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Archive for the 'Books People and History' Category

Crossing Decades with Health and Good Cheer

September 21st, 2010

I have always been amazed and heartened by longevity.  Not simply that things, or people, can be very old.   It’s something more about the fact that as we age, the history of the world goes with us.   That and the nature of how we age are simply interesting to me.

I was amazed to read today that the World’s oldest man has marked his 114th birthday in Great Falls, Montana.   How incredible!

Walter Breuning was born on Sept. 21, 1896, in Melrose, Minnesota, and moved to Montana in 1918, where he worked as a clerk for the Great Northern Railway for 50 years.

His wife, Agnes, a railroad telegraph operator from Butte, died in 1957. The couple had no children.

Breuning inherited the distinction of being the world’s oldest man in July 2009 when Briton Henry Allingham died at age 113. Allingham had joked that the secret to long life was “Cigarettes, whisky and wild, wild women — and a good sense of humor,” according to Guinness World Records.

Now there’s some advice I could never imagine that would help to foster longevity!  Mr. Allingham must have lived a charmed life.  And hey, who am I to argue with success and a 113 year old sense of humor?

The Guinness organization and the Gerontology Research Group each have verified [Walter] Breuning as the world’s oldest man and the fourth-oldest person. Three women were born earlier in the same year as Breuning.

“Walter wasn’t in last year’s edition,” Young joked. “He was too young.”

The Great Falls Tribune reported that Breuning gave a speech before about 100 people at an invitation-only birthday party at the Rainbow Retirement Community, with a guest list that included Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and representatives from Guinness World Records.

Breuning was helped up to a lectern from his motorized cart, appearing somewhat frail but speaking with a strong voice.

He recalled “the dark ages,” when his family moved to South Dakota in 1901 and lived for 11 years without electricity, water or plumbing.

“Carry the water in. Heat it on the stove. That’s what you took your bath with. Wake up in the dark. Go to bed in the dark. That’s not very pleasant,” he said.

How simple and abundant our lives have become.  I think of the water he mentions, and what we take for granted today.  We flush the toilet a half a dozen times each day, take showers whenever we feel like it, cook, wash and clean using a seemingly endless supply of fresh water, use the hose to water plants and gardens outside the house, and even fill up the chickens’ and pets water dishes…

He [Breuning] said men and women may be able to enjoy life, but they can’t be content without a belief or faith. His parting message to the crowd was one of tolerance.

“With all the hatred in this world, in this good world, let us be kind to one another,” Breuning said.

Breuning has celebrity status at the retirement home, with visitors waiting in line to see him, Ray Milversted, 92, told the Tribune.

Before his birthday party, Breuning declined to name a favorite among the 114 years he has seen.

“Every year is the same,” Breuning told the Great Falls newspaper.

But he criticized one modern invention — the computer.

“When the computer came out, that was one of the worst things,” Breuning said. “They laid off all the clerks on the railroad.”

But, he added, “Every change is good.”

My goodness, what a spirit this man has.  Some of the notes about his life were fascinating too:

  • Breuning is in excellent health, even after a lifelong habit of smoking cigars, completely quitting in 1999.
  • He is able to walk, and eats two meals a day. He still maintains a sharp mind and accurate memory.   For example, he can remember his grandfather talking about his experiences in the American Civil War when he was three years old, and remembers the day President William McKinley was shot as the day “I got my first haircut”.
  • He has no prescription medications. In November 2007, at the age of 111, Breuning was fitted with hearing aids.
  • On his 112th birthday, Breuning said the secret to long life is being active: “[if] you keep your mind busy and keep your body busy, you’re going to be around a long time.”
  • In a recent interview, Breuning said, “Every day I exercise. Every morning I do all my exercises.”

During his 113th birthday celebrations, Breuning said:

“Remember that life’s length is not measured by its hours and days, but by that which we have done therein. A useless life is short if it lasts a century. There are greater and better things in us all, if we would find them out. There will always be in this world – wrongs. No wrong is really successful. The day will come when light and truth and the just and the good shall be victorious and wrong as evil will be no more forever.”

I can hardly imagine the things this man has seen and experienced. But I also wonder about his feelings for not having had children.

Obviously we don’t really know how long we’ll live, and truthfully I don’t have a feeling about that, other than to say I’d like to live a happy, healthy life that is long enough… whatever that may be.

Maybe that’s a timely declaration as I have lately become more interested in my health, and working to live a more constructive life.   I’d like to share that with others, especially my son, in terms of helping him to achieve a baseline of character strength and well-being that will carry him through his own life in a positive fashion.  He’ll be ten years old soon… and as time passes so quickly, the mark of his life will be up to him.

Our lives are filled with change. There is no other way. Like Walter, I strongly believe that change is good, in that we can embrace uncertainty. We can indeed move forward with courage, faith and the conviction that better days will surely come as we face the inevitable challenges that the years bring to our lives.

Walter Breuning is 104 years older than my son… just think, many of our children could live out their years spanning two centuries from Walter’s birth.   We can only wonder what the world will look like one hundred years hence.

Walter,  may we all share in your wisdom and age as gracefully as you have… and Happy Birthday!

 

Update:  Walter passed away into the next life on April 14th, 2011. He lived a full life.  Thank you for sharing your life Walter! :)

Seasons and Years of Change

September 14th, 2010

Beautiful weather after last week’s rain, and everything is growing once again. With late summer I have the joy of allergies kicking in for a few weeks…  the last Hurrah! as the grasses and goldenrod bloom. Which is great for the bees at least :)   Some years I don’t notice my allergies at all, and others it seems crazy and I’m sneezing all the time- like this week.   I could use a few days at sea…

Sometime within a week after putting to sea, you suddenly realize that your nasal passages are totally clear… the air at sea is usually so clean and fresh. Well most places that is, unlike the Persian Gulf where the dust storms would roll off the desert and engulf everything in a near brownout of fine dust particles for a day or two at a time. But the South Pacific was a different story!  I’ve been thinking of sharing few more stories of my past life (seems like “lives”), but I mostly want to share the beauty and experience of nature and our day-to-day life as it is now.  We’ll see.

The sedum flowers are also blooming, and the butterflies are enjoying the tiny flowers. The bees will follow when the flowers open a bit more.  Sedum is such a great plant… drought tolerant and blooming at just the right time in late summer when the insects really need them.

I saw a hummingbird the other day, surprised they were still here- soon they will depart on their migration south. The bees are incredibly busy now, which is a good sign.  I’m hopeful that the hives will build enough stores to carry themselves solidly through winter.

It was amazing watching the bees this afternoon, dropping through the sunlit sky, diving down to the hive by the dozens like tiny fighter jets… and then I stepped close to the front of the busiest hive, smiling as I watched a host of bees taking their first orientation flights outside the hive.   This tends to happen on warm afternoons, and is a good sign of a strong hive.

Bees spend about the first 3 weeks of their lives inside the hive, growing, building comb, acting as nurse bees to the young larvae- feeding and capping their cells. They must fly during that time, if only to relieve themselves,  and somehow they heed the call and head outside the hive to fly, becoming workers, orienting themselves with the sunlight and shadows, somehow knowing with amazing accuracy the exact position of their hive on the earth.

Honeybee on Sweet Autumn Clematis

If you move the hive more than a yard or two from its position, the bees will not know where to go…  I’ve read an old expression if you need to move a beehive:  Stay within two feet, or move it two miles!   I’m not sure about that, but I know if you do want to move it, you wait until after sunset and seal up the hive.  Then you move it to its new location, releasing the bees the next morning.  If it’s too close to the old hive location, you risk the bees flying back to their original location and not having a home to go to.

In the distance, I hear Captain Jack crowing, also enjoying the afternoon sun.   I went to collect the eggs from the henhouse, and picked up six of them.  Later on we gathered two more…  one of the first days that I’m sure each of the eight hens laid an egg.  Hooray for the girls!

I let them out into the garden for a good bit of the day… they love it.  In fact, Jack has figured out how to fly out of the run, and then fly back in if he wants to.  But the hens wait patiently, and after they’ve laid their eggs they deserve an outing to feast on greens and tiny critters.  One of the Barred Rocks was just running from the coop to catch up when I took this picture.  By the way- I thought our white “Snowy” might have been a Leghorn, but she doesn’t lay white eggs-  I think she might be a Wyandotte hybrid of some sort?

In the morning as we get ready for the day, the animals are ready to go too… the little kitty is becoming a holy terror within the house.  The yellow lab doesn’t seem to mind- she grabs his tail and he can’t help but wag it all over the place.

The shiba waits at the door for leftovers.  Anything the boy doesn’t eat the shiba gets to try.  Sometimes the chickens too.  I’m finding out that chickens love to eat just about anything!  So far it has been fairly simple to incorporate them into our lives and that of the other animals.

Here’s a neat photo from our trip last month.  We had a chance to stop at the marvelous national historic site of Abraham Lincoln’s home in Springfield, Illinois.   Perhaps I’ll write more about it later, but as we walked from the first floor to the upstairs, the historian told us that the stairway railing was completely original to the home, exactly as it was over 150 years ago.

The young boy’s hand is there, and I’m amazed to think that President Lincoln- and his family- used that railing when they went up and down the stairs.   They had four boys… Robert, Eddie, Willie and Tad (Thomas). Only Robert lived to adulthood, and died in 1926 at age 82, buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Eddie died young at 3 years, 10 months, and Willie at 11 years. Tad reached age 18 before he died. But the boys did spend their happy childhood years in that house, listening to stories, singing, playing games, and holding that same railing.  I could almost imagine hearing their voices…



Poke Salad Annie

September 9th, 2010

Beautiful mornings with cooler temperatures. The days are becoming noticeably shorter, and the light just changes somehow. I love how the sun is lower in the sky, especially in the afternoons. Light filters through the trees and reflects off the pond in different ways, shimmering as the wind drifts across the water…

 The nights over the past week have been interesting too.  I’ve seen glow worms in the grass… I know, most people say, “Glow worms? There’s no such thing!” Ah but there is.   Really they are just firefly larvae, but most people have never seen them.

When you walk along at night, with dew on the grass at this time of year, you think you may be seeing things.  As you walk along you begin to notice little sparkles of light, almost like the stars above, yet twinkling all around you.   It’s natural magic I tell you…

As I write early this morning, Captain Jack is outside crowing like a banshee.  Or, um, a rooster I suppose.  Good thing we live a few hundred yards from our neighbors! If I listen carefully, there’s another rooster crowing a good distance to the south, so maybe he’s just keeping up appearances :)

I have to say the eggs these little birds give us each day are really wonderful.  I’m officially spoiled now with having fresh eggs and store bought cartons will never seem the same.  So in the name of enjoying such bounty, I’ve decided to encourage the girls to continue laying this winter by adding a little artificial light.

There’s a host of passions on the issue, but honestly the chickens I have are bred to be decent winter layers anyway. But I realized an extension cord into the nearby shed would be too simple, and perhaps it will give the girls a little extra heat in the winter. I’ll keep the light going for a few extra hours each evening, and that should be just enough to keep their egg production going well. I have to admit I also like the idea of the chickens earning their keep!

So the cool thing about how the coop fits together with the shed is that the window in the shed serves as both the “feeder door” and as a window for the light to shine through.    I put the food into a 30 gallon galvanized can to minimize the mice or other critters getting to it. When it’s time to feed (which seems to be all too frequently lately!), we just scoop it up and reach through the window to their feeder.

Makes it so much simpler, and I’m soooo glad I built it there.  Between the shed and the nest box door outside the coop, we don’t have to go inside the run and coop itself very often.   Of course if all the hens laid their eggs in the nest boxes, we’d only have to go in the coop every few days to change water.   There’s a couple of hold outs…  those hens seem to lay their eggs wherever the mood strikes them!

The light works well enough, although I may run it into the coop this winter to provide a little extra heat.  Or maybe the inherent heat within the shed will help keep the coop warm.  Either way most of the walls are insulated, and when I figure out what to put over the screen windows the chickens should be fine.

Otherwise it’s time to clean up around here.   I’ve been battling weeds and grass, and thinking of preparing for winter.  Summer’s done gone…   The cycle begins again it seems.   I did come across an interesting plant, way up high in a dead tree.    This snag has been around for a long time, and this year a Pokeweed plant (Phytolacca americana) decided to grow about halfway up on the right side…

Have you ever had poke salat ?    Lots of folks in the south have made it a staple, at least in the older days.   I tried it last year, not bad… if you like cooked greens.   When the little head and shoots are coming up around 6 inches in the spring, you just cut them off at ground level.

Then you boil the heck of them (two or three times is a good idea) and maybe saute them like spinach with butter or garlic and olive oil.  Pretty tasty, although I was a little hesitant because just about the entire plant is poisonous!   You can’t eat the plant or the berries in their mature form at all.

But if you never ate it before… then maybe you’ve heard the song.   Remember Tony Joe White’s Poke Salad Annie?   Here’s a grand ‘ole duet with Tony on the Johnny Cash Show from April, 1970… think I was in third or fourth grade, somewhere between California and New Jersey…



That’s just plain good stuff…

 

We Remember

May 30th, 2010

“They hover as a cloud of witnesses above this nation… “

Henry W. Beecher




A Journey of Dreams and Inspiration

January 18th, 2010

It’s often amazing to read about what some people are doing with their lives. I have written of one such person in the past, and I find myself following her progress nearly every day.   Her name is Jessica Watson, and at 16years of age she is making the journey of a lifetime.  There has been much discussion or even amazement at how someone so young could be on such a journey at all.  But I don’t write this to entertain the “Why” or “Why not” of such a trek.

Today I’m simply offering a salute to a fellow adventurer on this great journey of our lives.  Sailing the world in a tiny 34 foot sailboat (see what it looks like from the top of the mast!), She has just in the past week accomplished an incredible feat of rounding Cape Horn single-handedly as part of her attempt at a sailing solo circumnavigation of the earth.   Just sense the excitement as she shares a little of her experience:

 

Her parents even made the journey from Australia to the Cape so they could fly over her sailboat in a plane. She is now journeying northeast past the Falkland Islands, continuing and only about half-way around the southern seas of our planet. 

One may reflect upon the challenges, strife and human suffering we see throughout the world… but does that diminish the triumph of the human spirit in a different context? As simply as one who reaches out to help others, I believe we can choose to embrace life and each new day as a chance to grow and achieve. We may see human effort and consequence in stark moral terms, and that is our privilege or failing, as the case may be. Sometimes however, others help frame the context of life in ways we may leverage to show us what is possible. To each their own.

For now a young woman has chosen this path for her life. I can find no fault in it… rather it seems to me quite empowering to reflect upon the opportunity and challenges that any of us may accept and accomplish, no matter how mundane or encompassing. She writes of her journey from the heart with such honesty… I find it inspiring, courageous, amazing and even a bit breathtaking to imagine it all. We wish you fair winds and safe passage, and… Godspeed Jessica!



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