Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Dismal Creek

This blog is set aside for all things Hubbard.  Very recently we had a nice picnic with friends on the Tennessee and Ohio rivers, Hubbard style.  Only a few days after, I became very sick with bronchitis.  Sickness and pain with fever often bring lucidity, and my brain insisted on writing this short story.  It is a bit removed from the Hubbard subject, however I have to point out that not long before Anna and Harlan were married, they brought a copy of Cross Creek with them on their canoe trip up the Licking River.  It was always their custom to read together.

The Yearling, Cross Creek, and most of the writings of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings have always been a great favorite of mine.  The simple people who become her characters have always fascinated me.  You can see her influence has almost written this story.

Know that there really is a Dismal Creek in Florida.  As you see, it is a place that stimulates the imagination.

Dismal Creek

Bare footprints compacted a pattern on the sandy bank of Dismal Creek.  A canopy of Spanish moss hung down close over the activity.  The place was heartbreakingly beautiful, but Claire understood the name for the creek.  In some secluded places, the moss was a dense gray on gnarly trees, and wind in them could make a moaning sound.

They were getting ready for another day of traveling the dirt road that ran along the side of the water.  The creek was their route on the way for work at an orange plantation in Florida.  They had a long way to go.

Claire liked sleeping under the moss.  It made her feel more protected, like her own canopy bed.  She stuffed a pillowcase with moss for them to lay their heads on.  This was luxury, and she lay in bed this morning a bit longer enjoying it.

Tim caught a nice fish for their breakfast.  She fried it in cornmeal, and saved some for latter.  They would not have to stop long to eat.  They had a renewed vigor for traveling in them since Tuesday, when they came across a small family living along the creek.  There were two children.  They were very interested in children now.  They expected one of their own come spring.

The Landry’s had a small farm.  There was a cow and a few chickens and a good crop this year, but they were very poor.  They shared a fine meal with Claire and Tim.  Then they sang hymns together and told stories.  Tim spread their bearskin on the family’s floor, and they slept in the cozy cabin that night.  They found new friends on the creek, and there was more happiness in Claire’s steps now.

Claire had asked little Nell the name of her play-dolly.  Nell looked so surprised, like she had never thought of such a thing.  

“What’s your name?”  


“That’s my dolly, her name is Claire.”  

Claire smiled noticing that the crude doll, muslin stuffed with moss, had a very pretty embroidered face.  “Did your mommy make her?”  Nell nodded, holding her doll lovingly.  

“Nell, when I have a little girl, I am going to make her a play-dolly just like this and name her doll Nell after you.”  Then the child’s plain face shown with intense pleasure.

Getting ready for the day did not take long.  All that they owned was what they carried, and Tim needed a free hand for his rifle, ready for bear or snakes, or the opportunity to hunt.  They bathed in the creek in the evening and rubbed each other with a light coating of camphor oil to keep mosquitos away. They boiled the clearest water they could find; strained though muslin into a pan and put over the fire each night. They toted it in glass jars wrapped in muslin. This went into Claire’s flat-sided basket, along with dried tea and medicine herbs, tooth brushing sticks, soap, her prized mirror, a small scissors, a comb, fire making implements, a few tools, a small book of Psalms, and the knitting needles Tim had just made for her.  She would start knitting for the baby when she could find some yarn.  That would be bought from the coin money Tim had hidden. 

Into a large sack Tim tightly packed a large frying pan, Dutch oven, one pot for boiling, a large wooden spoon he had carved, funnel, two metal spoons and forks, and a sharp knife along with some tin-ware carefully wrapped in pieces of muslin.  He added the salt, cornmeal, beans, grinding stone and what other foodstuffs they had gathered along the way. The Landry’s gave them a piece of salt pork.

Claire lay the night shifts made from feed sacks, a clean change of clothes for each, along with a few linens, netting and blankets across the bearskin.  Tim rolled them tightly into an oiled tarp that kept everything dry.  He tied the roll at both ends and slung the large bundle effortlessly across the back of his shoulders.

The morning was a bit chilly and she pulled her mama’s shawl around her shoulders, watching Tim with wonder.  He had delighted everyone showing little Clay Landry how to make a water-wheel from palmetto leaves and small sticks. It turned easily in the water of the flowing creek.  She would never forget the excitement, and she knew what a wonderful father Tim would prove to be.

She set their lunch in a tin plate, covered with another at the top of the basket,  her sunbonnet smoothed over all.  She knew there was one more thing that needed doing.  She handed Tim the comb and bowed her head.  He parted her hair expertly and kissed her forehead with the pronouncement, “Clean and tidy.”  

In return, he lifted his straw hat, handed her the comb, and bowed his head.  “Clean and tidy,” she said happily, as she turned to pick up the heavy basket.

*Harlan and Sambo on the deck of the shantyboat in bayou country of Louisiana.  

Friday, April 12, 2013

Payne Hollow Primer

 This is a writing for young children-an introduction to Payne Hollow.  Each text is for one page and one illustration.  Something I plan to do.  I plan a combination of calligraphy, painting, sewing, and use of a vintage printing set.  I also like the idea of an altered book; modern illumination.

·         Magic is a word sometimes used to describe a feeling we have when we understand                 
          something special.

·         The story of Harlan and Anna Hubbard is special.  They chose to live in a secluded 
           river hollow.

·         A river is ever changing and always interesting.

·         Walking the steep trail down into Payne Hollow was like finding a secret garden.

·         Close to the river, they built a cottage of stone and wood.  It was peaceful, so the   
          birds stayed too.

·         Without electricity, the house was always kept neat and orderly.

·         Harlan enjoyed hard work. He collected driftwood and managed the woods where                     
          trees harvested allowed others to grow strong.

·         They made wood fires every day for cooking and keeping clean and warm.

·         The garden was the center of their living-a green growing place full of butterflies and 

·         A large part of the garden was preserved.

·         They delighted in the goat herd and beloved dogs.

·         Anna was a careful homemaker.  She prepared tasty meals with whatever became 
          available, including wild foods.

·         She enjoyed reading to children and writing letters to loved ones.  To her, moonlight 
          on the river was a gift.

·         Who could be bored?  Best of all was the time left for playing music or reading 

·         While one person read, the other did handwork like knitting or shelling nuts.

·         Harlan painted pictures or made woodcut prints of the river and hills.

·         He made things in the workshop, like the handy wheelbarrow he used so often.

·         There, with a hand turned mill, he ground grains into flour for their daily bread.

·         Plastic milk bottles scavenged from the river became candled lanterns.

·         They never stopped learning, and made use of what was at hand.

·         The Hubbards treasured their family and friends.

·         They crafted a rich life they made for themselves.

·         He wrote books about the things they did.

·         Then people tried to find them, coming in their boats to search behind the willows.

·         Payne Hollow became well-known, as in the days when riverboats stopped there.

·         Harlan Hubbard, with Anna at his side, lived most of his life happily in the deep 
          woods.  Success was found in common hours.

·         Now, more people understand something special was hidden and found in a hollow.  
          Maybe you understand something of the magic already.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Anna in Michigan

Anna Hubbard grew up in Grand Rapids, and spent many vacation hours on the sands of Michigan.  The atmosphere and terrain is very different from the Ohio river valley, but it gave Anna a good background for the camping and boating she would do with Harlan.

When we took a trip around Lake Michigan not many years ago, we kept an eye open for the small lakes Anna's family enjoyed.  The following essay came out of our finding the dunes of the Sleeping Bear Dunes Nation Lakeshore.  'The Legend of Sleeping Bear', by Kathy-jo Wargin is a beautiful and touching telling of the story.  I highly recommend it, as it will enhance your understanding of my wonderful experience.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Finally I've come to a low spot in the road where I might make it to the beach, and it's opening out to a small parking-lot within view of the water.  Earlier along this scenic drive I stopped at a lookout point and stood there with my feet solidly planted into fine white sand...but the rest of me reeled with surprise.  I wasn't expecting to see such sweeping views from a dune, but this was a mountain of sand so immense that gulls flew below me, skimming the rippling sapphire of the lake.  And the wind!  The wind tugged and buffeted at me so that my spirit soared with the gulls and I felt that I too should by flying.

There is a story about this beach I stand on, and about the two islands I can see from here.  Many moons ago a mother bear encouraged her two cubs to swim after her to escape from a fast moving forest fire.  Across the great lake, all night, the mother bear swam, calling her cubs after her. When the exhausted mother bear made it to shore, she waited, but sadly the cubs were lost.  Ojibwa legend explains the two islands off shore rose in memorial to the cubs.  As the wind blew, the mother bear continued her vigil until until her own life drained away on the beach.  It is said a small unmarked dune remains in her final resting place.

Now I scan the horizon in search of a bearlike mound.  I am conscious of the shared experience of dedication, loss and hope, so my energy surges.

Kicking off my shoes feels so free and good that I pick up pace, enjoying every sinking strenuous step in the soft cool sand.  This I can do.  Sand blows in my face, but it can't stop me now.  I see her! A small eroded dune covered in fur-like grass, but strangely surrounded by bare, clean sand. I circle around to the other side where no human can see me.  Waves pound along with my heart as I throw my arms wide open and allow myself to fall into the full round of the hill.

Sunny childhood days spent on the shores of this beautiful lake are still with me.  It's been a long time since I've played in the sand, and today I am content to be hugging a sleeping bear.

*Above:  The young Anna on a Michigan dune.  Photo courtesy of George Bartnick
*Nancy and Judy play on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Walking the Ancient Way

When she looked at you with her clear wise eyes, you knew you had been seen.  Yet often her henna-tinted head was bent away from the sun she almost worshiped, as if her brow carried the weight of years of knowledge and experience.  Juliette had much to do, so she kept moving, her skirts swinging with a slow flowing stride that followed the sure rhythm of her life.  I watched her go.

Juliette tended wayside gardens around the world.  Nothing grand; her needs were simple and her life too nomadic for anything else.  Her curiosity was the grand thing, so she experimented with gardens.  The plants and the places.  A small island in the Azores off the coast of Portugal.  Mexico.  A rocky hillside on an island in Greece where in the center of the garden stood an ancient olive tree.

When she was a young woman, she lived near the Sea of Galilee with her children.  They swam and bathed there, and the children, brown as wheat berries, combed the shores for small cut mosaic stones washed from the floors of the fallen palace of Tiberius, the son of that terrifying emperor Nero.  Each day they took the animals along to the water.  Always, they had a faithful guard dog.  Even the pet owl followed, flying from tree to bush, waiting as they slowly made their way to the shining beach.  When they found fruits or herbs to eat, they gathered them together.

Juliette took time to teach her children about the natural world around them, and she delighted in telling them stories.  A favorite one was about the holy babe in a stable, where the scene was of the wonderful peace of a happy , quiet family, and the swaddled little one lay sleeping in a manger of clean straw.  The animals there, were also at peace, their sweet breath and contented sounds and the warmth from their bodies keeping them all warmer.  Oh, the joy of it!  They learned, and they thrived in the open air.  Nature’s children.

Born into extreme wealth, Juliette was the child who chose a puppy over riches.  At a time when women usually stayed in the home, Juliette opened locked doors and became one of the first holistic veterinarians.  While practicing in the field, using the latest scientific knowledge, she noticed that the simple people of the earth were often the most successful finding good health for themselves and their animals.  So, she changed her direction in medicine.

She studied and collected medicinal herbs wherever she wandered, and she learned the ways of the Gypsies, Bedouin, or other native peoples.  Juliette well understood that people like the bush tribes of the Kalahari Desert, were so skilled in their environment that they could survive in the harsh climate.

Juliette so respected the practical wisdom of the native peoples that they came to trust her, allowing her into their lives.  Observing all she could with her kind, wise eyes, she patiently learned their ways.  Many also watched Juliette, and they saw she would walk softly on the earth; she would not take more than what was needed or safely allowed.  The earth was treated with respect, and another gatherer would pass along the way.

One heavy snow-covered winter in England, a flock of sheep were seriously failing.  Juliette asked the sheep be fed ivy.  “Mares eat oats, and does eat oats, and little lambs eat ivy.”  Experiment and try; the sheep didn’t die.  Then Juliette became known among the nobility, and no matter what praise fell on her, joy remained in the simple things.

But the wind blew and hissed hot from Chernobyl.  Everything in it’s path over-produced because of radioactive fallout.  The ancient olive tree in her garden became sick.  On her island of heart-shaped stones, this was a thing unheard of, but Juliette tended her tree with devotion, putting ashes from her fires around it to drive away ants.  Experiment and try.  It helped.

“Where bees can live, man can live,” Juliette often said.  “But the bees are dying.”  She didn’t understand greed; the bees cannot tolerate greed, yet they are robbed of much more than honey.  We have more to learn.  Juliette remembered from scripture God’s promise to bring to ruin those who are ruining the earth.  “We have our warning,” she murmured with urgency.

On a warm summer day , I saw her move away one last time.  Her skirts swung slowly with the steady rhythm of her own ebbing life.  I watched her go.

(This photo is taken of Juliette de Bairacli Levy in approximately the year 2000.-The above writing about her was published in Union County Writers Group Anthology of Poetry and Prose, 2007.)


Helen Nearing, Juliette de Bairacli Levy, Harlan and Anna Hubbard, and me.  Each is a link that forms a full circle of connections for me.  From earliest memory, fascination with the rustic life was strong .  Growing up in the heart of a huge city like Chicago could not change it.  I spent happy hours in the unkept yard of our second story apartment examining weeds in total fascination.  In childhood I could be happy making tents and mud pies, but later I found inspiration in others who took the wild path.

Helen Nearing is probably the first one who got my attention via Mother Earth News magazine.  Helen and Scott were at the front of the back-to-the-land movement.  I read most of the Nearing books and was inspired by their sun-heated greenhouse.  I still have and use Helen’s no-cook cookbook, Simple Food For The Good Life.  She was a salty gal who spoke her mind.  Had to love her. 

Juliette de Bairacli Levy came to my attention in the 70’s when a local herb farmer told me about her favorite herb writer.  Juliette soon became my favorite too.  I didn’t know then that she was one of the first to use holistic veterinary medicine.  Her book, Nature’s Children was a constant in the raising of my two children, and herbs later became a big part of my care for horses and dogs.  If anyone was the earth-mother type, it was Juliette.  We met her at the 1997 HerbFest put on by Frontier Herbs in Norway, Iowa.  She was a joy!

It took me over ten years to search out and read every one of her books.  But her three booklets of twenty poems each are almost impossible to locate.  However, Juliette copied and sent me one of the poems.  That was Juliette.

Later it came to my attention that Helen and Juliette knew each other, and well.  Helen wrote at least one introduction to one of Juliette’s books.  When I learned Helen had a copy of ‘Look! The Wild Swans’, a novel I had been trying hard to find, I wrote Helen about it, and she offered to loan the book to me; leather bound, gold leaf and all!  I read it quickly and returned the treasured item.  

Offers of some favor to Helen in return were replied to as unneeded, so I sent her Payne Hollow and Shantyboat to read.  The Hubbards had come to my attention via Organic Gardening magazine, and their lifestyle was a deep ongoing interest.  A photo of the concise reply, so like Helen, is shown.  The connections came full circle.

This poem of mine was published in the Shawnee Hills Review in 2008

Mud Pies

A red rose up in Spanish Harlem...
Someone explained this mysterious song is about a girl, 
like a rose.

I know about growing up through the concrete,
so soft and sweet...

Am I not being forced like a bulb to bloom in the city too?
So much so, that I seek out patches of earth
and delight in anything alive here.

The Latin beat pulses down from Grandpa's radio
to my given spot in the yard where I have peace to think,
and dig with fury
making spectacular mud pies.

Music adds drama to this place where I have been planted,
low and closely rooted to the ground
where observation is so intimate, almost secret,
and I can concoct anything I please.

How delicious is the scent of the earth!
How satisfying to see my collection of empty bottle caps
packed full of fresh dirt:
Miniature tarts and casseroles set down neatly in a row,
waiting to be shared.

Lyrics from "Spanish Harlem" by Jerry Leiber and Phil Spector, Atco Records, 1961.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Girl In White

I've spent many hours of wonderment touring the Art Institute of Chicago.  It started when I was given a Saturday morning semester course there for being the most promising art student of my eighth-grade graduating class.  However, my sharpest memory of the experience was not the class, but traveling on the bus along the outer drive watching the water on Lake Michigan. Sometimes high winds shot waves against the rocks and into the air to what looked like twenty feet high, and in really cold weather, ice formations became fantastic.  It's understandable that in 1963 my husband and I decided to spend our one-day honeymoon at this fine museum built so close to the wild lake.

Years later, in the spring of 1986, something interesting began to develop while visiting the museum gift shop.  I found a card that was blank inside with a painting I liked on the cover; one in the white girl series by James McNeill Whistler.*  I remember that Kentucky artist and writer Harlan Hubbard also admired Whistler's work, so even though correspondence between us had been brief and limited, I decided to send the card to Harlan and Anna to tell them how much I was enjoying his books.

In a short time I received an unexpected note from Harlan telling me he was 'intrigued' with the painting on the card.  Then I tucked the note away with the satisfaction of knowing that a random act of kindness brought some small happiness.  I didn't notice until later the significance in the note being signed Harlan Hubbard, and not H and A Hubbard, like my other correspondence from him.

I don't remember when or how I learned that Anna was gone.  She had passed away on May 4, 1986.  Harlan's note to me is dated June 29, l986.   The card I sent reached him somewhere between these dates, but I didn't know that then.  The Little White Girl had become something of an accidental sympathy card.

What more may have happened finally dawned on me after Harlan and Anna were both gone. Harlan's last note had let me know the Whistler painting stirred him.  Now I am the one who is intrigued, because when I saw the the painting again-its quiet, mysterious quality, the girl so unassuming with an almost angelic look...suddenly I envisioned a young Anna.  You can easily say I imagine too much, but I think Whistler's painting does look like her.  It certainly captures the essence of her for me.  What was Harlan thinking?  I guess we will never know.

*Symphony in White No. 2: the Little White Girl Series 1864, James McNeill Whistler

Friday, February 15, 2013


Books by Harlan Hubbard:
Shantyboat: A River Way of Life, by Harlan Hubbard.  Published 1953, by Dodd, Mead;
republished 1977, University Press of Kentucky.

Payne Hollow:  Life on the Fringe of Society, by Harlan Hubbard.  Published 1974, by Eakins Press; republished 1985, Gnomon Press, Box 475 Frankfort, Kentucky 40602

Shantyboat on the Bayous, by Harlan Hubbard.  Published 1990, University of Kentucky

Harlan Hubbard Journals, 1929-1944.  Edited by Vincent Kohler and David F. Ward.  Published by University Press of Kentucky.

To learn about the Hubbards' and Harlan's art:

Harlan Hubbard and the River:  A Visionary Life, by Don Wallis.  Published 1989 
OYO Press
Box 476 
Yellow Springs
Ohio, 45387

Harlan Hubbard:  Life and Work, by Wendell Berry.  Published 1990, University Press of Kentucky.  

The Woodcuts of Harlan Hubbard, From the Collection of Bill Caddell.  Published 1994,
University Press of Kentucky.

Also of interest: 

Traveler's Joy: by Juliette de Bairacli Levy.  Republished 1994,
Keats Publishing, Inc.
27 Pine Street (Box 876)
New Canaan, Connecticut 06840-0876

Houseboat Girl: by Lois Lenski    (out of print but used books available on internet sites.)
The forward of this book for young readers includes a thanks to Harlan and Anna Hubbard.

There have been various newspaper articles and videos too numerous to mention here.
At present a documentary movie by Morgan Atkinson of Louisville, Kentucky is being premiered.  Watch for it.  I would not be surprised to see it on PBS soon!