in a much more intelligent location, against her house, bordered by grass. Ours are along a side fence and, in front of these is a perennial bed. So, off I go to grub the suckers out of my perennial bed with my spade.

Ours produce fruit in late summer and early fall. My sister’s come in earlier in the summer.

This spring, we’ve added a raspberry bed on the east side of the house, and here we planted two different kinds, one a golden raspberry from our dear friends Jan and David Swenson’s patch and the other from my sisters’ patch (in the hopes that we will extend our raspberry harvest). I hope my neighbor doesn’t cuss at me when those suckers grow up in his grass as much as I cuss the ones that pop up here and there in my perennial bed.

A few days ago, I planted a shrub rose, yellow, my favorite color. I haven’t had a shrub rose for several years now and visiting my friend, Rhoda Hilden, reminded me how much I miss their beauty. Stay tuned for photos.

I think yellow is such a happy color, and many of my flowers are yellow. As I described in my blog talking about our household decor and our acquisition of one of our Navajo rugs, the yellow one, I am immensely cheered by the color yellow. Close your eyes just one moment and think of a lemon. Sunflowers are, as I’m seeing on various knick-knacks, “sunshine on a stem.” But, I assure you, gentle reader, yellow is mixed in both inside and out of the house with many other splendid colors.

Today is Cinco de Mayo, and as I worked in the warm sunshine, I kept in my mind the delicious homemade margaritas that Beckie is making us for a Mexican feast at her house. Everyone (of legal age, of course) loves these, and I know for her, they are a labor of love. If I’m going to spend Cinco de Mayo anywhere but in Mexico or the American Southwest, it should probably be at Walbys, where the food is always delicious and the margaritas are perfection.

When I was a kid living in El Paso, Texas, (my father was stationed at Fort Bliss Army Base), we would have pinatas for our birthday parties, and one of my mother’s best friend, Mercedes, was Hispanic. I loved going to her house in a beautiful part of the city (we were in a nice but ordinary suburban part of the city). In school, we all studied Spanish, as it was one of our classes along with math, science, English and social studies.

Sadly, once we moved to North Dakota, where Spanish was not taught at our local school, my Spanish skills slipped to almost nil. Now we joke that at least we know “uno cerveza,” an essential skill (look it up), however, I do wish I could speak Spanish as I did as a child. I made a stab at it this winter but failed miserably.

As my husband and I were winding down this day’s work in the garden, I announced that tomorrow morning for the first time this year, I’m having coffee and breakfast on our patio. He heartily agreed that this was an excellent plan, and so we shall.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Time For A Cold Glass Of Chardonnay

It’s time for a cold glass of Guenoc chardonnay on the patio of Red Oak House after a perfectly delightful afternoon in the garden, time to savor the goodness of life.

Late morning was spent at the local garden shops and then it was home to plant my new treasures. Is there anyplace as happy on a May day than Plant Perfect or Cashman’s Nursery or the Lowe’s garden section?

On Wednesday, I planted a new yellow shrub rose, yellow being my favorite color and the more hardy shrub roses being appropriate for North Dakota’s oftentimes severe climate.

Rubra Pasqueflower in full bloom, so beautiful it deserves another pic.
Rubra Pasqueflower in full bloom, so beautiful it deserves another pic.

I love digging in the dirt. As I mow the tiny bit of grass we have here, I think of my Slope County family — my Grandpa Andy Silbernagel, my Daddy and my brothers — spending countless hours on the tractor, summer-fallowing the fields and planting the crops. They would come into the farmhouse with their faces completely black, dog-tired. We ate the food we’d prepared and they’d collapse in the recliner to read and watch TV — and get up each morning to repeat this ritual.

My paternal granddaddy, Earl Crook, grew a small crop of peanuts in Mississippi.   I remember his wife, Lena Belle Ellis, would always have a huge vegetable and flower garden at their home near Vaiden, Miss. When I close my eyes, I can conjure up the exact picture of me following her and my mother in that multicolored wonderland.

At the Slope County farm, down near the well and windmill, we had one vegetable garden and then another just beyond the barnyard buildings, plus a huge field of potatoes about a mile from the farmstead.

As a small child, my Grandpa Andy would pay his grandchildren a penny for each potato bug we could catch and drop into a can of gasoline, as much to get us out of his hair as to control the bugs. As a teenager, I was pleased to be assigned to go and hoe the large potato field as this meant that I got to drive a pickup solo, something I couldn’t get enough of!

On days like today, we’d be eager to get off the school bus and tear outside to check on our baby calves and see if there might be new kittens. Everywhere we looked on the prairie there was new life.

Jim's fishing buddies, Red and Jeff, taking a picture of Red with his fish.
Jim’s fishing buddies, Red and Jeff, taking a picture of Red with his fish.

Today, my husband fished with his pals on the Missouri River, and he came home with a bucket full of walleye, cleaned it and had nothing but happiness in his heart. We will share that with friends. We never “ever” take for granted the clean water that flows through our city, the Missouri River.

What a blessing it was to grow up surrounded by the people who grew our nation’s food and to live in a city where everyone is busy and happy with spring work.

I toast them all today with my Chardonnay.