Saturday, May 28, 2005

When an Axe Blow To the Head Seems Better

I was reading through a family book telling the story of the Thomas branch of my ancestors last night and came across an interesting story. Evidently, my great great great grandfather died due to an axe blow to the head. It was self-inflicted so it was murder and it certainly wasn't a suicide but it was one heck of an accident. Now as Paul Harvey would say, "Here is the rest of the story."

My great great great grandfather Albert Buchholz was out chopping wood in preparation for a family move to another home and wanted to get it cut up to make it easier to move. On the downward swing of the axe, it somehow hit the neighboring clothes line causing it to jerk out of his hands, fly up, and fall back down on top of his head, splitting it open. Although it didn't kill him immediately, it was the beginning of a death process that would take four more days to complete.

Paralysis started to set in and a surgery was done to remove a blood clot in the brain and a piece of bone thought to be causing the paralysis. Still in a coma after the surgery, his family laid him in bed and wrapped him in blankets with irons that had been heated up to keep him warm. Still unconscious, Albert kept trying to push the iron near one of his legs away it and after awhile, it was discovered that the iron had been heated too hot and had severely burned his leg. Probably mercifully, he never recovered and slipped away at the age of 54.

Life was tougher in those days and accidents seem frequent and deadly among the ranks of my ancestors. Albers brother-in-law, Hugh Nelson Thomas, lost his life due to a horse kick to the head. Two others would be brothers-in-law died in their early childhood. In fact, it seems quite common that out of a dozen children, maybe half reached an adult age. I guess that is why my ancestors were such prodigious child bearers in those days. One half-sister to my great great grandmother had seventeen children! I think I would rather suffer an axe blow to the head!

Friday, May 27, 2005

Buffalo River Canoe Journals - 8: Addendum To the Trip

That evening, more than two inches of freezing rain would fall on that part of Arkansas knocking out power and laying waste to thousands of trees as they split apart and collapsed in the weight. My parent's cabin is near the top of the mountain and all the roads leading away were solid sheets of ice. The cabin had a gas stove for heat so we were able to stay warm but all meals were cooked on the camp stove. It would be three days before the roads would begin to thaw and I was able to make my way down the mountain over numerous downed power lines, removing trees along the way and make it to clearer roads. I would spend half of day creeping north through largely deserted towns and roads before I finally found ones clear of ice. The first time I stopped for gas, I had to chip an inch of ice off my gas cap just to get it open. The first time I reached forty miles per hour, the car started shaking so violently, I had to stop and hammer the several inches of ice that had accumulated on the hubs to "rebalance" my tires. It would be a week and a half before the ice sheath that covered my car had completely melted and with my small engine and significantly added weight, gas mileage sucked. My brother, who was living year-round at that cabin at the time, would go another two and a half weeks before power would be restored. Indeed it had been one heck of an ice storm.

It took me thirty hours of driving to get back home on a drive that normally takes me only twelve hours. Other than being a couple days late to work, all was well and I had not only survived the ordeal but also had enjoyed it greatly. However, it turned out to be one of the last times I would see Dick. The following summer he was diagnosed with brain cancer. I would see him once more the next winter over the holidays and it was painful to see him stripped of his hair and muscle mass from chemotherapy and sitting in a chair that was hard for him to get out of by himself. A few months later, just a little over a year since our Buffalo River trip, he was gone.

Dedicated to Dick
We miss you

Buffalor River Canoe Journals - 7: Death by Hypothermia... Almost

A thick layer of ice coated my tent in the morning when I awoke and it shattered upon the rocks like brittle glass as I pounded it off the sides with my fists. Dick and Marie tell us of an approaching storm that they had heard on their radio that I had packed all this time in my boat since theirs was overloaded. All the weather forecasts are predicting two days of freezing rain and snow followed by "unseasonably" cold temperatures. Had our car waiting at the takeout been closer to home, I would have continued onward despite the storm but reaching a car that couldn't go anywhere because of icy roads wasn't much good either. So we took a vote and decided to see if we could hike out to Gilbert and try to hitch a ride to our waiting vehicle and bring it back to the river access near North Milead another couple miles downstream.

We quickly covered the mile of river to the Gilbert where Dick hiked into town and was able to get a ride to the truck still parked thirty-two miles down river. The rest of us pushed on the couple miles to the river access seeing several more bald eagles along the way. All total, I have seen nearly thirty bald eagles this trip, proving that they really are on the come back from the endangered species list. Dick arrived with his small pickup just a few minutes after we had arrived.

The original plan had called for him to take someone up to where we had started where my father's full sized pickup waited and then load both up and go our separate ways. However, the temperatures were still well below zero and no one was in the mood for having to hang around on the cold rocks for several hours until the shuttle could be made. A slight sprinkle of rain convinced us that our only option was to load the small truck up with everything and make a break for the cabin before the weather got worse. My parents, Dick and Marie, crammed into the small cab and my brother and I climbed into the back, digging holes under the gear to try and get out of the wind.

The next two hours it took to reach our cabin were by far the coldest two hours I have spent in my life. By the time we got there, I was probably in the early stages of hypothermia and while I sat by the furnace trying to get warm, the rest unloaded the truck. It took me an hour to even stop shaking and get some color back into my skin. My brother had actually crawled into his sleep bag during the trip home and had stayed warm but my sleeping bag had been buried under the canoes and out of reach. But I survived and all is well once again. After all of us had taken a nice long hot shower and had a belly full of homemade stew, we sat around listening to a comedy sketch on National Public Radio. At one point I was laughing so hard that I thought I might get sick. It's great to be back.

Buffalo River Canoe Journals - 6: Temperatures Are Falling

Made it through the night and even slept well. I am glad I brought my small one-person tent on this trip and even though it is a little snug with me and all my gear inside, it is easy to heat up and stay warm during the coldest of night. I don't have a thermometer to measure the temperature but I am guessing it got down into the single digits during the night. I was warm but my water bottle froze up during the night inside my tent but not in my sleeping bag. (Forgot to put it inside in my brain-numbed state.)

The grove of trees protected us from the heavy frost so there wasn't any ice on my tent this morning. We built a fire in the morning (something we almost never do) to keep warm as we prepared breakfast and took down the camp. Once the boats were ready to go, we doused the fire, carried all the ashes and coals down to the river to disperse naturally, and then buried the pit, disguising it by putting the original soil and sod firmly into place so that in the end, you couldn't even tell it had been dug there. Having hiked before all day to some pristine place feeling like you are the first one to have been there and find the charred remains of a fire ring made out of rocks, makes me appreciate the "leave no trace" type of camping that I do.

The sun stayed behind the clouds all morning making it hard to stay warm but finally it came up about an hour after lunch. We soon warmed up in those glorious rays of gold but it was still only just slightly above freezing. We camped for the night on a large gravel bar one mile up river from the town of Gilbert, which is actually back away from the river a half-mile or so. The actual river corridor that we have been boating down has Wild and Scenic designation by our national government and therefore, it prevents people from building on the shores. Without the designation, there would be somebody's dream home built every 50 yards along the entire length of this river and it wouldn't be nearly as fun to paddle down. If you ever need proof that this is true, just drive around in the mountains outside of Denver.

We had a great supper but it was Dick and Marie's turn to cook and like usual, it took three hours to prepare. It wouldn't be so bad but because we were all so cold, all we had was the thought of eating something warm keeping our spirits up and having to wait for that gratification was taking it's toll on us. We happened to be at a spot with lower surrounding mountains so the sun didn't start setting until almost five o'clock. Right as it was setting, half dozen vultures flew over camp and settled into a tree not thirty feet from my tent on the other side of the river. Soon it was joined by some more and with ten minutes, there were almost two hundred vultures jockeying for position among the branches of the old snag of a tree. It was very entertaining watching them jockey for position and getting pissed at there neighbor vulture for taking up more than their fair share. By the time the last of the light disappeared from the sky, they had settled down and all sound from them stopped completely.

The moon is nearly full, illuminating the river valley like a torch and in the crystal clear clarity of the cold night, it took on an almost gem-like quality. My breath escaped in huge billowing puffs, crystallizing right before my eyes and sinking gently to the ground. A storm front is moving in and my senses tell me it is going to be a real doozy. With two more planned days on the river, we are going to either have to come up with a plan B or find out of what we are really made. The temperatures quickly fell to somewhere well below freezing and I escaped to my tent closing myself inside the soon to be warm cocoon as Mother Nature closed at the night on the other side.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Buffalo River Canoe Journals - 5: Putting On Shoes of Stone

It was a lot warmer this morning than yesterday so our breaking camp speed improved dramatically. Boats launched, we made excellent progress throughout the morning. Around eleven o'clock, a huge tailwind kicked up and literally blew us down the river for the most part. On one small bend in the river it was at our face and we had to paddle hard to keep from being blown back up stream, but other than that is was all behind us.

We ate lunch and had just started off again at one o'clock when the when started turning colder and the mercury in the thermometer started hurrying for lower ground. By two o'clock, we were all extremely cold and desperately searching for any kind of shelter from the wind. My arms and legs started throbbing in the cold and I knew the situation was starting to get serious. At two-thirty, we found a grove of trees on the river left sheltered at the base of a rock bluff and made camp. We set up the tents and climbed right in for an hour to warm our core temperatures back up. Once warmed, we were able to stay warm during supper preparation and cleanup but still were in bed by five. I got all my gear a little bit more organized than usual fearing a really cold morning and not wanting to fumble with a lot of straps and buckles in the cold.

My clothing on the river consists of a layer of synthetic wool like polypropylene, followed by a nylon shell and then layers of nylon and wool as needed. It is really good winter wear when the chances of getting wet are high because it dries extremely quickly and preserves your body heat. Had I been wearing wet cotton earlier today, I would have been hypothermic instead of just very cold, a difference of life or death. A couple times a day in shallow riffles, I have to get out of the canoe and walk it through due to the shallow water. This means my legs are wet quite often. Though the stuff next to my skin dries, some of my out layers freeze to the point it feels like plated armor. In the morning, my river shoes are like stone and it takes some persuasion to even get my feet inside but after a few moments, my body heat thaws them out enough to flex. They work differently in that you want them to trap a water layer next to your skin where your body heats warms it and acts like insulation. Good for wearing them during the day but a little bit cold and rough getting into them first thing in the morning.

Buffalo River Canoe Journals - 4: When the Laughter Gets Tough

There was a very heavy frost coating everything when I got up in the morning. The river was moving along as the same pace but I was moving around the speed of molasses along with everyone else. We broke camp and launched the canoes into the river. As long as we paddled, it wasn't a problem staying warm but every time we stopped the cold seemed to relentlessly sink into our bodies to the very bone.

The bluffs are starting to taper down in size and number but the river is still very beautiful. During the course of the day I would see two eagles, thirty or so turkeys and several wild elk. I remember back to my childhood days of playing the computer game Voyager that recreated the Oregon Trail experience. At one point when you had to "shoot" game running across the computer screen for food during the upcoming week. If you did well the computer would print out the response "Game abounds!" and so far during this trip, it has. Lucky for them, the only shooting I am doing is with my camera.

My mid-afternoon, the day had warmed up considerably so that by the time we made camp, it was actually pleasant sitting still for a spell, after camp was set up that is. Making camp is a highly choreographed affair for safety and comfort. First, the boats are unloaded, brought to shore and secured against high winds and floods. They are the easiest way through these mountains to civilization and without them, we are... well up a creek without a canoe, not a great place to be. The next most important thing is to establish shelter and in our case it means setting up the tents. On large gravel bars found on the middle and lower portions of the Buffalo River, this is an easy task as there are literally acres to choose from. I usually try to find a level place away from the campfire/kitchen area for some privacy and try to make sure I am not directly downwind of the campfire so as to avoid the smoke.

Once shelter has been established, I usually work on setting up the rest of the camp, which usually means setting up a kitchen area. If my small gas stove the size of my fist and weighs about eight ounces is being used, there isn't a whole lot to this process but if wood is being used, then I try to find a place that I can easily conceal a fire pit so that the next person through wouldn't even know I had camped here. Once the kitchen is set up, the next job is water and wood. For the water I just take a collapsible plastic jug down to the river and fill it up and the wood is found in the nearby hardwood forest.

After all that is done, camp is ready to go and you can do your own thing. With a group such as our group of six, we usually divide the cooking of meals among us so that the kitchen isn't crowded and in our case we have three groups of two. On a trip like this where we only cook breakfast and supper, your turn doesn't come very often. When it isn't my turn in the kitchen, I often take the chance to explore my surroundings a bit and to write in my journal. It is almost like a meditation experience focusing on the uncivilized portions of our world and realizing what life is like outside of the office and the nine to five job. It recharges my internal batteries and helps me to not take everyday things for granted.

Ideally, it is nice to have supper eaten, dishes washed and everything put away before sunset just for the easy of doing it. But in wintertime camping like this when the sun starts disappearing at four in the afternoon, it just isn't feasible and we make do by just staying organized. Tonight we finished supper in the dark, lit only by a roaring fire we had built and because the river rocks on our gravel bar still retained a lot of heat, we stayed up as late as we could staring at the fire and idly talking. As always when my family gets together, a lot of talk revolves around our stories of events in our lives that never fails to make us laugh until our side hurt. When we can't take the laughter, we go to bed.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Buffalo River Canoe Journals - 3: Oh No, I've Sprang a Leak!

It warmed up during the night so that it was more pleasant of a morning than I had anticipated. Never the less, everything left outside was frozen stiff. The camp dishtowel was propped against a tree to thaw while breakfast was being made and camp was being struck.

It was a beautiful day on the water still among the bluffs of the upper Buffalo River where icicles clung in abundance and bald eagles soared lazily around the sky. Despite the beauty around us, lady luck was still not smiling on us and my boat sprang a leak. The canoe was an old canoe and an old patch covering a wound suffered years ago was scrapped off on an unseen rock in a riffle, leaving the cracked hull exposed. Too far to go back and because the leak was still slow, we pushed on with me bailing out water every couple of minutes. We came to one of the few established campsites along the river and there was a lady there admiring the river, having driven down the long steep access road. We stopped to ask if she had any duct tape (we hadn't thought to bring any) so that we could temporarily patch the boat until we reached camp for the evening and could apply a more permanent one. She didn't have any but volunteered to drive to her house "just down" the road and get some. Forgetting about the shape of the roads and what locals consider "just down" we accepted her offer and an hour later she returned. Feeling bad that she went to all that effort and only have a twenty-dollar bill, I gave it to her for her troubles despite her protests. It turns out that twenty dollars was money well spent for my temporary patch on the boat lasted for the remainder of the trip.

The rest of the day passed uneventfully and we camped on a nice gravel bar at rivers edge. We are now twenty-four miles into the trip and we should have nice gravel bars to camp on for the remainder of the trip. It was my parent's turn to cook and with their careful planning and lightweight cooking gear, it was ready in no time. With full bellies and because it was a warmer evening, we stoked the fire and sat around watching darkness come to the river valley. There is something about spending an entire winter day outside that wears a person down to where they can think of nothing but the how cozy that pitched tent must be or how warm the sleeping bag feels. It was all too soon that we gave up on the mental battle to stay out by the fire just a little bit longer knowing full well that there was still eleven or twelve hours until sunrise. Winter is like that but hey.... why fight it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Buffalo River Canoe Journals - 2: Setting Off Down the River

It was sunny and nice most of the day but started cooling off in the evening. Everyone got an early start and met down at the waters edge by the low water bridge just outside of Ponca. The water was a brilliant emerald green and actually felt warm to the touch in the chilly early morning hours. My day soon got colder in a hurry when my younger brother in a bought of carelessness, dropped his rolled up sleeping bag beside his canoe without checking to make sure it was going to stay put. It didn't and rolled down the bank into the river and set off merrily downstream. It had been waterproofed and floating but my worry was that it might get pulled under a tree strainer or rock never to be seen again. Everyone else was oblivious to the fact of what just happened and I frantically ran downstream along the shore leaping over boulders and around trees until I got ahead of the swiftly moving sleeping back and jumped into the stream. I was up to my waist in icy waters but I was able to grab the sleeping bag, still dry and carry it to shore and back to the canoes where everyone was pondering over where I had disappeared too.

My parents were in one canoe, my brother and I are in another and some family friends, Dick and Marie were in a third boat. My family having grown up doing this sort of thing had packed appropriately but Dick and Marie were loaded to the hilt with everything but the kitchen sink. The first leg of the trip contains whitewater when water levels are high but the river in its low level now would have only small wave trains below small riffles. Still, with their overloaded canoe, I was worried that they might tip over. My thoughts proved right when less than a mile downstream they tipped over in a small riffle. While my brother and I were rescuing things that were able to float on downstream, my parents rescuing the boat, Dick and Marie waded around in stomach deep ice-cold water feeling for their cast iron cookware and other heavy objects.

Finally almost everything was rescued and we repacked the boats, this time taking some of their items such as radios and pillows (both now full of water) and putting them in our canoes to even out the weight, not because we were such nice people but because we couldn't afford the long delays of them tipping over all the time. On expeditions, you are only as strong as the weakest and slowest of your group.

The rest of the day went smoothly and we made it out of the whitewater section. Seeing the huge rock bluffs lining the river at every turn was magnificent and being in a boat on the river felt like being carried through an artery supplying the mountains with life giving energy. The language of the river was an ancient one, one that had been speaking for thousands of years and for the most part we paddled along in silence listening to it. Giant icicles hanging from the surrounding bluffs, punctuated the sentences with crystal exclamation points. Bald eagles were soaring around overhead all day evidently listening to the river's story as well.

We for the evening and made camp in a small grassy clearing beyond a steep muddy bank where we eddied out. Not an ideal place to make camp but due to the lost time, we couldn't make it to our scheduled spot. We heaved bags up and over the lip of the bank and pulled ourselves and the canoes up using tree roots for handholds but finally made it. Dick and Marie cooked supper but with their heavy cast iron cookware, it took forever to get things cooked compared to my lightweight aluminum ones and night had long since fallen before we had finished the dishes. It was numbingly cold and all I could do is think of my nice dry sleeping bag while waiting for them to get supper ready. Because their sleeping bags were wet, they evidently weren't in any hurry.

Finally, camp was in order and we all raced to our tents. I huddled in my sleeping bag along with my water bottle and river clothes to prevent them from freezing in the night and lay there shivering until I slowly warmed up. Cold always seems to magnify every little sound but the river valley was silent except for the trickling waters of the river over the rocks. Soon even that too faded from my consciousness as I sank into a deep and dreamless sleep.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Buffalo River Canoe Journals - 1: The Day Before

It was a very merry Christmas and of course we celebrated it "Abbey" style. After breakfast, we hiked the Big Bluff/Jim Bluff traverse via what I have come to term, "Plumber's Crack." The trail to Big Bluff starts in an unassuming gravel parking lot just off the corner in the highway and head off through the trees. (This is the point where my story "Walking Away" ends.) The trail follows old logging roads that have almost sunk back into the surrounding hardwood forest that has re-emerged, down to a saddle in a mountain. From there, we drop off the saddle and then contour around to the Goat Trail across the face of Big Bluff some three hundred vertical feel above the Buffalo River. It was a beautiful sunny day with the high near 40 degrees and the icicles hanging on Big Bluff appeared to be diamonds in the rough as we carefully picked our way across the face.

On the other side of the face, we follow the trail a short way and then bushwhack down the backside of the mountain to a point where we get rim rocked by a thirty feet band of rock. My instincts have lead me to this point and I am never more than twenty yards away from a crack in the rocks that is almost hidden until you are on top of it. The crack runs parallel to the rim of rocks and over the year's dirt and debris has filled it in creating a steep inclined slope down below the rim. It looked very much like the butt crack of a plumber disappearing into the depths of their pants and hence my name for it. I take off my pack, suck in my stomach, and slide/controlled fall down the crack to the bottom.

From there, we bushwhack on down the mountain, inevitably coming across the remains of an old settlers cabin hidden among the trees and because it is off the trail, very few people ever see it. When I first pioneered this route, it was standing and you could walk inside but now it is nothing more than a pile of splintered wood and soon that too will sink into the surrounding forest. A short ways below the cabin we hit the river trail and follow it to Jim's Bluff.

Jim's Bluff in another rock outcropping along the outside bend of the Buffalo River where the water with thousands of years, has eaten away the limestone to form this immense overhand of rock. On one particularly large flat boulder that fell from the overhanging roof years ago, someone has painted the words "Jim's Bluff" on it and it has been there as long as anyone can remember, sheltered from the elements by the overhang. There used to be a rope tied to a tree above the overhang that people used to use to swing out over the deep pool during the summer but it was remover over 30 years ago by the park service. I have been swimming many times in this beautiful swimming hole but today is just a little bit too cool for my taste.

Huge icicles twenty feet long and a foot in diameter at their base were hanging from the lip of the overhang like menacing teeth in a mouth ready to chew us up. I'm sure a picture from across the river would have shown exactly that but because we were sitting on the tongue inside the mouth, I only have the insider's perspective. We sit on the pile of rocks for a while to rest for a bit and to gaze at the icicles in awe. The sunlight is bright at Jim's Bluff during the winter because it is south facing and I get the feeling that I am sitting behind a huge hanging set of the best Waterford crystal.

I get up to check for tomatoes (during a hike on a previous Christmas day, I had found a tomato plant growing in the crack of a rock from a dropped seed of a boater's sandwich that had been garnished with tomatoes. It actually had two ripe tomatoes, growing on it that I had picked and eaten.) but no tomatoes were growing this year so I started looking for a few nice sized throwing rocks. Soon we were all throwing rocks at the huge icicles and watching this fall to the rocks below, shattering into millions of sparkling gems before bouncing down the sloped rocks into the river. Despite our repeated direct hits, we were only able to detach the smaller icicles, still large enough to smash anyone below into a bloody pulp.

We climbed around and up above Jim's Bluff to the trail (same one we started on this morning) and followed it on down to the Sneeds Creek crossing and followed the creek upstream a ways to where is cuts its was through some rock ledges in a series of waterfalls. There we stopped to eat lunch and to nap a little in the sunshine to the tune of falling waters. Later in the afternoon and much refreshed, we hiked back up the trail, up the back side of the saddle to Big Bluff and on up to the trailhead seeing quite a few whitetail deer large by Arkansas standards but small (medium dog sized) by Iowa standards. During the entire day, we didn't see another soul beside ourselves on the trails.

When we got back to the cabin, we spent the rest of the evening quietly packing our gear for the big boat trip tomorrow. We have been coming down here for years and have always wanted to do a float trip down the entire floatable portion of the Buffalo River and after many years of talk, we finally decided to do it. Although it is normally in the 50's and 60's temperature wise down here at this time of the year a cold snap is in the forecast but we are going anyway. As long as the river isn't frozen tomorrow morning, I expect we will not be stopped.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Finding My River Phoenix

During my bachelor days, I lived up in central Minnesota for almost five years and the winters there are long and cold. The cold would keep my inside my apartment for long hours of the day and so every winter, I would take up something new to learn and/or do. Late one fall towards the end of my five-year stint in Minnesota, I woke up to a vision of the cedar wood strip canoe my father had built when I was a kid on our back porch. I immediately set upon the idea of building one and was trying to work out the logistics of it all.

I did some internet research and found the very same plans out of a magazine that my father had built his canoe to and started looking into hints and tips for boat building. During that search, I came across a book for wood strip sea kayak building and my world turned upside down. I love to kayak and own a whitewater kayak and owning a sea kayak which one person could easily paddle made more sense than owning a canoe that takes two. So I bought the book and read it cover to cover as soon as it arrived in the mail. My dream was going to become a reality but I had one very huge obstacle to clear first.

Living in an apartment didn't offer much in the way or room but I thought that if I moved my living room into the kitchen (I never ate at the table anyway), I could lay down plastic in the living room and convert it into a shop. I would order precut wood strips so that all the woodworking would be done with a handsaw and a block plane. The final phase of sanding and working with chemicals to epoxy the surface worried me and I figured all the fumes would get me kicked out of the apartment. Also, at seventeen feet long, my expedition single kayak would run the entire length of the living room and kitchen combined.

Just as despair was setting in, I was telling a co-worker of my problems and he came up with a solution. He had just gone through a divorce and his four-car garage currently had only two vehicles and he would be more than happy for me to use his little shop and additional stall to build my boat. He lived in a town about twenty miles away from me but I figured if I really did a lot of work on Saturdays, I wouldn't have to drive there every day during the week and still finish it by spring.

I drew up my boat plans using my engineering computer software based upon suggestions in the book and adding my own tweaks. After hours at work, I worked another job to get my kayak designs and to use their large plotters to print off full-scale prints to create my forms with. I made several trips to Minneapolis to purchase supplies that I would need and soon I had everything except the wood. In an effort to save money, I decided to mill out my own strips instead of purchasing precut strips over the internet in which I had no say on color or quality so I searched high and low for the right cedar lumber but could only find enough for perhaps half of the boat. Once again my co-worker came to the rescue and I was able to buy some of the most beautiful redwood lumber that a neighbor had left over from a deck project. I was set.

The winter days came and went and I quickly adjusted to my new routine. On weekdays, especially during the stripping process which requires a lot of waiting for glue to set up, I would zoom over after work to get a few strips tacked and glued into place before zooming back home and to bed. On the weekends, I would spend bigger blocks of time working away in that shop. Winsted, the small town where I was building my kayak, is exactly like most small towns in which word travels fast. Soon, I was entertaining a constant stream of visitors who would drive by my co-workers garage and see the progress on my boat. I got into the habit of eating supper at a neighboring bar a block of way just so I could keep everyone up to date and for the only time in my life, I felt just like Norm off of Cheers. I would walk in, sit down at the bar and within minutes, my "usual" would appear before me, a mushroom burger basket with fries, a glass of ice and a can of Pepsi and yes, everyone knew my name.

There was much debate among the populace of Winsted on exactly how I was going to build a kayak out of wood. They couldn't understand how I could get the forms that I used to make the boat hull out of the boat when I was done and I had a hard time explaining it to them despite repeated efforts. I could see it in their eyes that they thought this whole project would end up a flop much like Fulton's Ferry and they wanted to be there when it sank. But I humored them and while eating my mushroom burger and fries, I would tell them what I had accomplished that day and how I had done it.

Mushroom burgers and winter days kept flying by and soon the snows were melting and I was behind schedule. Soon spring would be arriving and with it, millions of crazy Minnesotans with severe cabin fever would be racing outside their homes and I would inevitably get swept up with them. I started working late into the nights, even on weekdays and living on a few hours of sleep. But the kayak was taking shape amidst the wood scraps and sawdust all around and it was beautiful. Even the locals were for once in wordless awe when they came for their progress checks.

Finally the last pieces of trim had been added and the redwood and cedar strip kayak was complete and it was beautiful. I cleaned up the shop, loaded the boat on my car, and for the first time, drove the block to the local bar with my co-worker for a celebration of sorts. The townsfolk showed up in droves to look my kayak over and discuss how and if it would actually float when I finally put it on the water. Mushroom burgers were ordered all around and this time my Pepsi on ice was replaced with beer as I ate my "last supper" with the good folks of Winsted.

Two weeks later, the lake water was emitting little tendrils of mist in the early Saturday morning as I pulled up in my car with the kayak strapped to the roof. I had decided to launch it in the early morning in case it really would sink and my only spectators would be the early morning walkers and joggers. I unstrapped the boat, slipped it into the water near shore, gathered my gear and slid into my kayak. Taking a deep breath, I pushed off, the boat gliding out into the water. I picked up my paddle and took a few strokes. The kayak sliced through the water cleanly and easily, jumping forward with each stroke of the paddle. Soon I was lost in the mist of the lake, enveloped in silence as I continued paddling and feeling how my kayak handled. Like a river phoenix, my boat had risen from the depths of my dreams and now had become a reality.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Salem Witch Trials

Five members of the Cogswell family (including my 9th great, 10th great and 11th great grandfathers) were among the twenty prominent people who signed the petition drawn up by the Rev. John Wise on behalf of Goodwife Proctor, who stood accused of witchcraft. Mary Warren alleged that she had been threatened and abused by Goodwife proctor, and that she had seen apparitions of people who had long since been murdered by the wife of John Proctor. This evidence prevailed and the good woman was sentenced to death. She was burned at the stake and her husband John hung from the gallows as a wizzard.

The stories of witchcraft in old Salem, Massachusetts have been around for many years. The suffering and injustice that these people were put through has been made into movies and debated quite a bit. Thiry-one of the parishioners of Chebacco plus their minister John Wise signed the petition "judging them innocent of any crimes or evill" which John Proctor and his wife had been accused. The Proctor's had originally lived in the town of Ipswich. How extroadinary to live in those times of Puritan beliefs and have enough sense not to be caught up in the hysteria and instead believe them to be the good neighbors they had always remembered them to be and try to help them in their time of trouble. Below is the transcript of the petition and a list of the people who signed the paper as best as I can read. The original document is in posession of the Essex Institute of Salem, MA with the rest of the witchcraft papers.

Transcript of the Petition for John Proctor and Elizabeth Proctor

The Humble, & Sincere Declaration of us, Subscribers, Inhabitants, in Ipswich, on the behalf of o'r Neighb'rs Jno Procter & his wife now in Trouble & und'r Suspition of Witchcraft. Too the Hon'rable Court of Assistants now Sitting In Boston. -- Hon'red & Right Worshipfull! The foresd John Procter may have Great Reason to Justifie the Divine Sovereigntie of God under thos Severe Remarques of Providence upon his Peac & Hon'r und'r a due Reflection upon his Life Past: And so the Best of us have Reason to Adoar the Great Pittie & Indulgenc of Gods Providenc, that we are not Exposed to the utmost shame, that the Divell can Invent und'r the p'rmissions of Sovereigntie, tho not for that Sin fore Named; yet for o'r many Transgretions; for we Do at present Suppose that it may be A Method w'thin the Seveerer But Just Transaction of the Infinite Majestie of God: that he some times may p'rmitt Sathan to p'rsonate, Dissemble, & therby abuse Inocents, & such as Do in the fear of God Defie the Devill and all his works. The Great Rage he is p'rmitted to attempt holy Job w'th The Abuse he Does the famous Samuell, in Disquieting his Silent Dust, by Shaddowing his venerable P'rson in Answer to the harmes of WitchCraft, & other Instances from Good hands; may be arg'd Besides the unsearcheable footstepps of Gods Judgments that are brought to Light Every Morning that Astonish o'r weaker Reasons, To teach us Adoration, Trembling. & Dependanc, &ca but -- We must not Trouble y'r Honr's by Being Tedious, Therefore we being Smitten with the Notice of what hath happened, we Recoon it w'thin the Duties of o'r Charitie, That Teacheth us to do, as we would be done by; to offer thus much for the Clearing of o'r Neighb'rs Inocencie; viz: That we never had the Least Knowledge of such a Nefarious wickedness in o'r said Neighbours, since they have been w'thin our acquaintance; Neither doe we remember -- any such Thoughts in us Concerning them; or any Action by them or either of them Directly tending that way; no more than might be in the lives of any other p'rsons of the Clearest Reputation as to Any such Evills. What God may have Left them to, we Cannot Go into Gods pavillions Cloathed w'th Cloudes of Darknesse Round About. But as to what we have ever seen, or heard of them -- upon o'r Consciences we Judge them Innocent of the crime objected. His Breading hath been Amongst us; and was of Religious Parents in o'r place; & by Reason of Relations, & Proprties w'thin o'r Towne hath had Constant Intercourse w'th us. We speak upon o'r p'rsonall acquaintance, & observations: & so Leave our Neighbours, & this our Testimonie on their Behalfe to the wise Thoughts of y'r Honours, & Subscribe &c.

Jno Wise
William Storey Sen'r
? Foster?
Thos Chote
John Burnum sr
William Thomsonn
Tho Low Sanor
Isaac Foster
John Burnum Jun'r
William Goodhew
Isaac Perkins
Nathanill Perkins
Thomas Lovkine
William Cogswell
Thomas Varny
John Fellows
William Cogswell sen
Jonathan Cogswell
John Cogswell Ju
John Cogswell
Thomas Androws
Joseph Androws
Benjamin Marshall
John Androws Jnr
William Butler
William Androws
John Androws
John Chote Se'r
Joseph prochtor
Samuell Gidding
Joseph Euleth
Jems White

Monday, May 16, 2005

Coming To America!

The following is an account of my twelfth great grandfather's journey to the shores of America back in 1635.

The Angel Gabriel and the Great Storm of 1635

August of 1635 had been a fair one for the small settlements, which were striving to establish themselves in New England. In the wheel of the year, haying would have just concluded, with the settlers mowing, drying, gathering and storing the hay for the upcoming winter during the hottest, most unforgiving part of summer. Crops would be nearing their peak, nearly ready for the September harvest time. However, for "...the whole of the second week of August the wind had blown from the direction of south-southwest with considerable force..." Suddenly, about midnight on 14 August, the wind changed to the dangerous direction of northeast and soon blew to hurricane strength. The winds blasted the crops in the fields and the small houses of the English settlers.

On the shoreline, the winds and storm surge took the waters to heights that none had ever seen before. Boston suffered through two high tides of twenty feet and "the Narragansett Indians were obliged to climb into the tops of trees to save themselves from the great tide in their region. Many of them failed to do so, and were swallowed up by the surging waters..."

The storm lasted the 5 or 6 hours such hurricanes do and when the storm at last had passed, the settlers who could do so emerged to a changed world. Crops were flattened. Some houses had lost their roofs or were blown down completely. Most incredibly to the colonial senses, entire swathes of trees were snapped in two or blown down completely.

Several ships were lost off the coast of New England, but the most celebrated was the Angel Gabriel - a bark of some 240 tons and 12-16 cannon (depending upon the source of information). From the letters of "John Aubrey, the celebrated antiquary of Wiltshire" the Angel Gabriel was originally built by Sir Charles Snell for Sir Walter Raleigh, "for the designe for Guiana, which cost him the manor of Yatton Regnell, the farm of Easton Piers, Thornhill, and the Church-lease of Bp. Cannins, which ship upon Sir Walter Raleigh's attander was forfeited."

A wonderful account of the voyage of the Angel Gabriel & its sailing partner the James (and the storm which befell them) comes in excerpts from the Journal of The Reverend Richard Mather, who was traveling on the James. The two ships sailed together for a great deal of the voyage. Based upon the several different sources for excerpts for this journal, the journey unfolded as written below. The voyage itself took 12 weeks and 2 days, from the time they left King's Road in Bristol on 23 May 1635 until the James landed in Boston, MA on 17 August 1635.

23 May 1635: The Angel Gabriel, Captain Andrews, Master; the James (220 tons), Captain Taylor, Master; the Mary (80 tons), the Bess (or Elizabeth) and the Diligence (150 tons) left King's Road, Bristol, England en route for New England and Newfoundland.

24 May to 2 June 1635: They then lay at anchor for these 11 days before departing.

27 May 1635: "...While at anchor, Captain Taylor, Mr. Maud, Nathaniel Wale, Barnabas Fower, Thomas Armitage, and myself, Richard Mather went aboard the Angel Gabriel. When we came there we found diverse passengers, and among them some loving and godly Christians that were glad to see us. The next day the visit was returned..."

Thursday, 4 June 1635: "...the wind serving us, wee set sayle and began our sea voyage with glad hearts, yt God had loosed us from our long stay wherein we had been holden, and with hope & trust that Hee would graciously guide us to the end of our journey..." Meanwhile, the Angel Gabriel had an omen of things to come: "...And even at our setting out we yt were in the James had experience of God's gracious providence over us, in yt the Angel Gabriel haling home one of her ancres, had like, being carried by the force of the tide, to have fallen foule upon ye forept of our ship, w&ch made all the mariners as well as passengers greatly afraid, yet by guidance of God and his care over us, she passed by without touching so much as a cable or a cord, and so we escaped yt danger..."

4 to 6 June 1635: The ships spent three full days tacking between King's Road and Lundy Island, which lies only 10 miles out in the Bristol Channel.

6 to 9 June1635: The ships lay at anchor at Lundy Island for three more days, stuck there by "adverse seas and wind".

9 June 1635: It only took this one day to sail from Lundy Island to Milford Haven, Pembroke co., Wales.

10 to 22 June 1635: However, once at Milford Haven, they lay at anchor there for another 12 days - due first to rough seas and then to a lack of wind. While Mather and the other passengers chafed at the constant delays, "the day was more comfortable to us all in regard to ye company of many godly Christians from ye Angel Gabriel, and from other vessels lyin in the haven with us, who, wanting means and home, were glad to come to us, and we were also glad of their company, and had all of us a very comfortable day, and were much refreshed in the Lord."

Sunday, 14 June 1635: "...Still lying at Milford Haven. Mr. Maud, Mathews Michael of the James and many of the passengers of the Angel Gabriel went to church on shore at a place called Nangle, where they heard two comportable sermons made by an ancient grave minister living at Pembroke, whose name is Mr. Jessop. Ps XCI-11 "For He shall give his angels charge over Thee to keep Thee in all thy ways..."

Monday, 22 June 1635: The small fleet finally sets sail from the English coast, bound for America. This was the last sight of land for many weeks and the last sight of home for nearly all the emigrants.

23 June 1635: The Master of the James decided to stay with the Angel Gabriel, since both ships were bound for New England and not Newfoundland. They quickly lost sight of the smaller, faster Mary, Bess and Diligence on the evening of the 23rd. Mather's thoughts on the Angel Gabriel were: "...The Angel Gabriel is a strong ship & well furnished with fourteene or sixteene pieces of ordnance, and therfore oure seamen rather desired her company; but yet she is slow in sailing, and therefore wee went sometimes with trhee sayles less than wee might have done, yt , so we might not overgoe her..."

Wednesday, 24 June 1635: "...We saw abundance of porpuyses leaping & playing about our ship". And wee spent some time that day in pursuing with the Angel Gabriel what wee supposed was a Turkish pirate, but could not overtake her..."

Monday, 29 June 1635: The seamen decided to kill one of the porpoises for sport. They had originally planned upon killing it on 28 June, but that day was the Sabbath. Out of respect for the passengers' faith, they waited until the following day. Mather's description of this follows: "...The seeing him haled into the ship like a swyne from ye stye to the tressele, and opened upon ye decke in viewe of all our company, was wonderful to us all, and marvellous merry sport and delightful to our women & children. So good was our God unto us in affordin us the day before, spiritual refreshing to our soules, and ye day morning also delightful recreation to our bodyes, at ye taking and opening of ye huge and strange fish..."

That afternoon, Captain Taylor, The Reverend Mather and Matthew Mitchell went aboard the Angel Gabriel. "...They found much sickness aboard and two cases of small pox, but the latter were recovered. They had supper with the ship's master and had good cheese, boiled mutton, roasted turkey and good sack..."

Saturday, 4 July 1635: "...This day ye sea was very rough...Some were very seasicke, but none could stand or go upon ye decke because of the tossing & tumbling of the ship...This day (July 4) we lost sight of the Angel sayling slowly behind us, and we never saw her again any more..."

Sunday, 2 August 1635: "...And ye wind blew with a coole & comfortable gale at south all day, which carried us away with great speed towards or journeyes end..."

3 August 1635: "...But lest wee should grow secure and neglect ye Lord through abundance of prosperity, or wise & loving God was pleased on Monday morning about three of ye clock, when wee were upon the coast of land, to exercise us with a sore storme & tempest of wind & rain, so yt many of us passengers with wind & rain were raised out of our beds, and our seamen were forced to let down all ye sayles, and ye ship was so tossed with fearfull mountains and valleys of water, as if wee should have beene overwhelmed & swallowed up. But ye lasted not long, for at or poore prayers, ye Lord was please to magnify his mercy in assuaging ye winds & seas againe about sun rising..."

8 August 1635: The James makes land at Menhiggin [possibly Monhegan, ME?]

14 August 1635: At 10 o&clock at night they dropped anchor at the Isle of Shoales and there "slept sweetly the night until daybreak".

15 August 1635: The Great Storm hits. The James is anchored off the Isles of Shoals, the Angel Gabriel off Pemaquid, ME. Mather&s description of the storm: " Lord sent Forth a most terrible Storme of rain, and ye Angel Gabriel lying in at anchor at Pemaquid, was burst in pieces, and cast away in ye Storme and most of ye cattle and other goodes with one seaman and three or four passengers did also perish therein, besides two of ye passengers died by ye way. Ye rest having lives given ym. ' The Angel Gabriel was the only vessel which miscarried with passengers from Old England to New, so signally did the Lord in his Providence watch over the Plantation of New England."

Perley gives an excellent account of how the James survived the hurricane: "...The ship James...was near the Isles of Shoals when the gale came on. The vessel was tun into a strait among the islands, the master thinking probably that he had secured a harbor; but when well in he found that it was an unprotected passage. The anchors were lowered, and all three of them were lost, the violent and almost irresistible wind snapping the cables and leaving the anchors at the bottom of the deep. The Bessel was then placed under sail and run before the northeast gale, but neither canvas nor ropes held, and she dashed through the foaming crests on toward the rocky shore of Piscataqua. Instant destruction seemed inevitable. But, lo! As if a mighty overruling hand controlled the angry elements, when within a cable&s length of the ledges, the wind suddenly veered to the northwest, and the ship was blown away from the deadly rocks back toward the islands again...they were plowing along toward rocks as dangerous as those they had just escaped. When about the strike in a last fatal plunge a part of the mainsail was let out, which caused the vessel to veer a little, and she weathered the rocks, almost touching them as she plunged past. The desired harbor was finally reached in safety..."

Mather records that the reaction of the passengers to this stroke of fortune was thus: "...When news was brought to us in the gun room that the danger was past, oh how our hearts did then relent and melt within us! And how we burst into tears of joy amongst ourselves, in love onto our gracious God, and admiration of his kindness in granting to his poor servants such an extraordinary and miraculous deliverance. His holy name be blessed forever..."

At Pemaquid, there was no such miracle for the Angel Gabriel. She broke up on the rocks. Luckily, only 3-5 of the passengers & crew lost their lives but all who survived lost virtually everything they owned. A bark commanded by Captain Gallop made several trips, eventually conveying all the survivors to Boston, Suffolk co., MA.

16 August 1635: "...This day we went directly before the wind, and had a delight all along the coast as we went, in viewing Cape Anne, the bay of Saugust, the bay of Salem, Marblehead and other places and came to anchor at low tide at Nantasket, in a most pleasant harbor, like to such I had never seen, amongst a great many lands on everyside. After the evening exercise, when it was flowing tide again, we set sail and came the night to anchor again before Boston and so rested that night with glad and thankful hearts that God had put an end to our long journey, being 1,000 leagues, that is 3,000 English miles, over one of the greatest seas of the world. First of all it was very safe and healthful to us, for though we were in a ship with 100 passengers, besides 23 seamen, 23 cows and heifers, 3 suckling calves and 8 mareas, yet not one these died by the way, neither person nor cattell, but came all alive to land, and many of the cattell in better condition than when they first entered the ship. And most of the passengers are in as good health as every and none better than my own family, and my weak wife and little Joseph as well as any other:. They had seasickness but were spared the fever, small pox and other diseases. Richard Beacon lost his right hand in the storm and one woman and her small child had scurvy, "we all conceived to be for want of walking and stirring of her body upon her bed. We had a comfortable variety of food, seeing we were not tied to the ships diet, but did victual ourselveds, we had no want of good and wholesome beer and bread, and as our land stomachs grew wearly of ship diet of salt fish and salt beef and the like, we had liberty to change for other food which might sort better with our health and stomachs and therefore sometimes we used bacon and buttered peas, sometimes buttered bag-pudding made curraynes and raisings, and sometimes drink pottage of beer and oatmeal and sometimes water pottage well buttered..."

17 August 1635: The James manages to make it to Boston Harbor proper with "her sails rent in sunder, and split in pieces, as if they had been rotten ragges."

Mather summed up his trip with "On June 2 we lost sight of our old English coast, until August 8 where we made land again at Menhiggin, it was but six weeks and five days yet from our first entering the ship in King road on May 23 to our landing in Boston on August 17, it was 12 weeks and 2 days. For we lay at anchor in King Roade 11 days before we even set sail and 3 days at Lundy and 12 days at Milford and spent 3 days tacking between Kind Roade and Lundy, one day between Lundy and Milford and 8 days between Menhiggin and Boston. Again, let our gracious God be blessed forever. Amen..."

Mr. Cogswell and his family escaped with their lives, but well drenched by the sea and despoiled of valuables to the amount of five thousand pounds sterling. They were more fortunate than some who sailed with them, whom the angry waves gathered to a watery grave. On leaving England Mr. Cogswell had taken along with him a large tent, which now came into good service. This they pitched, and into it they gathered themselves and such stores as they could rescue from the waves. The darkness of that first night of the Cogswells in America found them housed beneath a tent on the beach. The next day they picked up what more of their goods they could, which had come ashore during the night or lay floating about upon the water. As soon as possible Mr. Cogswell, leaving his family, took passage for Boston. He there made a contract with a certain Capt. Gallup, who commanded a small barque, to sail for Pemaquid and transport his family to Ipswich, Mass. This was a newly settled town to the eastward from Boston, and was called by the Indians, "Aggawam." Two years earlier, March, 1633, Mr. John Winthrop, son of Gov. John Winthrop, with ten others, had commenced a settlement in Aggawam. An act of incorporation was secured August 4, 1634, under the name of Ipswich. The name Ipswich is Saxon, in honor of the Saxon queen Eba, called "Eba's wych," i.e., Eba's house; hence Yppyswich or Ipswich. Some derive it from Gippewich, meaning "little city." In the early records are found the following enactments of the General Court:

"April 1st, 1633. It is ordered that noe pson wtsover shall goe to plant or inhabit att Aggawam, withoutt leave from the Court, except those already gone, vz: Mr. John Winthrop, Jun'r, Mr. Clerke, Robte Coles, Thomas Howlett, John Biggs, John Gage, Thomas Hardy, Willm Perkins, M. Thornedicke, Willm Srieant.

"June 11, 1633. There is leave graunted to Tho: Sellen to plant att Aggawam.

"August 5, 1634. It is ordered that Aggawam shal be called Ipswich.

"At Ipsidge a plantation made upe this yeare. Mr. Ward P___, Mr. Parker T____. James Cudworth, 1634.
It was probably near the last of August, 1635, when Capt. Gallup sailed up the Aggawam River, having on board Mr. and Mrs. Cogswell, their three sons and five daughters, and whatever of household goods his barque would carry, the rest of their effects being taken by another ship. The settlers of Ipswich at once manifested an appreciation of these new-comers. They made John Cogswell liberal grants of land, as appears from the following municipal records:

"1636. Granted to Mr. John Cogswell Three Hundred acres of land at the further Chebokoe, having the River on the South east, the land of Willm White on the North west, and A Creeke romminge out of the River towards William White's farme on the North east. Bounded also on the West with a Creek and a little creeke.
"Also there was granted to him a parsell of ground containinge eight acres, upon part whereof ye sd John Cogswell hath built an house, it being the corner lot in Bridge street and hath Goodman Bradstreet's house-Lott on the South East.

"There was granted to him five acres of ground, which is thus described: Mr. John Spencer's buttinge upon the River on the South, having a lott of Edmond Gardiner's on the South East, and a lott of Edmond Sayward's on the south west; with six acres of ground, the sd John Cogswell hath sold to John Perkins, the younger, his heirs and assigns."

The grant of three hundred acres of land at the further Chebokoe was some five miles to the eastward, in a part of Ipswich that was constituted, May 5, 1679, Chebacco Parish; and February 5, 1819, incorporated the town of Essex. A settlement had been commenced in the Indian Chebokoe, in 1635, by William White and Goodman Bradstreet.

It appears that John Cogswell was the third original settler in that part of Ipswich which is now Essex, Mass. On the records of Ipswich his name often appears. It is uniformly distinguished by the appellation of Mr., which in those days was an honorary title given to but few, who were gentlemen of some distinction. There were only about thirty of the three hundred and thirty-five original settlers of Ipswich who received this honor. Very soon after his arrival, March 3, 1636, by an act of the Court, John Cogswell was admitted freeman, to which privileges none were admitted prior to 1664 except respectable members of some Christian church. To freemen alone were given the civil rights to vote for rulers and to hold public office.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Dividing Up the Estate

My earliest known ancestor was Robert Cogswell who died in 1581 in Westbury Leigh, Wiltshire, England and was buried on June 7, 1581 at St. Mary's Parish, Dilton, Westbury Leigh, Wiltshire, England. His wife's name was Alicia and nothing else is known about her other than she was buried on August 1, 1603. They had eight children, Robert, Richard, Stephen, Joane, Margaret, Margery, Edith and Edward. Edward Cogswell would give birth to a son (my twelfth great grandfather) John Cogswell who would immigrate to America in 1635 but more on that later.

Robert Cogswell was in the clothing manufacturing business as was his son Edward and grandson John but it must have been bred out somewhere along the line because I am clothingly challenged and have a hard time just getting dressed in the mornings. The only other information that I have on my earliest known ancestor is his will which was dated June 1, 1581 and proved on July 14, 1581 at the Probate Court in London, England and reads as follows:

"In the name of God, Amen. I, Robery Cogswell bequeath my soul to God & my bodye to be buried in the Churche or in the Churchyarde of Westburye. To St. Mary's Church, Saram, sixpence. To Westbury Church, twelvepence. To the Church in Dilton, twelvepence. Item: I give to the poore people of Leigh & Dilton a sack of wheate to be broken and given unto them. Unto my sonne Robarte Cogswell, the house of Hancock, &c. To Rychard Cogswell, my sonne, 3? 6s. 8d. To Stephen Cogswell, my sonne, 6?. Item. I give unto Rychard & Stephen, my sonnes, all my sheares with the rest of my workinge tooles, that pertayneth to my occupation, after their mother doe give up the use of them, Stephen to have his portion at the age of 24. To Margaret Cogswell, my daughter, 6? 13s. 4d. To Margery, my daughter, and to Edith, my daughter, 6? 13s. 4d. each. To Roger and George Cogswell, the sonnes of Robert Cogswell, one ewe each. To Margaret Cogswell, the daughter of Edward Cogswell, one ewe..." Several gifts of live stock to persons by the name of Smith & Freestone "'...To my son Edward Cogeswell, my best weather sheepe. To Roger, son of Robert Cogswell, certain vessels of Brass after the death of Alice my wife..." He appoints his wife Alice sole Executrix.
Signed: Robert CogswellWitnessed: Geo. Oldlambe, John Whatley, Wm. Franklyn, Nicholas Beaser.

The first thing that caught my attention was that Robert bequeathed a sack of wheat to the poor people of Leigh & Dilton. It seems like a token gesture, as I can't imagine one sack of wheat going very far when concerned with food. But I suppose it might have been used as seed, which makes it a little bit bigger sized gift if planted and harvested. His son Richard seems to have gotten a little short changed with only three sterling pounds, six shillings and 8 pence given to him but he did get the half of the shears from the family business along with his brother Stephen who got six sterling pounds. I wonder if they were scissors or big mechanical ones? My blood relative Edward was bequeathed the best weather sheep, which makes me, wonder what the heck a weather sheep was. From doing a Google search it appears to be an old term for a certain breed but I haven't found anything that says for certain. Other than some money, sack of wheat, clothing manufacturing equipment, a few sheep and some brass vessels, he didn't have a lot to his name (maybe due to having eight kids?) but in those days, I guess you didn't need a lot.

Monday, May 2, 2005

A Disappearing Generation of One-Armed Farmers

I was sitting in the corner of the auction house waiting for bidding to begin in the back room when I saw the man. He was wearing a light green Pioneer Seed jacket, a baseball cap sporting a farm implement name, jeans and a pair of boots that look like he was born with them in place. He was probably in his early 70's and I was willing to bet any amount of money that he was a retired farmer now passing his Friday night going to the auction and milling through the crowd awhile before going back home.

He was carrying a chicken sandwich with one hand as he walked towards me and sat down at the table directly in front of where I was. It was one of those limp breaded chicken sandwiches on Wonder bread that you always find at auctions but for some reason this man eating one of them seemed to fascinate me. He took a bite of the sandwich and sat it back down on the table so that he could grab the napkin and wipe a little bit of mustard off his lips. He couldn't do both at once because he only had one arm.

Growing up in a farming community, missing limbs wasn't uncommon mostly among the older community. I could sit back and easily fill up all the fingers of both my hands naming farmers who used to live near by that were missing arms, legs and fingers. It was a product of their generation when lawsuits were not prevalent and thus safety shielding on farm equipment was mostly non-existent. One of my favorite singers, John Prine sang about it in "Ain't Hurtin' Nobody" when he sang:

There's roosters laying chickens and chickens layin' eggs
Farm machinery eating people's arms and legs

Those were the times and as a result, I grew up in a community filled with amputees.

The man was a model exercise in careful, deliberate eating as I watching him work his way through the limp chicken sandwich in rapt fascination. I supposed it came from years of living without one appendage and so he had learned to be careful. He would pick up the sandwich carefully to prevent the limp bread from spilling out the limp chicken, studying it carefully for the opportune spot to get his next bite and then take it, following it up with careful chewing and swallowing. Between each bite he would sit it down and switch his one hand over to the task of dabbing at any mustard that might have ended up on his cheek.

I wanted to talk to the man and ask him some questions that suddenly seemed very important to me. I wanted to learn his name, where he was from, what he does now, and how he lost the arm. He had a interesting story hidden beneath that light green Pioneer jacket with one sleeve lying vacantly along his side, I just had to work up the courage to ask for it. I imagined introducing myself and saying that I wanted to write his story for a blog that I write but I felt it would just bring up more questions from his end or worse, that he would just walk away. So I continued to watch his eat his chicken sandwich while he scanned the crowd milling around the auction floor.

I began to notice that the fingernails on his hand were unusually long, femininely long. They seemed to get in the way of everything he did and make his deliberate moves, unsure. I was sitting there pondering this new information when it hit me. How does a one armed man clip his fingernails? The weight of that question seemed to settle into me, tugging hard at some inner strings. Obviously he can't and that is why I am sitting here looking at them right now. There was no wedding band on his hand but he only had a right hand and what does one do with a wedding ring when you don't have a left ringer finger to put it on? Another question loaded with weight. At that moment I knew he didn't have anybody to clip those nails, no wife and no friends, or at least ones that would volunteer to clip them. Some would but they probably couldn't get past the part of asking a proud farmer, fiercely independent, if they could do something as simple as help clip his fingernails. Sometimes asking someone so proud to do something so simple is just like sucker punching them in the gut when they aren't looking.

The one-armed farmer finished the last bite and carefully folded up his wax paper sandwich wrapper before getting up and walking off into the crowd. I watched him slowly walking, again very deliberately, among the people trying to purposely fit into a randomly milling crowd. It worked to all but me the observer because nobody gave him a second look as he wandered around to the far side of the room and started to make his way to the front door. All too soon, he slipped out the door and disappeared into the inky darkness, my chances of finding out his story disappearing too. Had he been a young farmer missing a limb, maybe he would have been noticed by others but unfortunately he wasn't. He was simply another one-armed farmer from a generation full of one-armed farmers.