Reading: One of Ours by Willa Cather

Willa Cather’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, One of Ours is an unexpected story of an unlikely hero whose life up until WWI seems rootless. We follow Claude Wheeler, from life as an alienated young boy, to a young college student who finds the culture he craves in Lincoln to have it taken away by life and choosing the wrong wife. I was honestly surprised by the desertion of his wife Enid (and her abrupt removal from the storyline). While I read, I idly wondered what the political climate was in China (siege of Tsingto in 1914?) during the outbreak of WWI, and if the pair would reunite, able to mature into a firmer relationship.

Everything seems set to move him from struggling to keep his father’s farm together while a new farm was being established in Colorado, to odd marriage (with a house built by his own hands on Nebraska farmland), and days drowsing in the corn he’s harvested, wondering what his purpose is. And events prime him to be excited at the thought of going where the trouble is, and enlisting as soon as he could. From Americans he met overseas who had enlisted in the Canadian air force prior to the US being in the war, to other farmers he met from other states, who were also swept up in the tide… the story moves at an introspective wandering pace.  If you want drama, and a look at how Americans (or possibly Nebraskans) of the time might have come to look at WWI and its aftermath, it’s worth checking out the book from the library. I bought mine at the Willa Cather Foundation (I couldn’t resist a paperback with a beautiful scene of Flanders poppies). If anyone else has read it, do you see similarities with The Song of Werther, by Goethe? I think it’s mostly the alienation of the main character, not writing style or subject matter, but I could be over-analyzing both.

Autumn Fire Fest

Raku outdoors.

Raku outdoors.

The local nonprofit ceramic arts workshop, Clayworks, had an Autumn Fire Festival. Activities included:

  • Raku firing in front of the studios
  • Local bands playing outdoors in the back lot
  • A cookout near the bands (if you paid admission, you got a ticket for just normal grub, and a beer)
  • The opportunity to try handbuilding
  • And a Clay-olympics or Clayathon (there were little silvery laurel wreaths they were handing out, and prize mugs)
Yes, throwing with your bare feet. How did they clean them in the tall sinks afterwards?

Yes, throwing with your bare feet.

Spectators indoors could become participants in the clayathon, competing to pull the longest handle, make the tallest pot on a wheel, or throw a pot with their feet (yes, bare feet*).

Meanwhile, as it grew to be dusk, a local troupe came to do fire baton twirling and hula-hooping with a ring of fire. I was amused by all the people driving past the event who were stoically ignoring the festival going on below them. I managed to get some video of the fire twirling, but I’m unsavvy enough that I don’t know how to post them. A photo will have to do, and I’ll post some more on my Flickr feed.clayworks-hula

It’s a great organization, and I’d love to carve out time to go to a class again in the Spring, maybe. So, any autumn festivals happening in your area?

*Not sure how they got the clay off their feet. But it was hilarious, and everyone was a good sport about getting clay slip on their clothing.

When you are a cat of a certain size, it’s important to stay on top

… of your mail.


Ember, looking like she’s perusing Pensey’s Spices catalog (ooh, cinnamon). She’s actually being soulful about ham soup, and looking small to intensify her chances of morsels (didn’t work). Her favorite teething pillow (which was chosen for decor, not her convenience) is on its side behind her. Gardening books live behind the Morris chair. So… kitten status done. No time now for discussions of the Autumn Fire Festival. Once I’ve looked at my photos of the Raku firing and the fire baton twirlers, I’ll be able to describe. October = a month chock full of farm festivals, local fundraisers, and baking opportunities.

15 row countdown to next pattern shift – concerns about yarn

I’m still knitting on the Oslo shawl, doggedly trying to get to the next pattern shift (graph 2), and wondering if there will be enough blue and white for graph 3. If you click on the link, you should be able to get to the details page. As each row get longer, i get a little more concerned that I’ll run out of blue or white. Kind of wish that the store had more of the yarn (seabago) in the same lot so I could add a few more rows and maybe make mittens. If it washes, and keeps its color, I will be on the lookout for more of this, because knitting it is lovely.

Unfortunately very few good photos of the shawl in progress, because I’ve been stuck inside with a head cold on the one  sunny day when I could have gone out to take photos on my lunch break. The world turning dark while I’m driving home in the evenings is the trade off for the beautiful riot of autumn color on the trees at sunrise. We’ve had some sugar maples turn, and the streets up the block are red and yellow with fallen leaves…looking a bit like they’re paved in gold.

Reading and the Pulitzer Prize

It was enough when Werner was a boy, wasn’t it? A world of wildflowers blooming up through the shapes of rusty cast-off parts. A world of berries and carrot peels and Frau Elena’s fairy tales. Of the sharp smell of tar, and trains passing, and bees humming in the window boxes. String and spit and wire and a voice on the radio offering a loom on which to spin his dreams.” — Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See.

Over the years, I’ve read books that lost the Pulitzer Prize (asterisked ones were assigned reading, but still good). How many of these have you read?

  • William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury*
  • Joseph Heller’s Catch-22
  • JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye*
  • Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street

I’ve also read quite a few prize winners: Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, Tales of the South Pacific by Michener, Beloved by Toni Morrison, The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington. Most recently, I read All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr — interesting, nuanced, and sort of left hanging, so the book finishes days later in your brain as you resolve the different parts. A tone of wonder and different ways of looking at things (or feeling things) got me past the WWII setting. But it’s a book that demands time (95 pages in, and I finally found my stride).

Now I’m back reading Willa Cather’s One of Ours, (I have a huge case of “Catheritis”)… and enjoying the completely different, tone of smalltown America. Small details like: farmers in Nebraska, during the outbreak of what would be WWI, struggling to understand what Luxembourg was, and heading to the attic for the unused Atlas. The first who volunteered before the draft, and walked into something bigger than them, that changed how the USA thought about itself. So, once I’m done this one, do you think I should start on the ones that lost (because the writing of these is normally quite good as well)?

Reading (and traveling): My Antonia by Willa Cather

Red barn near Lincoln. Go cornhuskers, go!

Red barn near Lincoln. Go cornhuskers, go!

Earlier in the month, I was driving through Nebraska, and decided to avoid the University of Nebraska game (traffic around Lincoln is normally pretty calm, unless everyone is driving to the game with red N pennants waving from their windows).

I looped down to Red Cloud, not far from Kansas’ border, to see the landscape described in Willa Cather’s novel, My Ántonia. If you haven’t read it (either because it wasn’t in your high school curriculum, or you didn’t grow up in the USA), this slim book is worth trying if for nothing else to give a sense of the open expanse, and lonely beauty of the land the author grew up surrounded by. It is interesting to see how the people of Red Cloud peopled many of Willa Cather’s most memorable stories. (Can’t figure out if the people in the stories were long past, or if anyone felt nervous being friends with her, with her ability to transform local gossip into stories.)

I started rereading My Ántonia prior to setting off on my journey, and it was lovely to be see the landscape scroll out in front of me while I drove. One of my cousins had mentioned that many of the people of Nebraska were leaving the areas where their ancestors had homesteaded, and were deserting the land for the cities. And Red Cloud seemed no different, although possibly everyone was watching the Cornhusker game. On a Saturday afternoon, their downtown looked deserted and there were few options for lunch until I got further north above Division street. I was too late to get into the Cather Childhood home, but I had a lovely time exploring the Red Cloud Opera House, and driving around town to see the different locations mentioned in the Willa Cather Foundation Town Tour. The people who work in the Willa Cather Foundation were lovely, and helped me to find a copy of One of Ours, Cather’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that seems to be unobtainable elsewhere. Link to a virtual Catherland here:, where you can virtually visit the prairie at dawn, or look inside the Cather childhood home from your own living room.

It’s hard to explain the appeal of the prairie. Most places in Nebraska have planted redcloudprairietrees to remind people of the Europe or eastern US they left for homesteading. There are few trees, maybe a few cottonwoods, and the hot wind from Kansas buffets you as the temperature rises to 100 degrees F. There isn’t a person to be seen if you go down a hill away from the highway.  But here is the landscape as it was, with prairie chickens that dance in the early morning, and a world filled with relentlessly blue skies above. Regret: I wish I had thought to find a closer hotel, so I could have gone out there to stay for the sunset and watch the stars come out.

If you want a unique visit to an author’s house, Red Cloud and the prairie provides a place that is still rooted in the world that the author wrote about. Filled with grit blown by the wind, tucked away, and worth the drive.

Many single stitches make a pair of socks

… and I feel like I remember knitting every single one of the stitches that made up my “Pinkie” project*. These socks are great, the pattern is fairly easy to “remember” as you go along, but they aren’t good knitting when you’re interrupted by a sidewinder (kitten).

pinkieSpecs for Socks:

Designer: Nancy Bush

Child’s French Sock

Knit in size small (I always have sock yarn left over, and these were 2 generous hanks of Shepherd Sock multi won during a raffle at a yarn retreat in Massachusetts). Yarn was donated by Lorna’s Laces in a special dye lot called “no yellow”, and it made a splendid multi-color yarn without flashing too much. I’d love to see what the dyer would come up with a “no red” colorway.

My Flickr feed is currently glacial, so I’m not sure when any of my pictures will pop up. But for now, here’s a photo of the obligatory sidewinder, duking it out with corn husks leftover from dinner:


* In case you’re wondering about “Pinkie”, like many children of my age, I had pictures lovingly hand stitched in Berlinwork/needlepoint of both Pinkie and Blue Boy on my bedroom walls. In my case, done by my grandmother.

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