51st Parallel Gardening – May

I have been watching the posts from southern gardener friends with great envy. Some of them are already getting fresh beans and greens! I live just a bit to the south of the 51st parallel and winter has barely left. My plants are still in the greenhouse. The locals say you cannot put out bedding plants until either the big northern geese have continued on north or until the first full moon in June. I learned the hard way my first year here that you can’t rush the bedding plants.

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This year I cut back on my ambition and started only tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and eggplant indoors under a grow light. As soon as the daytime got warm enough I moved the plants outdoors into my mini greenhouse. I have replanted everything I started from seed into larger containers. At night if the temperature is supposed to go below freezing I put a small electric oil filled heater in set on law. If it is going to snow or get below freezing even daytime (which can happen here even in May) the plants are moved indoors and back under the grow lists for a while. As you can see, my favourite container is the tall yogurt one. It is sturdy, flexible and just the right depth for encouraging deep roots. We have long spells of hot dry weather followed by monsoon prairie downpours. Deep roots are really important for survival under our demanding conditions. It will be another three or maybe even four weeks before these plants will be planted out in the garden.

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Today I moved the zucchini plants into their final container. I will set these out in the yard and let them grow. Last year I got an enormous crop of zucchini from pots and I hoping for one this year. However, I can’t relax yet. Though it is a lovely 22C (72F) right now, the forecast for tomorrow night is below zero and flurries. In spring, I get my exercise carrying pots in and out of the house. The first hard frost does not generally show up until late September here at the 51st parallel but we have gotten them as early as midAugust. Sometimes I am carrying pots in and out again in early fall. For really tender plants like zucchini I find big pots work best. If you plant in the garden you will get zucchini only in some years when conditions are right.

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Two years ago I planted a raspberry cane. I haven’t gotten much fruit in those two years but the plants have grown like crazy and spread, as I hoped they would. We want the raspberries to eventually fill the space between the sump pump pipe and the rainwater pipe. Maybe this year we will get enough fruit to do more than taste. I made sure to get a local hardy variety that can take our extremely cold winters.

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My strawberries I started last year all survived. I planted three varieties, one June, and two ever-bearing. Last year we had about five strawberries. This year I am hoping for more. I am also hoping to create second box for more strawberry plants off runners.

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This is my herb box. It has oregano and sage from last year and lemon balm. I also tried an experiment. I started onions (light green top) and garlic (lower darker green single stalks) from seed produced in my garden last year. I collected the seed. I started it indoors in a couple of pots. Garlic and onions are tough and take the cold so I have already planted those into my herb box. The onions were far more prolific in coming up. I will thin those and use the thinned plants for greens as the season progresses. I have lots of large garlic that survived the winter so I will leave these tiny garlic for next year. I will also be planting some parsley and cilantro. Last year the parsley and cilantro survived the winter and I didn’t have to plant again. This year was not so lucky.

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My chives are from my first year and they are doing very well. I have one flower formed. In a couple of more weeks it will be covered in lovely blooms. We have already been enjoying fresh chives in salad.

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Rhubarb is another plant that does well in our northern garden. I use rhubarb for juice and pies and as fruit bit in muffins, sweet breads and cakes. It also freezes very well. Sliced and frozen on a cookie sheet and then loose packed in a bag, we can enjoy a taste of spring in winter. Rhubarb is extremely tart and so I typically blend it with other fruit. These plants were already in my garden when I moved in but they are small. The previous owner did not like rhubarb and mowed them every chance he got. Last year I got enough rhubarb for only one single pie. You can only harvest about half the stalks once they are fully out. I made Rhuberry (rhubarb and strawberry) pie with store bought strawberries. My husband declared it the best pie he had ever had. Maybe this year I will get enough strawberries and rhubarb to make one from entirely from my own produce. We shall see. Rhuberry jam is another special favourite of mine but these plants will have to grow a lot more before I can do that again.

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Horse radish is one of our northern treats. I planted two plants two years ago. One plant has taken off and is doing very well. The second plant is unhappy and I don’t know why. It barely puts its head up. I have not yet been able to use my own horse radish roots. Fortunately my neighbour has been very generous with hers which are well established and many years old. And of course dandelions are blooming everywhere now.

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Last year I planted Saskatoons. These are northern natives small trees/large bushes. They produce a small blueberry size dark purple fruit. They grow wild everywhere around here but each patch has a jealous guardian and it is considered the height of unneighbourly behaviour to pick from someone else’s patch, and unless you are a bear, you will be chased away. I purchased five little trees last year. The Saskatoon is a close relative of the apple tree and should grow into a hardy apple tree sized bush that will have white blossoms in spring and will produce abundant fruit about the end of June. The taste of the berries is halfway between apple and blue berry. These berries freeze and can beautifully, and make great jam, jellies and pies. They are also one of the reasons people were able to settle in the north. The berries are exceptionally high in vitamin C and when dried and pounded into powder, the powder retains much of its vitamin C. If you mix one part dried Saskatoons with two parts dried powdered lean game meat and stick it together in with some grease or fat, you have traditional pemmican. Pemmican is a perfect food for humans containing every nutrient we need to stay healthy and it will keep for years. Without pemmican, Canada would not have been settled. All five of my teeny Saskatoons survived the winter. It will be few years before I can look forward to harvesting my own. Until then I will have to beg to be permitted to go berry picking with a generous neighbour.

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Sorry about the fuzzy picture but this is tamarack. Again a native tree, this looks like an evergreen tree but in the fall turns golden and then drops its needle like leaves. I had a low wet spot in the yard where the preexisting evergreen had died from drowning. Last year I pulled it up and went hunting for a tamarack to put in its place. Tamaracks can grow in the nastiest wet marshy soggy soil. I found this little one in a ditch outside of town in an area that gets mowed for hay. I transplanted it before haying season and it is coming back. If I can avoid mowing it, the tamarack should one day be big enough to fill in the holes in my windbreak where the ground is so soggy.

I have the loveliest perennial garden. I can take no credit for it. It came with the house but I love it. The one daffodil I saw bloomed this year. Right now the violets are blooming. I will soon have tulips and columbine. After that come lilies of assorted types and colours and Canada anemones. Later into year it will have delphiniums and other late season flowers. If I can keep the grass out, I will enjoy blooms all season. The previous gardener was a clever lady and planted the perennial flower bed with both local native plants and hardy exotics.  I am trying my best to preserve her delightful legacy. Last fall I added a bunch of tulip blooms and they are coming up among the older tulips. I plan to add more daffodils this fall.

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The grass has needed its first mowing and it is full of this little lovely, creeping charlie. I know most gardeners abhor creeping charlie but I like it.It has lovely little purple blooms all summer, it grows in places the grass doesn’t like and it does not need mowing. It happily accepts trampling and traffic. If my entire lawn were taken over by creeping charlie I would be delighted. Right now it has a lot of strong reddish colour. Every spring we have high UV in May. The annual ozone northern hole means we get a lot of UV. The native plants adjust without a problem. Bedding plants need to be exposed gradually by a couple of hours a day or they get sunburnt.

My vegetable garden is not yet started beyond a few onions and some garlic. It is simply too soon to seed anything. The packages say you can plant as soon as the ground can be worked but it really isn’t so in the north. If you plant too soon, the plants come up scraggly and miserable and don’t produce much. So this time of year you just rototill every week or so to kill the native weeds and remind yourself you need to wait. At least this makes the robins happy. The know what a rototiller sounds like and congregate nearby eagerly awaiting my departure after which the dirt gets thoroughly inspected for bugs. I will plant cold hardy seeds that can take a freeze next weekend on the Victoria Day Weekend in Canada. Anything cold fragile will have to wait until that full moon in June.

Today the sunrise was at 5:49am and sunset and the sun will set at 9:40pm. We have very long days in spring and they will be even longer come June. This means that once the stuff is actually in the ground and growing, it will grow much faster than my southern neighbour’s can boast. By the end of July you would be hard pressed to tell my garden is so far north. It will be all caught up.

That is where my garden is today. Northern gardening requires rethinking and more planning but it can be just as bountiful and rewarding as southern gardening.

Where is your garden at these days?

Chicken (or Fish) Broth From Scratch

I finished recounting our trip home. We are now comfortably settled in our little house on the prairie and I am back to being a retired stay at home grandma type. So until next trip, my posts will reflect that part of my life. We live simply and frugally.

As a society we have become more and more dependant on Big Food to provide us with ready made meals. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. Moms these days often have two or three jobs including raising children. There is nothing wrong with trading a little money for some convenience and time. The problem is sometimes the skills we once learned from our mothers and grandmothers get lost. So this blog is for the young woman I met in the store who was buying cut up chicken and soup base and complaining to me that she just couldn’t get soup and stew to turn out like her Grandma made it and it was costing her a fortune. My recipe is for two-three people using a small crock pot so if you have a bigger family you may want to increase the size.

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Step one is the chicken parts. I buy whole fresh chickens and cut them up myself. This works for us because my husband likes dark meat and I like light meat so very little is wasted. I prepare packages of half a breast and a thigh and leg in small packets and freeze them. If the “three-fresh-chicken” packs are on sale, I’ll buy those. I will put all the wings in one bag and we will have hot wings one night. In this case, single chickens were on sale and only one was left at the store. After I cut up the chicken I ended up with the back, ribs and wings in one packet. If you don’t buy whole chicken you could use any chicken parts. Back and ribs typically sell for very cheap.

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Broth base requires not just chicken but some vegetable and herbs. I root around in my fridge and find whatever I can that is older. In this case I used grated carrot, chopped onions, and some herbs from my freezer. Each year I “put by” celery, cilantro, parsley and young greens from thinning garden rows. I simply wash them thoroughly, drain the water, and put them on a cookie sheet and freeze them. I then put the frozen herbs in freezer backs, loose pack. I can them use them for cooking. The green in this picture are celery leaves, turnip greens and parsley. I like the grated carrot because not only does it give a nice flavour, the carotene adds a nice rich colour. You can use fresh celery and/or dried herbs instead.

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This step is one that requires patience and oil. The whole thing has to gently fry in order to brown the chicken and the vegetables. This step can’t be rushed. If you have the heat to high it will be burn instead of brown. If you don’t do it for long enough, you won’t get the essential brownings that are the real base of the broth. I tend to put this to brown and do the dishes and tidy up the kitchen, pausing to stir it around as it browns. It may need a little more vegetable oil depending on how fatty your chicken it. In this image you see browning about half done. it should take 30 minutes to get the chicken browned and the vegetables cooked.

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I like to do anything that requires a long slow cooking in my crock pot. It saves power and looks neat and the inner crock can go right on the table as a serving dish. When the browning is done, everything goes into the crock pot. I also add a dash of salt and a teaspoon of sugar. Adding the salt and sugar chances the osmolarity of the water during cooking so that juices are drawn out and shared in the broth. I know everything these days is about the dangers of salt and sugar, but honestly, it just tastes so much better and we eat very low salt generally so the extra favour is worth it, especially compared to the amount of salt in a typical purchased can of broth. If you like things like pearl barley or lentils and beans that are dried, this is where you would add them.

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The next step both enriches the broth and saves time with the crock pot. One of things that drives me bonkers about the crock pot is that it takes forever to heat up. This means if I don’t get around to getting the soup on until after lunch it won’t have enough cooking time. This step gives me a little more flexibility in addition to flavour. I used a nonstick pan to brown but I still have a sticky mess in the bottom of the pan. So I add just enough water to cover.

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I bring the liquid up to a boil. I scrape the simmering water and the brown stuff comes up. I then dump this hot water with the pan leavings into the crock pot. I repeat this until the pan is almost clean and there is enough liquid in the pot to continue simmering. Because the water goes into the pot already hot, the crock pot doesn’t take hours to heat. Plus the pan goes into the dishwater practically already clean.

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The last step is to boil some water in the kettle and top up the whole pile in the crock pot with boiling water. I then let the broth simmer until the chicken is falling apart. Depending on your crock pot and how much you started with, your time will vary. In my small crock pot, and starting with hot water, it takes about two hours on high or five to six hours on low setting. Once the chicken is falling apart, I lift out the pieces of chicken with a slotted spoon and separate meat from bones. The meat goes back into the pot and I discard the bones.

The broth can be home canned or frozen at this point, if you want to use it for later.

Using the broth for soup:

For soup, you may wish to strain out the cooking vegetables. Some people strain out the cooking vegetables and puree them and add them back in. After this much cooking they won’t add much flavour back in. I usually just leave the cooking vegetables in the broth as is unless I had some thick older stringy type greens. Those I discard with the bones. I then add additional vegetables we like such as potatoes in chunks, carrots, beans, broccoli, squash, or whatever I have handy and simmer until the vegetables are tender but not cooked to mush.

Using the broth for stew:

To turn the broth into a thick stew you need to add about a quarter cup of flour mixed with a cup of cold water. I put flour and water in a jar and shake well before adding. Let it come back to a simmer and it will thicken. You can top it with dumplings.

Using the broth for chowder:

To make a rich chowder, add finely grated potato with the cut up vegetables and let it come back to a boil.

This recipe also works for fish. When I buy fish I have the fish monger fillet it for me but I ask to keep the bones, skin and head and use this same technique to make fish chowder.

Comments? Can I improve? Do you do something similar? Do you have any tips for me? I would love to hear from you.

Migration Home Twelfth Stop Sisseton South Dakota and then home.

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We left Sioux City north and drove up I29. This has to be the most boring stretch of highway in North America. Miles and miles and miles of nothing. We had some luck in the city of Sioux Falls. We got a recommendation from a store clerk in Staples for a grocery store big on ethnic food. We arrived to find enough kosher-for-passover items that we were able to stock up for the whole eight days. On arrival in Sisseton the folks at Camp Dakota were welcoming as they had been last year and we set up. Our host for tomorrow’s visit, Sister Patrice Colette met us and we had dinner at the nearby Casino. Profits from the Casino go right back into the tribe including the school we were going to be presenting at. We had an excellent meal and turned in early. Sister was going to be picking us up at 6:30am. We fell asleep to the sound of enormous flocks of starlings and black birds feasting on the remnants of last year’s corn crop in the adjacent field.

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The school we were going to visit is the Tiospa Zina Tribal School of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota Reservation. Last year we presented to the class and then got a tour of the band offices. This year we spent the entire school day participating and visiting. This was our second stop as visiting scientists and much as I enjoyed the first visit last year, this one went even better. Our day started out with breakfast at the school. All students get a nutritious start to their day. Breakfast was scrambled egg omelet with cheese filling, bacon (which we skipped), vegetables and fruit. Cereal was available, as was milk, but not as the main item and not many kids picked those for breakfast.

After breakfast we attended a ceremony to start the academic day. This included a drum circle and songs in Dakota. I saw a lot of older students watching out for and caring for younger students. Our conference was interrupted by a break for school awards for excellent work, for personal improvement, for good attendance an to announce successes students had outside the school. Students not only got nice little printed certificates. They got something I never got in school, which was nice crisp new bills as cash awards. There was strong emphasis on personal responsibility, duty to the tribe and community as a whole and respect for elders and each other in the ceremony. Everyone helped clear up when the award ceremony was finished.

Officially we were there as keynote speakers for a science conference. The student prepared in advance and then I presented on sea turtles, their embryology, evolution, the dangers they face and how people can help them. Hubby dearest presented his latest research on the original of life in our universe and slipped in a talk about the age of the universe and powers of ten. We closed off our presentations by giving the students chunks of marine fossils in soft sandstone. Their objective was to break out a fossil and use Google and some books to identify what the fossil was. And they succeeded. We have done many of these classroom visits to schools over the years. In this school we were delighted to find curious minds, intense interest, and well thought out questions. We were not just questioned about the science itself. We were questioned about important practical things like how do you balance work and family and why did we become scientists. We were not once subjected to snarky misbehaviour or nasty background tomfoolery that has happened to us in other schools.

We learned a lot too, getting a glimpse into the life of students at the tribal school. Manitoba already has powerful connections to this reserve because they are related to the Dakota people on the reserve south of Portage LaPrairie and many of the students have family in Canada that come and visit them or they come and visit in South Dakota. The Manitoba connections made us feel right at home.

We left Sisseton feeling very positive and began the last leg of our journey. We made a brief stop in Fargo to buy lefse. Lefse is a traditional food of my father’s Scandinavian ancestors, far better than lutefisk and it is not readily available in stores. Additionally, making it from scratch produces a lot of smoke so I had to give up doing it myself due to my asthma.  At Freddy’s we picked up enough fresh frozen to last us and our family members to the next trip to North Dakota.

Our original plan was to stop at a state park on the border with Canada. I had checked the webpage and it said the campground was open. I called the park and I got an answering machine message that cheerfully declared the campground was open and if we needed fresh water we could get it at the ranger station. When we arrived it was different story. As it turned out, the only camping available was walk in winter camping and the roads and campsites were under too much snow to even think of driving in with a truck and trailer. We were subjected to a particularly stupid bureaucrat/ranger who seemed to think we were the stupid ones for not knowing all that in spite of what their message said. I politely suggested the message be changed to better reflect reality. Each time I said that, I was told why I was so stupid for thinking I could get the camper into the park in March. Eventually we gave up and left, muttering imprecations about how government seems to attract a larger proportion of particularly stupid people as employees than other organizations.

Home

We were about three and a half hours from home and it was 3:00pm. We got waved through at the border by the cheerful guard. We stopped to stock up on groceries in the Winkler just over the border. We then just kept driving. We pulled into our driveway at our little house on the northern prairie. To our relief the driveway had been thoughtfully cleared of ice and snowdrifts by a neighbour for our return. It was SO good to be home. We found our house exactly as we had left it except for some extra cobwebs. Our migration was complete.

According to Google we traveled over 2300 miles. If we had driven nonstop, the trip would have taken a mere 37 hours. We took 35 days, most days did not drive more than three hours and stayed for at least two days at each stop. It was easily our best trip yet! The birds were even slower than us. It was two more weeks before the birds we left in South Dakota showed up. They were the smart ones. There was a blizzard between our arrival home and their return to the north.

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Migration Home: Eleventh Stop Sioux City North KOA South Dakota

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Our next drive was a longer one. We were now far enough north that it made sense to put in a longer drive and make some progress. There were no more government associated campground to go to. We were limited to a very few private ones that are opened year around. We decided we were going to check out a state park in South Dakota that was supposedly open. We have done that before and arrived to find that while the campground is technically open in March, there is no running water or dump site and the campsites are under several feet of snow. Our original plan was to drive to this state park and if it was unsuitable continue on to the Sioux City North KOA. There just one small problem. I misread the map and mixed up Sioux City North and Sioux Falls and the KOA came up first. We were both tired. We decided that since this KOA is a familiar and comfortable place, one that we stop at practically every trip, we would just turn in. We would try out the state park the next night. When we checked in, we discovered we had a $25 credit with KOA for our first night. We had also stopped at this particular KOA enough times to have earned a second free night on their own private promotional special. It worked out to $12 for two nights in a full service campsite and it just too tempting to turn down. We decided to skip the state park altogether.

We had a quiet two days. I spent most of my time preparing my talk for our next stop. We had both been invited to speak at Tiospa Zina Tribal School in Sisseton South Dakota. We had emails going back and forth with our host about content and preparations for our visit. We took one long walk on the walk past the campground because the weather was lovely. We had some friends call to announce they would come to visit us for Passover in Alonsa. It was a delightful treat to hear from them and we were happy about having company for Passover. I began planning putting on a full seder. This did leave us with the question of where to get enough Passover supplies to put on decent seder on the trip between here and home. There are not exactly a lot of Jews in North and South Dakota and rural Manitoba. Too bad we hadn’t known one day before as we drove right past Omaha, Nebraska, which is something of a kosher food grand central station. Much of the kosher beef used in New York comes out of a facility in Omaha.

We pulled out after two days. I had my presentation prepared and we set out for Sisseton SD, still wondering where we might find Kosher food for our Passover meal.

Here is my review of the Sioux City North KOA:

One of the few campground open year round in the north this is a standard KOA with a better than usual store. We seem to always end up back here going north or south from Canada. WIFI is excellent. staff are wonderful. They have specials to encourage people to return. You can buy propane and the laundry is clean and big. Some permanent residents but it’s neat and clean. A better than average KOA. Office closes at 6:00pm promptly. This KOA is in town at the edge of north Sioux City and right off the interstate so traffic and city noise is a problem.

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Migration Home Tenth Stop Topeka, Kansas

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We left Cherryvale and headed north hoping to get to our next stop before any of the predicted severe weather started. During our discussions with the electrician who came to fix our site’s broken 30amp connection, we got a recommendation to check out Kansas RV Centre in Canute. We were promised lots of parts at reasonable prices. That’s what we found. In spite of impending stormy weather we ended up spending an hour checking out stuff and, to our delight, we found replacement covers for our RV light covers that had cracked, larger size chocks, and a new housing for our truck’s electrical receiver. We couldn’t resist having a look at some of the newer RVs even though we are not ready for a new one. Still it was a treat. We headed north with the sky turning an ominous churning grey.

We pulled into the the Topeka Kansas KOA with no small amount of relief. The owner was on duty and he welcomed us warmly and soon we were set up in a site with directions for what to do if we needed to be safe from severe weather. People from Oklahoma and Kansas do not fool around with severe weather. The campground has a big barn with a shelter in the basement. We didn’t do much in Topeka. It rained and rained and rained almost from when we got set up until we left.

One thing we found really frustrating was that it was cool but when we tried to start our furnace it wouldn’t fire up. Fortunately we had our electric blanket and electric oil filled space heaters. I made a loaf of bread and the little stove top electric oven also provides a lot of heat. Redundancy paid off again. We had cable at the KOA so I left it on the Weather Channel while I tried to figure out what the problem was. Getting at the furnace was tricky. I hadn’t ever tried it before because gas stuff is scary. The furnace was hidden under the fridge area. I found a great video that showed me how to get at my furnace. I was able to see by the trouble shooting lights the problem was air access. I also found layers and layers of dust and dog fur. It was almost like a mat of felt it was so thick. Ugh! I diligently and carefully cleaned and vacuumed and held my breath and tried the furnace….and nothing happened. ARRG!! We called a couple of repair places and it looked like this was going to be a major job costing major bucks. Since we had electric back up, we decided to leave it until we were home at our own dealer we trust. I took advantage of my frustration to do a whole bunch of long overdue cleaning elsewhere in the trailer.

As it turned out we did not need to test the KOA’s storm shelter. There were warnings about severe weather west, east, and south of us but nothing closer than a couple of miles away. I was very glad we had decided to move here. The only thing I didn’t like was that I felt really hemmed in. After all the long lazy days in national forest, state parks, and army corp campsites the close proximity of spaces in the KOA felt claustrophobic, a feeling enhanced by pouring rain.

The second morning we packed up and left for our next stop in South Dakota. To our astonishment and delight, on arrival in South Dakota the furnace cheerful fired up working beautifully as if nothing had happened. I have no explanation. I will guess it was clogged with dust and dog hair and that blocked the intake and it remained blocked until another road trip knocked stuff around and it unstuck. It may be the furnace has some kind of reset that needed to occur by going off shore power and then going back on. Whatever the reason, we were delighted to have our furnace working and I leaned over and I apologized for neglecting it and promised the furnace that from now on, I would be cleaning the cabinet of all dust and dog hair on a regular basis.

This is my review of the Topeka City KOA

We stayed here two days during a period of foul weather, severe storms nearby, high winds and rain all day. This KOA has a big red barn with a basement severe storm shelter which is why we picked it. There is a row of permanent residents but those campers are well kept and seemed to consist of young families with school age children. It felt very park like and safe. The office is only open 3:00 to 8:00 pm but the fellow was there was nice and helpful. WIFI was excellent although it would stop and restart every couple of hours. Campground layout was pleasing and well thought out. There was no mud in spite of all the rain we had due to nice grass and gravel/sand on our sites. There is a very nice children’s park and fishing ponds. Our site was fine but a bit short. It is set in a place between two interstates so there was some traffic noise but not too bad. A nicer than average KOA. We will stop again, especially if we need a place to sit out storms.

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Migration Home Ninth Stop: Cherryvale Big Hill Lake, Kansas

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I was sad to leave beautiful Oklahoma but the forecast was for storms to the south and the calendar was creeping up on. We had to be over the border back to Canada because our travel insurance ran out for March 31st. We also had a planned stop in Sisseton, South Dakota to speak to a group of high school students March 29th. As soon as we got north of Tulsa the rolling hills started to smooth out and we were back on open prairie. I am a prairie girl and I love the variety mountains bring but once I am back under the big skies I immediately feel like I am back at home. I had not been in Kansas for at least a decade. It hadn’t changed much. flat magnificent open prairie stretched as far as the eye could see with gently rolling hills. We pulled into Coffeyville, which turned out to be a surprisingly large town complete with a Macdonald’s with WIFI to check email.

Dick only needs about four hours of sleep a night and he often writes while I sleep. As usual, Dick’s mail program picked up lots of interlibrary loans of PDFs of papers he had ordered. He enjoys editing scientific books which are collections of articles by various authors in fields he is interested in. Each article comprises a chapter. He currently has three books and a special issue of a journal going. They are Habitability of the Universe Before Earth (Elsevier), Diatoms: Fundamentals and Applications, Theology and Science (Whiley-Scrivener), and Discussions About Faith and Facts (World Scientific Publishing), and the special issue is Embryogenesis (for the journal Biology). He sent the latest batch of partly finished manuscripts he had edited while we were at Cherokee Landing back to the assorted authors. More manuscripts came in for his attention.

We drove towards Cherryvale and the next planned stop, an Army Corps of Engineers campsite on Big Hill Lake. I noticed two things. As is so often the case, there were no signs designed to draw in casual tourists to visit the park. If you didn’t know it was there, you would never guess from the highway. This park was also one of those adopted by the locals and diligently spruced up and enhanced to better suit their own needs. This park was laid out like the standard Corps campground with great big spacious lots. However about half its sites had full hookups. Most of the park was closed but one section is open year round. And with our senior pass it was only $12/night. We paid for two nights. It was only after we got settled in that we noticed that 30amp electric was broken so that it only worked intermittently. We were tired and the last thing we wanted to do was pack up and move again. I pulled out the 50amp to 30amp adapter we had purchased for $75 a long time ago and had only used once. Dick commented on how we had every possible adapter to allow us to get power from every possible source. Redundancy is the secret to happy migration with a travel trailer because you just never know what might happen. This got him thinking and he expended some creative energy writing about bungee cords.

We stopped by the ranger station in the morning to report the broken 30amp. To our delight, a fellow came by almost immediately and while he changed the plug we had a nice chat about electrical work. He admired our solar panel set up and I learned a couple of new tricks with connectors. I have always found electricity fascinating and if I had taken up a trade it would have been electrician. I love it when tradesmen are chatty and delighted about sharing their special information. He commented it is always nice to meet people who don’t take his work for granted. We spent the rest of the day enjoying the park. The full out spring eruption of birds we saw in Cherokee Landing had apparently moved north with us and the area teemed with birds. Near the dam was a large peninsula that features two nice group gathering places and a park dedicated to bird lovers run by the local Audubon society with illustrations and information about native birds. We went for a bike ride and two long walks and we followed a trail along the lake into the woods. We ran into our electrician acquaintance with his daughters on the trail, a pleasant surprise. The park has the best disc golf or “golf with frisbees” courses I have ever seen. I had played disc golf at a Normandy Farms Campground near Boston a number of years before when Dick was doing a visiting professorship at MIT. This one was even nicer and very challenging going up and down hills, in the brush, along the trail and out in open fields. After he commented about the weird looking chain nets on post everywhere, I explained to Dick how it worked. He said we should dig out our frisbees. It was getting late and the sun was about to set. We were having such a nice time that we got out the calendar and counted the days before we had to be anywhere at a specified time and decided to stay on for two more days. We were able to pick up a local Joplin TV station and when we got up the weather lady was reporting the predicted storms were going to be further north than originally forecast and Big Hill Lake was in the bullseyes for later that afternoon. We decided to return to our original plan and pack up head north.

Here is my review:

Cherryvale Big Hill Lake Army Corps of Engineers

One of the nicest Army Corp of Engineers campground we have been to, this park is lovely and has lots to do for families side from fishing. It is obvious the local community has adopted this park and made it much better. We were in Cherryvale which is the only one open year round. Like all Corp sites, the campsites are widely spaced and long. Unlike most corp sites, about half have sewer outlets. In addition, there is that frisbee golf game with the chain “holes” you shoot for, an Audubon bird lovers meeting spot, two really nice playgrounds, a basketball court, group sites for day visits and camping sites, horse trails, and multiple boat launches. There are several sections of campsites on both sides of the lake. Our campsite was treed by old oaks and was high up on a ridge overlooked the  lake. On the down side, there was no grass and the ground was hard packed dirt. The drive was paved and there was a paved patio with cement picnic table. At the end of the drive and between the patio they used large white gravel full of white caked dust that got wet and then hardened into ruts but that is our only complaint.

Our next stop was a KOA near Kansas city that boasted severe weather shelter. Beyond Cherryvale almost no government related campsites are open in March and so we were back to using private campgrounds. The Kansas city campground not only had a big storm shelter in the basement of an old barn, it was just north of the predicted area for severe weather. I do want to get back to Big Hill Lake someday.

Ninethday

Eighth Stop: Cherokee Landing State Park Oklahoma

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We left Cedar Lake with some regret and a certain wish that we could have stayed longer and that we will try to get back. Our next destination was Cherokee Landing State Park. The trip was more harrowing up the steep hill, down the steep hill to a river bottom, up the steep hill, down the steep hill, with the tranny complaining as we went. Stereotypically, Oklahoma is supposed to be flat prairie but in the east a few of those roads could match the worst driving in Arkansas. The cat was once again riding in his carrier in the bathtub and I left him very unhappy with me.

After Cedar Lake, this park was a let down although it is a rather nice park. The park is open year round but it is also far enough north that there aren’t a lot of visitors in March. Being accustomed to remote self serve campsites, we weren’t particularly put off to arrive and find the office closed. However it was kind of a shock to see absolutely nothing, and I mean nothing, in the way of instructions or anything else at the gate. There was no map, no list of reserved sites versus open sites, no campground host, not even road signage. We drove in and looked around and eventually found one of the four sites the state park brochure said the park had that were full service. Hubby dearest had to get out of the truck and walk to check for a sewer connection. It was time to do laundry again.

As evening settled so did a pall of thick smoke. A large wildfire was burning the south east. We closed up and did our usual trick to avoid having smoke trigger one of my asthma attacks. We left a pot of water on a slow boil and the dehumidifier and air conditioner going. The water surrounds smoke particle preferentially in condensing and they get removed with the waste water produced by the air conditioner and dehumidifier. By morning the wind had shifted and the air was clear.

About 3:00pm a ranger came around and collected the $28 fee and then he gave us back $4 for being seniors. He was very friendly and helpful and told us about the nearby Cherokee Heritage Center. Our rationale for wanting to see the heritage centre was twofold. First, we knew almost nothing about the Cherokee and we thought it would be good to educate ourselves. Second, during this trip we kept encountering historical markers or commentary about the “Trail of Tears”. According to the movie Hilary’s America by Dinesh D’Sousa, the Trail of Tears was the product of a Democratic President stealing Cherokee land to buy white voters over the protests of Republicans like Davie Crockett. We decided we wanted to hear another perspective for balance. The nice ranger gave us good directions and tips on parking and such. We paid for two nights. The forecast was for storms in a couple of days so our plan was to be further north before any storms fired up.

Our visit to the Cherokee Heritage Center (my spell checker is having hissy fits here because Canadians spell it Centre) was a fascinating look into a parallel culture and we learned a lot. The walk through the preEuropean village, complete with actors doing early activities like flint arrow making and pottery, was fascinating. What I especially liked was there was no “noble savage” nonsense. Our guide talked about what was good about preEuropean life and what was bad. For example, he explained how the central fire pit in the house meant the house was always fun of smoke and this resulted in a reduced lifespan from lung disease. It seemed to be a fair and balanced kind of presentation, mostly interesting.

The center also had a mock up of a little Cherokee town from the 1800s. There, we were told that the Franklin wood stove was eagerly embraced by the Cherokee because the wood stove was a much more efficient way to heat a home compared to a fireplace and it reduced smoke in the home in winter. The little town look pretty much the same as any historical mock up of town of that era and so it was obvious the Cherokee had immediately adopted any European innovation they liked and that the arrival of European technology had vastly improved their lifestyle.

From there we went into the Museum proper. Most of the interior is dedicated to the history behind the Trail of Tears. I was really upset to learn how horrible it had been. These were a people largely accustomed to European style of living abruptly stripped of everything they had and sent on foot to walk west, over the Mississippi moved by brute military force and, for the most part, taking only what they could carry. It would have been bad enough if they had been a hunter-gatherer society accustomed to living off the land as they went. These were a people who had been farmers and had adopted European ways of farming, housing, and dressing themselves abruptly forced to travel hundreds of miles on foot in all weather. No wonder tens of thousands perished along the way.

I don’t think of it as being genocide because to me genocide means the deliberate attempt of one group to systematically kill off every member of another group. It was most certainly an ethnic cleansing. Every Cherokee was stripped of their lands and most of their goods and forced to move to a strange new place designated as “Indian Territory”. The rationale was they would be better off living as savages in a savage land off to the west while Americans “settled” the east. (As if it wasn’t already settled by the Cherokee and other Indians.) There were more than a few problems with this. Almost no provisions were made for the Cherokee on the journey and there were already a bunch of other Indians living in the same land. It was not just the Cherokee who were forced out. Other tribes including the Canoe of Florida and the Choctaw were also ethnically cleansed. The historical account we saw did acknowledge many whites were horrified by this ethnic cleaning and did what they could to assist the refugees. There was nothing about whether or not it was the Democrat versus Republican battle as presented in the D’Sousa movie so I didn’t get an answer to that question. I was reminded of the bitter pograms of Russia where Katherine the Not-So-Great bought off Russian peasants by stealing everything owned by Jews and redistributing their meager wealth. That kind of ethnic cleansing drove my husband’s Jewish family from Europe to America. Like the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Russia, along the Trail of Tears, tens of thousands died.

I must admit I am uncomfortable with using the term “Indian”. In Canada we don’t use it because it is not accurate. We are supposed to use more accurate terms like “First Nations” or “Indigenous Peoples” and wherever possible use the correct tribal name for the individual peoples. However the Cherokee use the term Indian when referring to themselves along with other First Nations people. I got a lot of weird looks when I used the term First Nations, like I was some kind of strange white with an acute case of noble savage complex. Indian is a common acceptable term in the USA, so I will use it when referring to Indians living there.

In spite of the great historical horror and tragedy of the Trail of Tears it still felt like a positive place. The Cherokee Nation seems to be doing very well for itself, thank you very much anyway. Their identity as a people, their language both written and spoken seemed to be well preserved and their culture thriving in spite of the best effort of Democrats (assuming D’Sousa is correct). We left the gift shop laden with goodies and a positive feeling. Cherokee and Jews would seem to have a lot in common.

Here is my review of the campground:

Cherokee Landing State Park

This state park is on a high peninsula sticking out into the lake. The park has a few shade trees but it is more exposed than not. We arrived in on a day that hit 92F and we baked. The wind was high and our trailer rocked and rolled with the blasts. There were wild fires south and west of us and the smoke was very thick so we didn’t go out much. Overall it is a rather standard state park with spaces somewhat closer than I would like. There are some sites with sewer but they are immediately adjacent to the dump site which meant stink and a lot of traffic. One thing we did really enjoy was there was a spring eruption of migrating birds so we got to see a huge variety of birds in large flocks  including northern flickers, woodpeckers, jays, chickadees, juncos, starlings, blackbirds, nuthatches and several other species. We stopped here to be close to the Cherokee Heritage Centre which is 15 miles away. We thoroughly enjoyed the Heritage Centre and the coincidence of the spring migration but otherwise there was nothing special or noteworthy about the park.

The next morning we headed north to Kansas. the forecast for Oklahoma was becoming ominous and I had no desire to experience one of this state’s infamous spring tornado outbreaks.Trip