Category Archives: Horses

Remember This

Weeping Willow and Loansome Hart left photographs of themselves inside a banjo ukulele, as a gentle "Remember Us."

Weeping Willow and Loansome Hart left photographs of themselves inside a banjo ukulele, as a gentle “Remember Us.”

My family has long had a close relationship to the making of music. If you go back far enough in my mother’s family, we were probably connected to the German composer of operas and organ music, Johann Georg Kühnhausen, whose Matthäus-Passion (Saint Matthew’s Passion) is still occasionally performed. But for the most part, we played much more informally.

My father and several of his buddies toured around Eastern Washington in the 1930s and 1940s, playing dances in little towns like Othello and White Bluffs as the Five Jives. Two of his brothers were members of a long-lasting semi-professional band that formed under Steve Laughery in Moses Lake and which continued to tour the west after Laughery died in a landslide. The memory of these bands survive in some of the artifacts we still possess, some sheet music inscribed with “Five Jives” and a couple of vinyl albums from the Many Sounds of Nine, my uncles’ band. I have written before about the old violin my father used to play, passed on to him from one of my mother’s uncles. I use it to play dance music in a couple of contra-dance bands in Northwestern Washington now.

There are no markings on the instrument to indicate how old it it. The name "Elton" is stamped on the metal resonator ring.

There are no markings on the instrument to indicate how old it it. The name “Elton” is stamped on the metal resonator ring.

Last month I found a very interesting instrument, seemingly meant for me. It had a peculiar back story and it fit a special niche in a musician’s repertoire. For there will always be a time when you want to create the most annoying sound you can musically make. In this case, with a banjo ukulele. Continue reading

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The Far Side of the City

That summer of 1981 I became familiar with urban poverty. By far, most of the families I encountered in Ardoyne relied on a government check, the Dole, to get by. How they managed to make the money stretch to pay their rent and what they called their rates (utilities) and taxes, I couldn’t imagine. Not to mention the money they spent on food, often at a chippie, which is what a fish and chip van was called. Sometimes they’d buy a curry from the truck that sat near the shops, but other times hunger drove them to serve their children “chip buddies.” This consisted of two slices of buttered white bread with French fried potatoes laid between them. Carbohydrate delight. Of course there always seemed enough money to pay for pints at the Shamrock and other social clubs.

I knew a woman from the college I’d attended in Spokane who had married a man from Belfast, and at one point that summer I contacted her for a friendly visit. She took me on a walking tour downtown and introduced me to her brother-in-law, who shared the opposite side of their huge semi-detached house on some private acreage to the south of the city. John was a bachelor, trained as a geologist, and comfortably situated after years of oil work in the Middle East. He was delighted to meet Sally’s college friends (I discovered that one of my dorm brothers had previously visited him), and he invited me to come to his house for dinner sometime when I wanted a break from the inner city.

My dinner with John was one of the most unusual events of that year, an evening of surprises. Continue reading

Crab Creek Ranch

Danielson boys got around on horseback.

Oscar Danielson found out that making ends meet on his Lower Crab Creek homestead wasn’t the easiest thing to do. From the beginning, Oscar kept meticulous notes about his finances, even before leaving Renton to build his farm. His ledger is filled with minutia, and in addition to mundane expenditures for a growing family, the way the entries are written record Oscar’s assimilation into his new country. In the beginning his notations are mostly in Swedish, but over the course of several years, Oscar adopts more and more English phrases for his entries. Perhaps he had to share the book with a banker who didn’t understand Swedish!

There are a number of local history books that do a great job of describing life on an Eastern Washington homestead. One of them, Laura Tice Lage’s Sagebrush Homesteads actually mentions Oscar and his homestead. Ms. Lage relates a family story, probably learned from my father. In this tale the pioneers have decided they are losing too many crops to a plague of jackrabbits. My grandfather has an experience that demonstrates another unexpected problem concerning rabbits. Out in the field one day, with a young Walter perched on the seat of the buckboard, Oscar spots a jackrabbit. Continue reading

The Crossroads

Lower Crab Creek provided water. In Eastern Washington, that was a godsend. Temperatures on the Columbia Plateau routinely soar to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summertime, and rain is scarce. Cleaning irrigation ditches with a shovel west of Othello as a boy, many were the prayers I sent for even one scanty cloud to shield me from the overbearing sun.

The Sinkiuse Indians who lived there before me probably shared my distaste for the relentless sun. But they didn’t have the benefit of a well of cold water I could retire to, an air conditioner that cooled the house when I took a break. They were stuck with the weather the way it was: hot in the summertime, cold in the winter. They took a more basic approach to living on the Columbia Plateau: they stuck close to water, or if that weren’t possible, they found the shortest route from one water hole to the next.

Over centuries of migration and travel, humans developed routes that guided them along the most direct lines of travel from one pool or stream of potable water to the next. Continue reading

A Visitor

It was a glorious morning, the type of day that reminds me of why I so love living here. For so long the weather has continued to act like Winter: fog cloaking the hills, rain flowing down our driveway like a babbling brook. And it seems only days  ago that the last of the snow disappeared from the slopes of Anderson Mountain. Continue reading

The Horse and Me

Oscar Danielson on his Crab Creek farm in Grant County, WA, circa 1920

Oscar Danielson on his Crab Creek farm in Grant County, WA, circa 1920

“FIDDLE, n. An instrument to tickle human ears by friction of a horse’s tail on the entrails of a cat.”
Ambrose Bierce (1842 – 1914) American journalist and short-story writer: The Devil’s Dictionary, 1911

My father’s claim to fame is that an incident in his life made it into a book, Sagebrush Homesteads, by Laura Tice Lage. In this passage, Lage describes how my grandfather was working in his hay field when he spotted a pesky wabbit. At that time, rabbits were destroying crops so completely that many farmers near Crab Creek were being ruined. Grandpa Oscar was prepared, though. He snatched up his twelve gauge shotgun and fired at the bunny. The book doesn’t say if he hit the thing, or not. The most dramatic result of that shot was that Oscar’s horse was spooked. It galloped away, towing the wagon along with it…and my child father in the wagon.

My father always detested horses.

I’m wondering if that trait isn’t hereditary. Not that I detest horses, but that horses seem to have a thing about me! I first noticed that problem when I was a teenager. Years before, I had blithely told my mother who it was that I someday hoped to marry. Let’s call her Julie. As a teenager, I would never have revealed such a secret, but the feeling remained. Julie was still the woman I most wanted to impress. She was my age, so I knew her well, since all the children in that end of Adams County attended the same schools. I had been, for a time, her brother’s best friend–had even spent some sleepovers at her house. So when I ran across this beautiful, statuesque blond at the local fair, I considered it a matchless opportunity to impress her. But Julie was on horseback, and as I stood close by, chatting her up (as the Northern Irish lads would have described it), Julie’s horse decided to dispose of the suitor: it took a deliberate step in my direction, and it landed on my foot. Have you ever had eight hundred pounds dropped on your toes? My courtship ended suddenly and dramatically.

Continue reading