LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Rollin’ Up Our Sleeves

It is the tradition for members of the Badlands Conservation Alliance to do a day of service, usually in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, on the weekend closest to Earth Day. On this past Saturday, we did just that, rollin’ up our sleeves for Theodore Roosevelt National Park, in the heart of the Bad Lands, our sacred landscape.

I’ve been involved with a service event on Earth Day since 1970, when we schoolkids from Rhame, N.D., picked up trash from state Highway 12 ditches. I often think back to that day.

Photo by Jim Fuglie.
Photo by Jim Fuglie.

The moment Jim and I arrived in the park, we headed straight to the banks of the Little Missouri River, as is our tradition. The river is big right now, filled with snowmelt. It drove us both a little bonkers to not be canoeing.

Duty called, and we gathered with 21 other dedicated souls in the parking area of Cottonwood Campground, where Ranger Grant expressed the gratitude of the park for our service and gave us our directions. It was a beautiful spring day, after a very long winter.

Photo by Jim Fuglie.
Photo by Jim Fuglie.

We fanned out across the campground and went to work, cleaning out the ashes from the fire grates and picking up litter and fallen branches, preparing the place for the summer camping season.

There were a few campers in one campground loop, and from these I recruited a new member, who curious about what we were up to, offered to join us in the chores. In our midst were Bart and Julie Koehler, traveling with their Scamp camper from Florida to their Alaska home, and delighted for the occasion to be with old friends in a beloved place. When all was ship-shape, we celebrated Bart’s birthday with a cake and song.

The rest of the weekend was play time for all, with drives and hikes throughout the park, where lots of wildlife was spotted. Sunday morning, Earth Day proper, Jim and I put in extra effort and located the first crocus (pasque flower) of the season.

The spring peepers were singing in the Paddock Creek wetlands, and all was well on a sunny 65-degree day with no wind. Every time we stopped, we reveled in meadowlark song.

If you are interested in joining in future BCA fun, find the details about upcoming events here.

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” — Albert Einstein

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — And We Are Published

For more than a decade, Jim and I have been writing together and editing one another’s work. Wednesday was a big day in our writing life. Our first jointly written article has been published and the journal was dropped into our mail slot this afternoon by our friendly postal delivery woman.

We are thrilled. At least, I am. For Jim, this really isn’t such a big deal, as he has been published in many periodicals, including his current monthly column in Dakota Country magazine. I’ve had articles published in the North Dakota Library Association newsletter and other odds and ends, but none of that is quite as delightful as this, an article in On Second Thought, the magazine of the North Dakota Humanities Council, which features the writing of some of our most respected fellow North Dakotans.

You can read our article, “The Time Has Come to Do Our Part” here. It is a story of one our adventures in our sacred landscape, the Little Missouri River Valley, in winter. An encounter in grace.

Now, we turn our full attention to the book we are co-authoring. Stand tuned. Oh — that and the garden!

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 37

Saturday I planted the zinnia seeds, pushing each tiny seed into a peat pellet.

The seedlings had already begun to emerge Monday, and I can almost watch ’em grow.

In the dining room, Jim’s tomatoes are thriving. He says these are the best he’s ever had.

Outside there is almost a foot of new snow and a big dump in the forecast for Thursday. Guess we’ll have plenty of seedlings indoors to keep alive for some time to come!

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 36

Winter is hanging on here, with a vengeance. We have about a foot of snow on the Red Oak House gardens. Although we are weary of winter, we do view this as critical moisture — moisture that we were lacking last summer and fall.

This is what the first day of spring looked like out our windows.

Tuesday, there was more snow in the forecast. Our social media feeds are filled with the whining of friends who are equally as weary of the winter weather. My aunt near Birmingham, Ala., tells me her daffodils are blooming as are her cherry trees. I resort to buying daffodils at the store, a dose of sunshine at our table.

I happen to love the winter, the fallow time in which we both catch up on indoor projects. I know that the thaw will reveal much outdoor work and I’m not quite ready to tackle these chores.

A survey of the yard revealed that the dag-nabbit rabbits have wreaked havoc, severing my bittersweet vine at the ground level, a vine that had just taken hold. I cursed them and considered taking my husband’s shotgun to them, but wisdom prevailed and I did not — not to mention that it is not legal within city limits, and I’m nothing if not a follower of laws.

On one warm day last week, we took Lizzie on a walk through the nearby coulee and found several waterfalls.

Tuesday, Jim was busy setting up the indoor greenhouse racks and bringing his seedlings up from the basement.

“What in your life is calling you,

when all the noise is silenced,

the meetings adjourned,

the lists laid aside,

and the wild iris blooms by itself

in the dark forest,

what still pulls your soul?”  — Rumi

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — UND Writers Conference 2018

Jim and I attended the 49th Annual UND Writers Conference this week, where he was a presenter on a panel entitled “What’s News? The State of Journalism in North Dakota and Beyond,” convened by Chuck Haga of Grand Forks.

I seized the opportunity to do some research at UND’s Chester Fritz Library, reading from dozens of reels of microfilm on a topic of interest to me. I also visited the Special Collections department, a treasure house of North Dakota information.

Here is a video of what Jim Fuglie and Mike Jacobs, longtime North Dakota journalists, had to say. While all of the panelists’ thoughts were fascinating, my arms got tired, so I didn’t film the entire 45 minutes of the program. Jim and Mike get the last word as far as this blog is concerned.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Sisters Quilting Bee Weekend

We’re not certain what constitutes sufficient numbers to be able to call a gathering such as the one I attended this past weekend a “bee,” but I was invited by my older sister to a “quilting bee,” so by gosh I’m going to call it a “bee.”

I was a member of this bee, held in the Bad Lands south of Medora, N.D., by the invitation of my elder sister. My younger sister and I drove over together. She asked me if I had ever done this and confirmed that she had not.

I asked her how old little sister is because this helped me determined how long it had been since I had last quilted. Little sister was a baby in a bassinet the last time that my mother put up the frame in our Slope County living room and we quilted with Mama Crook, my paternal grandmother. The bassinet was tucked under the quilt frame allowing us to keep an eye on her. Thus, for me, it had been more than 45 years since I had quilted.

There was a great deal of laughter and self-poking of fun at lack of needle skills. The quilt we were working on was pieced about 30 years ago. There was plenty of becoming acquainted and sharing stories. The hospitality was very fine indeed, with much delicious food shared with those of us who had traveled from afar to “assist.” (I hesitate greatly to describe the work I did with my needle “helping.”) We each fell into our own rhythm as the day progressed.

We also shared our memories of ancestors’ quilting activities and the beautiful craftsmanship we have seen on display as well as in our personal collections of quilts. We talked of what bees would have been like in bygone days and of quilt auctions we’ve all attended as fundraisers.

Then, it was time to put away the work for the day and celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, dining on rich Irish stew and freshly baked soda bread. We compared pin pricks on fingers and sore muscles from a hunched-over day’s work.

The weekend ended with a good night’s sleep in the silence of the Bad Lands, followed by fellowship this morning at the Medora Lutheran Church, and … more food!

Life has surrounded me with good people — and the best two sisters a gal could wish for.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 35

March 15 is “plant the tiny tomato seeds” day at Red Oak House.

When I wandered into the kitchen this morning, Jim asked me, with great delight in his voice, if I knew what the significance of this day was. I had not yet had coffee and was stumped (I’ll admit that I didn’t try very hard).

This project is tedious joy for Jim, if I may use an oxymoron to describe this. You can see in the photo below that he has to use a tweezer (below).

Yes, he saves his seeds from the previous harvest, as shown here (above).

Wednesday he transplanted the pepper sprouts into small pots. Next week, we will celebrate the vernal equinox, the arrival of spring. We chose this date for our wedding date, after much thought. The days ahead will be busy with joyful tasks.

Spring and All by William Carlos Williams

By the road to the contagious hospital

under the surge of the blue

mottled clouds driven from the

northeast — a cold wind. Beyond, the

waste of broad, muddy fields

brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

patches of standing water

the scattering of tall trees

All along the road the reddish

purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy

stuff of bushes and small trees

with dead, brown leaves under them

leafless vines —

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish

dazed spring approaches —

They enter the new world naked,

cold, uncertain of all

save that they enter. All about them

the cold, familiar wind —

Now the grass, tomorrow

the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf

One by one objects are defined —

It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

But now the stark dignity of

entrance — Still, the profound change

has come upon them: rooted they

grip down and begin to awaken

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — A Toast To My ‘Wild’ Girlfriends

I am blessed with several wonderful girlfriends, fellow travelers who love wild landscapes as much as I. Together, we have explored these places, on a regular occasion.

We are of a similar age and share between us a deep love and commitment to the Bad Lands. These are very smart and strong and brave women friends. My life is deeply enriched by their presence. Like many enduring friendships, we’ve seen highs and lows, standing by each other through the rollercoaster ride of life.

Two on my mind today are Valerie Naylor, now retired from the National Park Service, former superintendent of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and Jan Swenson, executive director of Badlands Conservation Alliance.

Jan, Valerie, and Lillian, from left.

This photo was taken on our first wild adventure as a trio. The T-shirts are advertising White Butte, the high point of North Dakota. Although we’ve all been to the top, we didn’t go there on this particular trip. On this weekend, we explored other Bad Lands places, some secret. May you all be as blessed with friends as I.

A toast to my wild girlfriends, far away or nearby. Keep your feet on the ground and your boots muddy.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — ‘Operation Snowbound’

“Operation Snowbound: Life Behind the Blizzards of 1949,” by David W. Mills. North Dakota State University Press, c2018 (260 pages, photos)

How’s this for timing? I finished this interesting new book, one of the many excellent books being produced by North Dakota State University Press, just as the biggest winter storm of the season is upon us.

This is the story, as described in the subtitle, of the 1949 blizzards that nearly paralyzed a portion of the United States, specifically the northern Plains and the intermountain west, including North Dakota.

The writer and historian, David W. Mills, tells this vivid tale using a rich array of source material, dotting the story with vignettes of individuals who had to cope with the effects of these storms, and the many heroes who played their role in the response. The accompanying photographs enrich the text.

“By the end of January, the devastation was staggering. The western United States had suffered through one of the worst winters on record with at least another month to go. Roads blocked with mountains of snow prevented travel throughout Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming. Snow isolated farms, ranches or entire communities for weeks at a time. Livestock losses were staggering, but the extent of the catastrophe remained uncertain until the snows melted and the carnage lay bare.” (pg. 211)

I learned a great deal about a chapter in North Dakota history about which I’d known almost nothing, and I’m eager to share this book with my mother, who would have lived through this ordeal in Slope County, and to hear her personal stories. That is the magic of books and history, well told. This book falls into that niche and I tip my hat to the author and the folks at the NDSU Press.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — ‘Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life’

“Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life,” by Edward O. Wilson (Liveright Pub., 2016, 259 pages, illustrations).

In between watching the Winter Olympics these past weeks — wasn’t that fun! — I read this interesting book by the great Edward O. Wilson, one I purchased last summer and tucked aside for winter reading. The endorsement we heard last year from Paul Simon during a Billings, Mont., concert was added incentive to read this.

Wilson, who has published 30 other books, makes his case in enormously readable prose. He details the biodiversity that is being lost in these times and what might be done to save it:

“Leaders in biodiversity research and conservation have long understood that the surviving wildlands of the world are not art museums. They are not gardens to be arranged and tended for our delectation. They are not recreation centers or harborers of natural resources or sanatoriums or undeveloped sites of business opportunities — of any kind. The wildlands and the bulk of Earth’s biodiversity protected within them are another world from the one humanity is throwing together pell-mell. What do we receive from them? The stabilization of the global environment they provide and their very existence are the gifts they give to us. We are their stewards, not their owners.” (pgs. 84-85)

I am a big admirer of Wilson’s book “Biophilia,” published in 1984. He received the Pulitzer Prize two times for other works of nonfiction. You can learn more about him here and by watching the excellent PBS film about his life, “Of Ants and Men.”

In reading this book, I also learned about the Biodiversity Heritage Library and the Encylopedia of Life, which seek to provide everyone with access to a plethora of information about life on Earth.

In his chapter on “Restoration,” Wilson’s words had particular resonance for me, an activist who has spent my life becoming more deeply acquainted with my landscape:

“For a large minority of conservation projects, some amount of restoration, meaning human intervention, is necessary. Each project is special unto itself. Each requires knowledge and love of the local environment shared by partnerships of scientists, activists, and political and economic leaders. To succeed, it needs every bit of their entrepreneurship, courage, and persistence.” (pg. 175)

Wilson is a professor emeritus at Harvard University and lives in Lexington, Mass. Treat yourself to this thoughtful book by this gentleman.