Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: poplars

We shall have music

722px-Toxostoma_rufum_-Virginia,_USA_-adult_and_juvenile-8These plain looking birds are brown thrashers, an adult and a juvenile. They are long-tailed birds, a little bigger than a robin. Brown thrashers are rather shy about letting themselves be seen in public, but they fill the air with beautiful song, especially in the mornings and evenings.  My wife saw one this evening, the first sighting this spring. We look forward to a melodious summer.

The male brown thrasher has a repertoire of over 1,000 song types, the largest of any bird. We typically hear it begin by mimicking the song of a robin and then go on for minutes at a time with a steady stream of other songs. It will pause for a moment, then begin again.

We live on an acreage next to a farm yard. Between our houses there is a long shelter belt of poplars and willows. The poplars were planted 100 years ago and have passed their best-before date. Many have died and fallen, coming to rest leaning on other trees or along the ground. Others are half dead, massive, tall trees from which many branches have fallen, yet showing signs of life in the remaining branches. This makes for an unsightly, almost impenetrable thicket between our two houses. But it is ideal bird habitat.

The education of a pioneer bride

The first settlers on the Saskatchewan plains were faced with a quandary – there were no large trees that could be cut to build log houses, and lumber yards were usually far away. So they set to work to build their first homes out of the material under their feet – the sod.

This was actually quite a practical choice. This was native grass prairie that had never been cultivated. The dense root structure made sturdy building materials. The sod was cut into strips two feet wide, about six feet long and two to three inches thick and they were laid much as one lays bricks, with alternating joints to tie the structure together. The sod was removed from around the growing house, providing a fire guard to protect against prairie fires.

Poplar poles were cut from nearby ponds or streams and lashed together to make a framework for the roof, which was then covered with sod strips. There was usually one door and two windows cut into the walls and a stovepipe stuck out the roof. The inside walls were often covered with a material like canvas. The result was a cozy home that was well insulated from the winter cold and the summer heat. Sometimes the roof would get saturated from a heavy rainfall and it would be necessary to move the bed and table away from the leaks.

Many a bride spent her first few years in a home such as this until her husband could accumulate enough money to buy lumber to build a wood frame home. No doubt the promise of that soon to be built two-storey home with a proper roof made life in the sod home easier to bear, but those early prairie brides had an amazing ability to adapt to conditions as they were.

Nevertheless, sod homes did present some unexpected challenges. Early one fine summer day a new bride set to work to bake some bread before her husband came home for dinner.  She measured the flour and other ingredients, soaked the yeast in water, then mixed it all together and set it aside to rise. But it didn’t rise. She checked it anxiously as the morning hours went by. There was never any change, it sat there in exactly the same shape as when she had first mixed it.

She set about making dinner, without the hoped for bread. She checked it one last time, then, not wanting her husband to know of her failure, she took the bowl outside and with a large spoon dropped a portion of the dough into the gopher holes around the yard. She felt a little solace in knowing that at least she had hidden the evidence.

When her husband came in for dinner, his first words were: “I just saw the most amazing thing. There are big white mushrooms growing out of all the gopher holes in the yard.”

I think it was the sudden flush of red in her cheeks that gave her away. Together they realized that she had done nothing wrong, but it was just too cool in the sod house to activate the yeast. The ground outside had been warmed by the sun and the hidden dough just couldn’t stay hidden.

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