Tag Archives: carriage-room

Notes from the carriage-room, #5

We have already explored the carriage-room as a symbol of where old meets new, past meets present, archaic meets modern. It is all that. That is not all it is. It is also where indoor meets outdoor. This is about the outdoors.

It is about a doe and her twin fawns, white spots mostly faded now, watching us as we watched her. If you can believe it, under her gaze, I managed to sneak up to the car, open the door, extract the camera and hand it to my wife to start snapping photos.

It is about a flock of wild turkeys in the soybeans down near the creek, great big things.

It is about a box turtle on the highway as we drove back to the ranch. Those turtles have got to learn not to do that. But it tells you something that they think they will survive that crossing. Evidently it’s not the first time.

It is about a cottontail in the chokecherries, freezing and hoping no one would notice it.

That was a day’s wildlife haul, not counting grackles, vultures, hawks, scissortails and the pigeons we scared up in the middle barn.

It is about the carven inscription of the stonemason who worked on the first barn, dated 1896, who evidently could not spell his own last name. To judge by the status of the barn, that didn’t impact his masonry skill. We are still using it, and he must be over half a century dead. When he chiseled his name and the year in that limestone block, Victoria was Queen of England, there was a country called Austria-Hungary, Teddy Roosevelt had not yet done his thing in the Span-Am War, and the Titanic‘s keel had not yet even been laid down.

It is about the gate my grandfather and I installed in the corral, still standing.

It is about the elm tree that split in the ice storm, which I got partly cleaned up on one visit, and still need to finish up sometime if it’s still here when I show up ready to work.

It is about everything you can’t see from I-70 or the Turnpike. In the words of my Aunt Jaque: “You have to walk the prairie to see what is in the grass.” Our ancestors had to understand the land and its creatures, a matter of life and death for them. No matter what metropolis you live in, that is still inside you, in your wiring. Food does not originate at Whole Foods, Safeway or Wal-Mart. This is where it comes from. To understand it, to touch it, is to touch what is deep inside you, even if you live in Lake Oswego and make your own mayonnaise (and it’s stellar). No matter how urbanized you are, here is where you touch on your sustenance, your very roots as a human woman or man.

In the carriage-room, you can see and feel that.

This is also the final installment from the carriage-room. To those of you who have sat with me here, well, thank you. It has been a pleasure.


Notes from the carriage-room, #4

It has rained all day tonight, conferring muuuud upon the ranch. And welcome, too, all over Kansas. They have had an eastern Washington summer minus the irrigation. No more starscapes; overcast but no chance of serious thunderstorms. This isn’t twister season. Many comments about us bringing rain from Washington to Kansas. I’m willing that we might have done so. I went out to the rain gauge, .33″. Hope it rains all night so we get more.

Reflecting on the many odd juxtapositions of the carriage-room, as Deb watches Dance Moms on a TV sitting six inches below a rack of well-used saddle blankets. Horses came down from the pasture this afternoon and Deb rushed out to see them, like a girl of seven. Deer in the vineyard today, and she zipped out along the muddy driveway to try and photograph them. A little too swiftly, causing the deer to make their “stay the hell away from us, you faecolith” noise. It’s kind of a brief low sputtered moo. I wisecracked to Uncle Mike that they were fed up with paparazzi.

Tonight was Deb’s night to probe Aunt Jaque and Uncle Mike for their knowledge of the cattle industry. They described one time they took exception to a group of cowboys who treated the stock too roughly during loading. Remember, these aren’t their cattle, though it is their property and they don’t have to tolerate behavior they find unbearable. The cowboys weren’t allowed back. Looks like some family principles traverse many generations.

The power just cycled, probably to do with the rainstorm. Common event out here. Kept right on typing. Laptop battery power is a win.

A lamed old part-Dalmatian named Rowdy is having weird dreams on one of the rugs in here. He is the current beneficiary of Aunt Jaque’s Ad Hoc Homeless Animal Shelter, in which any dog or cat who can achieve this sanctuary and doesn’t belong to someone else is granted automatic lifetime employment slaying varmints (cat) or patrolling the premises and barking at everything (dog) or running the barn (cat of great agility and survival skill). I can’t even keep track of ’em all over the years.

I never gave the stone walls of this place a just description. They are limestone, a light creamy color, held together with gray mortar. Kansas limestone comes in several hues, but nearly all of it is found in strata of the same thickness. Most of the rocks are either 4″ or 8″ thick, depending on whether the rocks were quarried with care, or just picked up nearby. They make mosaics that look like state county maps if the state had a bunch of fairly elongated counties. It is routine to spot an ancient seashell in a piece of the wall, a fossil from the days when this was a massive seabed. They contrast oddly with the perfect light beige 1′ square tiles of the floor, a fairly apt metaphor for the room overall. Notice I said all four walls. Some of the interior walls of the house are stone as well.

Limestone construction is not rare in Kansas, and in the 1800s and early 1900s was quite the norm. A good many old churches, civic buildings, and the bulk of Kansas State University are built from limestone. It is an emblem. It means a great many cream-colored buildings, often in very stately and appealing architecture. And they last. Here is a good example, sitting approximately four miles from me.

This one has lasted 126 years, and it shows zero sign of failing. If in 1898 I sat where I sit now, I’d have a big horse-drawn carriage pretty much blocking the TV and harness case.

I could live with blocking the TV.

Notes from the carriage-room, #2

This morning dawned a lazy, blissful Kansas morning with strong coffee and no schedule. I write later as my wife ogles Shemar in the carriage-room indoors from another brilliant starscape. (“Yeah, the stars are amazing again. Ho hum. Is there any brisket left?”)

Today Deb decided she would like to visit Topeka (the state capital). Probably the first time that’s ever happened in history, but I was amenable. Naturally, the old Kansas boy missed the turnpike entry and sent us around via small towns named after 1800s women (in which Kansas annually leads the league, just as we are annually last per capita in tourism). Thanks to your ace navigator, it took longer…but it led us to the Combat Air Museum. I only had to emit a small quantity of whines for Deb to accede to a visit. One of the cooler military air museums I’ve seen, with planes crammed into two hangars about as tightly as if someone planned a jigsaw puzzle of maximum aircraft density. For Deb, it was an hour and a half she’d never get back (she later admitted some enjoyment). While going between hangars, we watched a Blackhawk medevac helicopter training flight, with the bird coming in, setting it light on the gear, then climbing again. “So that others may live.”

9/11 today, so most flags at half-mast. Except for one car dealer with about twenty flagpoles around his lot, with the large one at half-mast and the other twenty-odd at full hoist. I guess there are limits to how much work some folks are willing to expend in the area of flag-waving. A traffic detour led to a great moment as we were routed down a side street past a body shop with a marquee advertising PANTLESS DENT REMOVAL. With a pack of grouches behind us, we couldn’t stop for a photo, but we could circle around. Got ‘im. Imagine the service advisor’s world:  “Hey, Fred, we got a client. Drop trou and come on out here!”

Topeka was every bit as underwhelming as I’d expected of a city that basically cowers before Fred Phelps rather than answering his batteries of lawsuits with ten times as much of the same until he begs for mercy. Even the imposing state capital dome was surrounded by scaffolding, which makes sense as it looked like someone should hose it off. Stopped in Emporia to visit with mom and grandma, a pleasant visit. Home for brisket barbecue–and in Kansas, weak barbecue sauce simply will not do.

Now I sit here in the carriage-room, listening to the dog bark in the dark at some imagined threat (probably a skunk, which could have ramifications) in the vineyard. Yes. The ranch had a vineyard in the past, obstinately growing grapes and making wine, until basic health troubles made it just too much. The only good place to set my beer would be on a century-old school desk next to me, which seems like four kinds of sacrilege, so it’s on the floor. I look left at the stairway rails my grandfather cleaned up and refinished, right at a massive cedar chest containing gods only know what (probably quilts or old tintypes…that’s what I’d put in there), ahead at saddle blankets. A massive Dutch door is the exit. The limestone wall behind me seems the most ancient in the house, as is natural; that’s the part that was living quarters when what is now a living room and dining room was where they drove the wagons to load up sheep wool circa 1886.

The grandmother I visited this afternoon was born in 1919. In this house. About thirty feet away from where I sit. In my childhood, the woman who bore her made me apple pie in the same kitchen she had used since she was an intense-eyed young matron (and we have pictures of her on side-saddles), by then ancient and half blind, all the motions by habit of seventy years in the same place. Her sister, very elderly and soon to pass on in the late 1960s, gave me her old 1955 World Book encyclopedia set. By the time I went to kindergarten I had devoured it.

I wonder if Aunt Nell even guessed the impact those would make. She had been a teacher for many years. I suspect she knew exactly what she was doing.

Notes from the carriage-room, #1

Old meets new. Here I sit in the carriage-room of the ranch house. The walls about me are Kansas limestone, neatly quarried out (or in some cases just found laying around and used as is) and built up over a century ago. Across from me is a large case/rack holding saddles, tack, harness, a TV and a pet carrier. Sometimes we see Otis, retired dean of the barn cats (his story told here), now 18 and aging and an indoor cat, but doing well for a slightly lamed, ancient cat and a true prairie survivor. I sit on a plush modern couch, laptop perched on an antique dining room chair tole painted by my mother, glancing up at a harness case which still held side-saddles as late as the 1980s, when it finally occurred to folks that no women were going to ride that way any more and had not for sixty years.

Some places try to be rustic. Some try to be modern. Some are just themselves, modern where they can be, rustic where they should be, new where they need to be, old where old is beautiful or still functional. This is one such place, where past lives alongside present and no one finds it odd. In fact, it’s something to love.

The prairie starscape is a thing to behold, away from light pollution and studded in sapphires with a creamy band dead across the top of the sky. The warm night is alive as the insect and animal life carries on a survival battle.

Welcome to my Kansas.