Tomorrow’s History: Politics and the Seasons – The Sanity Our Rural Past Brings to Election Nonsense

As I write this a U.S. Presidential election is upon us, tomorrow. I cannot, at this point, following on months of listening to campaigns, lies (let’s be real), and observing endless posturing endure any more analyses of politics, so I shall diverge.

Looking around us now, and by looking around I will be taken to mean, looking around the Internet because that’s where we are these days. We stare at screens, big ones (if we’re well funded), medium ones, and little ones. Ubiquitous rectangles of blue light distorting our ability to sleep and, for that matter, telling us what to think. They’ve only been around on this scale for the last 10 years, a mere blip in the historical timeline, but we seem to be unable to imagine life without them.

And that’s just what I want to do. Imagine life without them. What on earth would we be doing, in say, 1886?

Well, the vast majority of us would be farming.

And no, I don’t mean hobby farming with a flock of rare heritage goats that we pay someone to keep so they can make handmade cheese for us that we can sell with our own cleverly designed label that connotes rural overtones in a setting of glamorous urban prosperity. Sigh.

Image: Amanda Stiver

Image: Amanda Stiver

I mean the real deal, dad, mom and kids working the land, eating what they grow and raise. Planting, tending, harvesting, and preserving. With real dirt and real injuries and real dependency on the land. That’s the kind of rural reality that most Americans faced in 1886.

If you have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about, and cannot even think of a single recent television series you’ve binged on Netflix to draw on for reference (sigh), then tackle a book. One I highly recommend, and have probably done before and will again, is The Seasons of America Past by Eric Sloane. Sloane was one of the foremost meteorological painters of the 20th century and he also put his artistic skills to work preserving images of the rural, agricultural norm that was the American way of life, and of which we are now completely and most tragically bereft.

These sketches, of which the book is full, will put a shape to the past. When we think of tablets, smartphones, and laptops, we can in some, rather inadequate, way attempt to compare to the scythes, plows, apple presses, and wagons of the past. These were the tools of their existence. People were fluent with these items in the same way that we are fluent (or reasonably so) with our technology. They are the implements of our lives.

The other facet of The Seasons of America Past that I relish is the step by step progress through each month of the year that gives us a sample of what agricultural tasks would have been on the schedule for that season.

Let’s take November for instance. Sloane relates that by this time cattle had been or were being driven to market in a parade of moving herds that marked the season for many (or to the railyard and transported by train in 1886). Crop harvests had been taken in and at this time there was abundance and time to preserve and enjoy. Meat was butchered, preserved, and products like the yearly supply of soap made from the rendered fat. Candles were made of the same animal by-products, though some plant sourced fats, such as bayberry, were used for their pleasant aroma. Nuts were harvested from trees, particularly chestnuts, though, tragically, a blight that began from an international exhibition in New York in 1904 destroyed much of the American chestnut tree population.

Daily chores were done, animals were fed, tools were repaired and sharpened, fields dressed for winter. The changing of the seasons was so deep and abiding and intertwined in daily life that people didn’t have to wait for the trees to turn colors and drop their leaves to know what was coming. They saw it coming from August on in every small detail that connotes a slight shift in the seasons from summer to fall. The seasons came to you, you didn’t have to go out in search of them. They still can.

It is a remarkable heritage that we possess, this rural connection. Don’t lose it, even if you don’t live in it, and I confess, I do not, though I should like to. My grandparents did and probably so did yours. Take the time to reflect on the genuine triviality that all politics descends into. For no matter how vaunted a potential leader, he or she cannot make the weather. He or she cannot bring in the harvest and put food on tables. He or she cannot change the seasons. They are inexorable, and remain as their Maker dictates.

Keep thinking history!

– Amanda Stiver

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Tomorrow’s History: When The Details Hit You In The Nose

I stepped outside one day a couple of weeks ago and all of a sudden Summer had jumped into Autumn. Not faded, mind you, as many poets have told us that it does, but jumped, leaped, maybe even threw itself into Fall. And yes, where I’m from it isn’t officially yet “Autumn”, which is scheduled to be with us in late September, but I don’t go by calendars when it comes to the changing seasons!

You know how I could tell?

The light and the smell.

As the seasons shift across the globe and the tilt of the earth angles through its yearly course, there is a nearly, but not entirely imperceptible shift in the rays of the sun’s light as we migrate through the day. Rather than dead above us at noontime, they begin to slant as Autumn comes and are most slanted of all in the Winter.

Image: Amanda Stiver

Image: Amanda Stiver

These slanted rays give us part of the feeling of “crispness” in the Fall air. As leaves turn and fall to the ground they seem to dazzle us in the spotlight rays of slanted sunfall. In addition, the tiny, first shift in color from deep green to lighter green of the maple trees began in early August. By late August, when the slanted rays of sunshine meet that delicate color change, the light takes on a pink glow.

It really is tremendous to watch it happen, but you have to step away from the devices daily to see it. Don’t get stuck in a digital world, when the real one is so fully and fantastically before us. Lecture over.

The other measure of the autumnal shift? Smells.

I like smells…some of them. But I really like the smell of the grass, the plants, my garden, veggies, roses, myriad things. And I really, really like the smell of lavender. I like it so much that, wherever I move to a new place I plant it, a lot of it. Always. It is spicy, floral, slightly soapy, strongly herbal, but not perfumey.

A good whiff of it will cause your central nervous system to take a short rest and step down from “high alert.” It is a powerful, soothing herb…and it repels many bugs (does it get better than that?).

As I step outside my front door I am gladly assaulted by this wonderful fragrance. Most especially following a good heavy rain the moisture releases the oils in the leaves and carries it into the air.

As Autumn rolls along, and the temperatures cool, the leaves begin to fade and the fragrance of the lavender shifts and takes on a stronger woodsy scent. That’s how I know my seasons are moving along. The plants also die, but that’s later.

I love to measure these tiny markers of the seasons for many reasons, but especially because it reminds me to appreciate nuance. To collect those little details that are seemingly unrelated or irrelevant, but put together paint a larger, more complete, eventually overwhelming, and sometimes sinister portrait.

And this is where history comes in. The sinister bit. History, when you measure it as it happens around us, something we call, “the news” or “current events,” you must be alert to these “tells” or tiny bits of nearly imperceptible change, shift, and nuance that added together, give us a sense of where things are going. Better times or worse.

I don’t mean to be a rain cloud, but times are not getting better. That’s the sinister bit. The tells and details of the moment are plain if we watch for them. We are in for turmoil, the whole world. Instability, migration, and hostility among the great and small powers are cause for concern.

But there is profit in chaos (and no, not what you are thinking). We, as individuals, who live through the crucible of chaos have the opportunity to develop our true selves (please don’t take that in an flaky, “new age” sort of way), our deepest character and conviction that is at the core of who we are. The honor code, the force of principle that we must have and must develop to enjoy any sense of a meaningful, fruitful life that will see us through tough times.

I get my inspiration and that core conviction from the Bible. It is a personal journey, just like history, which is the measure of our experience in life, both personal as well as communal. Everybody has to face history.

So learn to see the tiny details, watch for what is coming and tackle those core principles you need to soldier through the tough times. It’s all part of the historical experience. Just don’t be a footnote of history, really live it!

Keep thinking history!

– Amanda Stiver

Cooking Up History: ‘Kitchen Klatter’ and Other Resources of Home Economy

During the course of reading a fabulous book called The Lost Art of Dress by Linda Przybyszewski (to learn more please read my post here), the author references and used as source material the databases available to us through the digitizing of many publications from the early 20th century. One such database is called HEARTH – Home Economics Archive: Research, Tradition, and History – maintained by Cornell University (see link here).

The HEARTH collection encompasses a stunning array of books, journals, and articles on the art of home economy, domestic science, and home making. A treasure trove…if you know how to value it.

Image: Amanda Stiver

Image: Amanda Stiver

Shooting from the hip: I’m a traditionalist and a sentimentalist, so I find the underappreciated quantity of research and practical information produced by the early 20th century home economists a tragedy. When did we stop valuing the efficient, sanitary, effective, imaginative, joyful making of the home? Have we stopped living in homes? Do we somehow not need to have economic savvy anymore? Is sanitation a thing of the past?

The modern feminist movement has achieved many of its purposes, but unfortunately in many cases it has done so at the expense of and through degrading the contribution and acumen of home makers, “home women” as Przybyszewski puts it, and home economists. This is short sighted, and rather sad. We have suffered for underappreciating the value of women who choose to focus their lives on making a home and raising children.

So what to do? Legislation? Protests? Long social media rants? Um, as if there is any shortage of those things these days.

How about simple appreciation?

Start with a little knowledge. Look into some of the published works of the generation that valued home economics. Find out what savvy they accrued and put it to work!

The HEARTH collection is one place to start, but another is the folksy magazine produced by Leanna Field Driftmier (1886-1976) an Iowa farm wife and educator. She produced a highly popular and long running early radio show on home making topics, and later translated that knowledge to a newsletter-style magazine, Kitchen Klatter.

The Iowa Heritage database preserves many issues of this publication. Take a moment to explore them. Try some of the recipes, and maybe you will find a practical tip or two to make your life a little more efficient and economic! Don’t undervalue these kind of resources in your quest to understand the past. They aren’t flashy, but they help us understand the daily lives of our predecessors in the past.

Keep thinking history!

– Amanda Stiver

Tomorrow’s History: Weekly Roundup (Radio Drama – Faith and Health – History Gateways)

Theater of the Mind: Adventures in Classic Radio

Can you see it? The detective walks cautiously through the streets of 1950’s Cairo. An American he, owner of the Cafe Tambourine and subject to all manner of trouble, from old friends, shady ladies, and local desperates. Luckily, he is aided in his sometimes inadvertent quest for justice by the stalwart Lt. Sam Sabaya of the Cairo Police.

Sound intriguing? Imagine the possible sets, camera angles, visual effects and action sequences! So when is this series going to premiere? Which channel? Or is it on one of the digital media powerhouses, Netflix or Amazon Video?

Would you believe……radio? No visual effects, no screens, no adventure sequences filmed with the help of talented stunt teams, just……voices, music, sound effects, and some incredibly talented writers. The show?

The Adventures of Rocky Jordan, starring Jack Moyles and Jay Novello. It was on air from 1948 to 1951 and was one of many in the genre of post-World War Two radio detective-adventurers. But the era called “the golden age of radio” wasn’t just about detectives, it included all manner of entertainment, humor, music, drama, news, matching and often surpassing the content of today’s video media.

The common element was that it was all audio and though it allowed for amazingly low budgets it did require three vital elements. First, actors with tremendous voicing skills, a finely tuned ability to express all emotions, states of mind, and motivations with voice alone. Next, writers of unsurpassed ability who could develop a script that accounted for descriptions that would normally be explained by visuals, as a result many shows were narrated by the main character to allow for this device. Finally, a sound engineer with imagination, timing, and endless energy to produce all the sound effects that filled in the final details of the audio action.

If you want to learn more…start with a simple online search for “old time radio shows”. Since the copyright on this type of entertainment has mostly run out, there are many shows in the public domain and posted by various organizations and individuals. If you use internet radio look for WMKV – wmkv.org (FM 89.3, Reading, Ohio), Conyers Old Time Radio – conyersradio.net (FM 89.9, Conyers, Georgia) and others, or search for an “old time radio” app on your smart phone. Finally, to hear a sample of Rocky Jordan use this link to the comprehensive Archive.org (a site with many episodes of many series available): https://archive.org/details/RockyJordan

Have a listen! It’s one of the places where history and entertainment meet!

Faith and Health: What’s the Connection?

According to the findings from the Nurses Health Study, which tracked 75,000 female nurses from 1992 to 2012, the women who attended church most often (Protestant and Catholic were the most common denominations among the nurses studied) had a lower risk of dying. Those who attended church (or church activities) twice a week had the lowest risk of dying, while those who attended once a week or slightly less also had a significant, though slightly less-lower risk of dying. Churchgoers were also found to be more optimistic.

Experts have endeavored to determine why this is. Some have posited that it is the social support that improves longevity. Others believe it is the framework of a belief system that provides improved life stability (Corina Storrs, “Going to Church Could Help You Live Longer, Study Says,” CBS Philly at Philadelphia.CBSlocal.com, May 16, 2016).

An interesting statistic. Many will find a way to discount it, but it gives food for thought. How does what we believe actually affect us? Do we stand for something? Or not? To go beyond and connect to the study of history: does the historical tradition and impact of ancient documents, such as the Bible, bear more respect as sources of verified history with the ability to create positive change in the life of adherents?

Finding Your Gateway into History

Many times I’ve heard people say that studying history in school was their most dreaded class. And almost instantly, and somewhat sheepishly, comes the follow up that they actually liked some of the stories and they find it fascinating now, but history class was so hard to get interested in then.

There are many explanations, often it has to do with the teacher. Some history teachers are jewels, and imparting the fabric of the past is their highest goal. However, others taught history because it allowed them to do other things, like coach, or sometimes they had to double up and teach history and literature and they simply didn’t have time to dedicate to creating that gateway between the student and the continuum of history.

The gateway is the thing. Think of it as a doorway or passage of curiosity that allows you to enter into the study of history. Not necessarily academic study, but a gradual building of knowledge on a particular part of history or on many parts of history that helps you understand the meaning of it all.

There are many gateways. Sometimes a good film about a historical topic makes us want to know more. At other times a biography makes us curious to know more about the people surrounding the main subject. A living history museum might be it, or a piece of art work that begs the question, what was going on then that made the painter create this image, this way? Even religious belief can be a gateway to history, for instance wanting to know more about the lands in which the biblical record took place.

Whatever the gateway you find, take it! The value of historical knowledge in the quest for truth cannot be overrated.

Keep thinking history!

– Amanda Stiver

Tomorrow’s History: Weekly Roundup (Mt. St. Helens – “Tough Times, Strong Women” – Price of “Choice”)

Mt. St. Helens Recharging – Ring of Fire Active

In the news lately has been a flurry of news items relating to the increased earthquake activity around the Ring of Fire, the Pacific rim volcano and earthquake zones. Among these, Mt. St. Helens has begun to quake again, and scientists believe that the magma cavity is refilling. Incidentally, this is not news…it has been filling for some time. The latest swarm of tremors, however, make good news, and no doubt, are indicative of the overall activity in the Ring of Fire.

Some important things to remember when considering reports of “predicted” earthquake activity. Earthquakes are not predictable, per se. For instance, recent news items have indicated that an earthquake along the San Andreas fault line is imminent, as are earthquakes on the New Madrid fault line in the center of the U.S. Earthquakes are always imminent along fault lines because that’s where earthquakes take place. Even the Yellowstone basin is reported to be seismically active…it is always seismically active and volcanologically active, since it is a giant volcanic hotspot!

The take away from all this is that yes, indeed, the Ring of Fire is more than usually active, there are many fault lines and many possible locations for earthquakes. Most earthquake preparation is done ahead of time, building codes, tsunami warning programs, etc. Be aware of the risks in your area, know what to do, and pray. Same goes for volcanoes, although they have a better rate of prediction. Above all, don’t panic without good reason!

Tough Times, Strong Women – Worth a Read

I just finished a unique history book a few days ago. Titled “Tough Times, Strong Women” and published by nostalgia publication “Reminisce” magazine, this compilation of first hand, personal stories and memories of women in the 20th century, particularly during the Great Depression and World War II, is rare among history works.

Most history books are theoretical, sometimes annotated with quotes from primary sources, but by and large are an abstract overview. This book is different. It’s like listening to your elderly aunts talk all about the “old days”. All the wisdom and appreciation that the generation who lived through the Great Depression learned. Most of these accounts are short, just a memory or a summation of a life, but they are very powerful because of the world that they record.

Right now we live in a vapid age, full of short attention spans and technological and moral quandaries. Those who came before us were not perplexed by such things, they knew if they were men or women, that marriage was designed to produce children, that food grew out of the ground, often from their own garden, and that drug (recreational or pharmacological) and alcohol abuse destroyed lives. Most had a firm belief in God, and a sense of moral rectitude, knowing what was right and wrong.

We no longer have a society with moral rectitude. The painful reality is, however, that “freedom” from essential truths that have been understood for centuries is not necessarily going to bring happiness. Belief in a Divine Creator, whose design for the natural world and the moral world was created to help humans flourish, begs that we put aside our secular constructions and consider the fact that the Divine design is better than the designs and experiments of the created.

A good book can spur many contemplations!

The Cost of Abortion as a Societal Norm

The decision to legalize abortion in 1973 was, and still is, seen as a triumph of women’s rights. In order to accomplish this feat of mental gymnastics, one must accept the fact that the rights of the born outweigh the rights of the unborn, that life does not start at conception (which has recently been refuted by a stunning discovery and recording of the flash that occurs at the moment of conception), that we are better off with fewer people on the earth (a form of population control, which is a foundational principle of abortion theory), and, ultimately, that human life is not sacred, that future generations are not a blessing, and that women are capable of giving birth at any age thanks to advances in science (by no means universally true).

After that exhausting series of leaps and bounds, ignoring the emotional, physical, and mental cost of terminating a pregnancy, some still insist that there is no price to be paid for accepting abortion. Even the 58 million lives lost since 1973 (far more than the Nazis managed to kill during WW2) aren’t enough to move the minds and hearts of many.

However, simple economics may make that irrelevant. 58 million fewer Americans means increased taxes for the surviving younger generations, since somebody has to pay. Fewer people in the workforce. Fewer productive individuals to support industry, agriculture, and business. It means America (to say nothing of Europe) does not have enough births to replace those who die each year, and this nation will gradually, or catastrophically (if we have too few people to defend our borders), disappear in the course of time. Quite a cost (Michael Swartz, “The Long-Term Effects of ‘Choice’ Come Home to Roost,” The Patriot Post at PatriotPost.us, May 13, 2016).

The lesson: Every choice in history has a cost and, ultimately, that price will be paid. No man or woman is an island, one choice becomes many and affects everyone.

Potholes and Pitfalls: The Bumpy Roads of History

“That’s how history works. The mundane things often times become the measure of a civilization.”

AFTER A month of tooth-jarring journeys over the pothole infested roads of north eastern Ohio, I’ve decided that there must be a lesson of history here. Surprisingly, there is one and not very far off.

Roads are, for the U.S. and much of the developed world, a thing to be taken for granted as they are so ubiquitous, but not always was it so. Smooth, or relatively smooth, asphalt and concrete rivers of traffic flowing across the face of the land are a product of the past century. Before that waterways, railways, and dirt tracks were the cross-continental lanes of locomotion.

What does it mean to us when road begin to degrade? Is it just an annoyance – or are there deeper implications?

Unrepaired and unmaintained roads, like wounds, begin to fester. Traffic slows, the spread of goods slows, more repairs on trucks – the price of milk at your grocery store goes up. But ultimately, it is indicative of the state of finance and stable government of any given nation. Maintenance is a strong indicator that a nation is functioning well, while disrepair suggests that dissipation, internal problems, and debt are pulling the focus away from these boring, but vital details. When Rome was falling, its roads descended into disrepair and then disuse.

THAT’S HOW history works. The mundane things often times become the measure of a civilization. Will it continue in good health or collapse in the shadow of a coming power with more nefarious and darker motivations? How many times has history repeated this scenario?

Never forget that though we may study the past – we live in history right now!

Keeping thinking history!

– Amanda Stiver

rusty lawn chair

History Is in the Details

rusty lawn chair

sxc.hu/liaj

History comes at us in different ways. Daily, as we live it. Sometimes as we watch it on TV or in the cinema, or someone’s version of it. Rarely, unless you really love it, in the form of books.

Watching an Agatha Christie series, having just listened to a lecture on archaeology, and reading a book on The Peloponnesian War all have in common the details of history. An Agatha Christie episode of Miss Marple, made in the middle 1980’s and starring Joan Hickson (the preeminent Miss Marple, in my opinion) reminded me that to make an historically accurate production of an earlier era requires attention to detail. Not just major details, but especially the small details.

The small details are the most telling. In one scene, a character from the 1950’s seats himself on a canopied gliding lounge sofa. It was the kind I remember seeing from my childhood in the 1980’s, but I had to search my memory because it didn’t quite fit in the 1950’s surroundings. Then I dimly remembered seeing something like it in an old magazine picture from the 50’s, possibly online. Regardless, it did make me realize that what we see around us, the things that are seemingly unimportant, are the stuff of history, which leads me to the lecture on archaeology.

Digging into history

The lecturer pointed out that it was the small things that an excavation discovers that tell the story of history. The little things tell the story, bits and pieces like ostraca, pieces of broken pottery with writing on them, sometimes even shopping lists of 6th century B.C. ladies of the manor. These details, the same kind of shopping lists that we would toss as we return home from the market, help give a clear picture of what everyday life was like many centuries in the past. Thrilling stuff, huh?

Which brings me to the Peloponnesian War. Reading The Peloponnesian War by Donald Kagan has been informative, but also a challenge. The book is well written, but the event is long and arduous. Thirty years of the Greeks at war and frankly it feels like it has taken me almost as long to read about it as it took to fight it. A detailed war, in a region of numerous city-states and decades of leaders with names that are remarkably similar if you aren’t a fluent speaker of Greek. It is history, it is compelling, but it isn’t light reading.

The big and small of history

The connection? There isn’t one, not a similarity at least, but a disparity. The accounts of this Greek war come from the detailed histories written by various ancient scholars and historians. They are based on military accounts, biographies of great men, and political rhetoric. Somewhat removed from the odd shopping list and glider-lounge. But both are history. They are the big and small of history.

The big history is charging Greek soldiers leaping off of triremes and sloshing onto the beaches of recalcitrant city-states. The little history is what they ate on board the morning before and how they polished their spears. The big history is 1950’s cold-war counter-movements done by spies. The small history is what they bought at the grocery when they had a toothache while spying (and if they bought a gliding lounger when they retired).

We live daily with big history and little history. Big history is government legislation. Small history is whether we bought Nutella for a our chocolate craving or simply a Hershey bar. Both become a part of the whole picture of history of the past and our place in it. The big history is affected by the small history, cravings for Nutella affect trade partnerships between Europe and the US. And, of course, the big history affects the small. Government legislation affects what and how and how much we eat.

Food for thought. Keep thinking history!

– Amanda Stiver