Sunday, December 23, 2012


I will make a palace fit for you and me, O green days in forest and blue days at sea.-
Robert Louis Steveson

With the horses settled in, they turned away from the shore to climb steps made into the steep grade leading up to the open terrace of the house.  It was a simple dwelling crafted from local wood and stone, and so tucked into the side of the hill that it looked almost cave-like except for the front wall of windows facing the river.  Both sides of the house had doors leading out to stone terraces.  They could see that a lot of living was done outside, because there was a curious assortment of outdoor furniture collected around a cooking fireplace built into the side of a retaining wall.

A lit lantern at the window drew them to the house in the dimming evening light.  Walking closer, soft summer breezes  wrapped them with the scent of the river.  Muddy banks covered in willow and and honeysuckle baked by the sun, made an early evening incense.  The girls realized they were in a special place, and reaching the terrace door,  they took a deep breath and paused to look out.  Lush green forest surrounded them.  Some trees were so covered over in ivy that they brought to mind moss-covered columns of ancient ruins.

Harlan opened the door for them as they entered the house.  They were not prepared for what they saw.  The house was rustic inside, but it was also sparkling and elegant.  Anna was an old woman who somehow looked young, and she was beautiful.  She welcomed them warmly.

"Girls, have you been frightened?  Harlan tells me you were lost!"

Hannah admitted, "We were getting concerned and then surprised to find you living in this hidden place!  We're sorry to end up on your doorstep like this.  We don't usually go this far, and we've never been lost before.  I need to study more about using a compass before we try anything like this again!"

Anna's face showed pleasure.  She enjoyed children, and in her early years as a librarian, experience taught her that many young people have open hearts and inquiring minds.  "Don't worry any more girls.  You are welcome here.  We can talk about using a compass, but first, let's have a little something to eat."

What Anna called 'a little something' was on a table beautifully laid with her old Dutch blue and white china under the glow of a kerosene lamp.  At each setting, a crystal compote of fruit glistened like jewels.  Gentle bubbling sounds came from the antique copper kettle on the wood stove.  Did Anna and Harlan live like this every day?  They could learn a lot here.

"I kept supper simple tonight.  The weather got a bit hot, and we've learned from experience that young people have strong preferences in food anyway.  I just baked bread and we have garden greens and this fine cheese a friend brought us yesterday.  With our berries for desert, I hope you will find something you like.  Please, sit down everyone.

Anna and Harlan said they would answer all their questions after they had eaten.  The girls could talk almost nonstop at the table.  They had to settle down and relax to eat the satisfying food.  They took their cue from their hosts; no need to hurry or talk much.  And what could be better with their meal than the goodnight song of birds and the the music of lapping water at the river shore?

Friday, December 21, 2012

Chapter Two: FOUND

What would the world be, once bereft O wet and wildness?  Let them be left, O let them be left, wildness and wet.
-Gerard Manley Hopkins

The old man moved toward them with his arm in a wave.  "Hello, I'm Harlan Hubbard.  Looking for someone?"

"This looked like a good trail to the river...evidently we're lost."  Kellie's voice trembled.

"We're phoning home now."

"Phoning?  I don't think a phone will work here."  Harlan shook his head but was surprised when they began talking on the phone.

Grandma was relieved to hear from them.  The parents had to go out, and only she was left home to wait for the return of the young riders.  The girls were also relieved when they learned that grandma had some idea where the Hubbard place was, but she couldn't hitch up the trailer to pick them up, and she thought it was getting late to make the ride home with the horses.  She wondered...was it possible for them to try to stay put for the night?  It was a lot to ask, but grandma and Harlan talked on the phone, and he assured her that he and Anna would do their best to make the girls and horses comfortable for the night, if that was the best solution.  He asked though, that the parents try to call and confirm the plan.

"Well now, people come looking for us out of curiosity, but very few show up who are lost," Harlan explained.  "There are no roads or railroad along this side of the river for several miles, so our friends have to make quite an effort to visit us, and we're used to overnight company.  I think we can manage very well once Ranger accepts having horses around.  I did some farming years ago with horses.  They're good company in front of a plow."

Ranger, the red bone hound, was more accustomed to goats.  He was wary of the visitors, but since the horses seemed to ignore him, he decided he might accept them.

In single file they followed the man and dog down the rugged path until they saw a small barn.  To reach it, they led the horses along a low level area and around the wide rocky mouth of a run-off creek.  The horses showed keen interest in the spring there, but Harlan explained it was best to draw water with a bucket for the horses in order to keep the source as clean as possible.  Even though they collected rainwater and filtered it for use, the Hubbards tried to protect any usable water from unnecessary contamination.

"The horses can use the old goat shed.  There's a fenced-in yard full of grass and weeds for them.  There's clean straw, but we don't have hay since we gave up our goats.  We sure miss watching the antics of the kids," Harlan's voice softened.  "And it's been a very long time since we've had horses here...I'll go get a few things from the garden for them, and let Anna know what's going on."

It was a relief that this man liked the horses, and now that they were no longer lost, the girls realized the strain that they had been under.  They were truly exhausted, but there would no rest until the animals were cared for.

The old goat shed was closer to the river and not far below the house.  Once the horses were put in the yard with tack removed, they began grazing.  It was nearly enough food for the night.  Kellie made trips to the spring to fill the trough while the other girls followed Harlan to the garden.  For each horse they collected a small bundle of plants like comfrey, parsley, and a washed carrot with the greens left on.  Deer relished these greens and the horses would too.

Harlan went to the house and came back with oats donated by Anna from her kitchen stock.  The small group stood quietly, listening to the contented crunching on the bounty offered.  They might have fallen asleep at the feet of the horses but for the light clattering they heard coming from the house.

"It's time you met Anna," Harlan said.  "And it's time for supper.  We must wash up first; Anna sets a respectable table."

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Chapter One: LOST


Chapter One:  LOST

"Poor Lady," whispered Emily.  Spider webs matted over the pony's twitching nose.  She had been riding all the long summer afternoon with her older sister Hannah and cousin Kellie.  In the steamy heat of the day, the slow steady beat of the horse's hooves felt like sleep walking.  She was drowsy, and her thoughts drifted to her dream of last night.  Another rainbow!  She wanted to tell Hannah and Kellie about her dream, but was startled to see the forest trail changing fast.  The woods were deeper, and the shadows longer.  Emily gulped down a welcome breath of cooler air, but a shiver of uncertainty moved up her spine.

The girls were in trouble.  They misjudged the time left before sundown, and even with map and compass, they made a wrong turn somewhere.  Now the trail was all downhill with river scenting the air.  They were determined to push on, but the deep woods put up a barrier as they struggled with overgrown tangles that snagged, poked, and scratched.  Rocks on the steep slope rolled and turned underfoot.  Hannah gave Gracie free rein, allowing her to find her balance on the sliding rocks.  The steady gray mare seemed intent in this direction, and  Hannah had confidence in her determined attitude.  Gracie was a horse that could take care of them, and her senses seemed fixed on taking them to water, the river.  Hannah knew if they could make it down to the river where the horses could drink, they could build a fire on the the bank and find help.  They needed to stop and rest.

Kellie and Hannah worked with the horses nearly every day and were experienced riders.  Hrimnir followed Kellie around almost like a puppy.  Gracie had too much dignity for that, but the mare followed Hannah's every move with her eyes.  All three loved Emily's pinto pony.  They had all learned to ride on Lady.  It was too bad that they chosen this day to venture out in a new direction, because eight year-old Emily was with them on a big ride for the first time.  She had begged her parents to let her come along.  If Emily became really frightened, would the other girls lose their nerve?

Soon they saw a path that led off to the left just ahead.  It was narrow and descended sharply, but strange, it looked smooth and well-traveled!  The girls knew to be cautious of strangers.  What now?  Kellie dreaded that since she was the oldest, she should be the one to know what to do.  Yet a small panic was welling up in her, and it was something she did not want the others to see.  Now in the light mist she could smell the river.  Maybe she could spot it down this path.

"Well?  What do you think we should do?  Huh, Hannah?"

"You're asking me?  I haven't gotten over taking a wrong turn yet."

"Oh forget that now.  Look, it's steep, wait here with the horses and I'll walk down to see where this path goes."

"Pleeeease...don't get out of sight!"  Hannah begged.

"I won't."

"Maybe it's time to call home."  Emily offered sheepishly.

"What??"  The older girls turned on her.

Emily's smile was mischievous.  "Dad said it was my first big ride so I needed to tuck the cell phone in my saddlebag or I couldn't come along."

The three looked at each other and started to laugh, but just then Gracie tossed her head up at something moving on the path.  Hrimnir picked up on it and called alarm.  There, watching them amid the dense forest, stood an old man and a dog.

Monday, December 17, 2012


In a small southern Indiana river town, on a sultry weekend in June, 2000, Hanover College hosted the Harlan Hubbard Centennial Celebration.  Over 250 guests attended, including my husband Ron and me.  Anyone deeply interested in the lives and work of Harlan and Anna Hubbard would have wanted to be there.

The second day of the meeting included a visit to Payne Hollow on the Kentucky side of the river.  Ron and I visited the hollow once before in l989, when we got lost for a short time.  After that adventure, our second visit proved memorable too.  For as our tour group was ready to leave, our gracious host looked at me directly and said, "This place would make a good setting in a story for children."  The seed of an idea was watered, and writing about the Hubbards would give pleasant diversion at a time when it would be appreciated.  Only a few weeks earlier, health concerns compelled us to give up our two Icelandic horses.  What could be more healing than writing about them?  Walking the trail out of the hollow, I already knew I would probably never return except through imagination. 

This story of present day fiction is based on real people, granddaughters, and our own animal friends.  Sadly, Anna and Harlan Hubbard are no longer living.  Readers wanting to learn more about them will enjoy the books listed in the bibliography.

Please know that the way into Payne Hollow is not a horse trail and less accessible than ever.  Harlan Hubbard remarked in so many words that the river may reclaim the place someday.  In the end, that's what rivers do.

Nancy Sue Leske
Bluebird Hollow

...Then your peace would become just like a river...
Isaiah 48:17,18

Friday, December 14, 2012

Frugal to a Fault

 Frugal to a fault!  This discribes me now, so the user name Shantyboat Sue suits me in several ways. Having reached retirement age with an income that is more limited, I am up for the challenge. I borrow this credo from Harlan and Anna Hubbard: What we need is at hand.

So I am using this blog to publish the book I wrote for my three granddaughters that is centered on their fictional adventure in Payne Hollow.  I have gotten lots of good feedback and encouragement from many who knew Harlan and Anna well.  The story was finished in 2001.  It's overdue to publish this so it will not be lost. I like to think of it as my message in a bottle.

A friend who read the story said, "It's about you!"  I enjoy the wild and the garden.  I love animals, children, and family.  The river way of life is a on-going fascination to me.  I hope you enjoy the simple story brought forth from all these interests.

After Rainbow Catchers, the story, I will post some Hubbard memorabilia and artwork in my collection, including photos of the shantyboat model I am working on.  The photo for this blog displays a two dimensional doll (Shantyboat Sue herself), and she's dressed with found scraps, including lace from the wedding dress I made for my daughter Paige.  The small blue embroidered trim is from my mother, which must be at least 60 years old.  Her hat a cap from the acorn of a Burr Oak.  All a good example of using what I already have, or what is at hand.  The miniature dresser is a real find, as each drawer opens.  The watercolor sketch is an original by Harlan Hubbard.

Dr. Rosenthal at Hanover College, and Don Wallis were especially kind and encouraged me with this little book.  Along with Ron, my husband of fifty years, my family and friends, special thanks goes to Marian George of Cobden, Illinois.  She helped and encouraged me with this project, and she kindly never told me how far I had to go.