All posts by cynthiainmahtowa

Am I Old Yet?

Yup, I am officially an Elder. It was announced in the last couple weeks. First a young waitress called me “Sweetie.” Then when handing me my annual fair gyros, the vendor said, “Here you are, My Dear.” And yesterday when I called to make a doctor’s appointment, the nurse ended the call with “Honey.”

No one (much less a stranger) in my previous life as an adult has ever used such endearments to address me. I can only attribute it to my being 75 and it’s “safe” (or is it patronizing?).

P.S. When I was in pre-op before hip surgery a nurse told me I was a “poor imitation of a 75 year old.” Have I aged that much since May?

How do you mark the various stages of your life?

Teaching a Toddler

Today’s post comes from Cynthiainmahtowa.

Joe asked his 2 ½ year-old son, Jack, if he would please take his empty coffee cup to the kitchen. Jack said no. Joe then explained to Jack that when he asked his father to help, Joe always did. So it was only right and proper that Jack should honor his father’s request and help him when asked. Jack thought about that for a while, picked up the coffee cup, held it up to Joe and said, “Help me.“

I’ve heard that smart dogs are not for everyone. Neither are smart children.

Have you ever been outsmarted by a toddler…or, any child (or, dog)?

Minute Memories

Today’s post comes from Cynthia in Mahtowa

Barb in Winona’s recent post asking “What have you learned about animals over the years that has surprised you? “ made me recall one of my first goats and her hysterical pregnancy that accompanied her daughter’s actual pregnancy. Today going through old papers in a desk, I found what I had written about her in 1987.

This is a time of great changes in my life. The old and familiar features of the landscapes in my life are dropping away. I am left with feelings of disorientation as the trappings of a new landscape are as yet undefined. Sadness tears through my body as beloved people and creatures leave my world.

Today Minute died. Sunday, 15 February 1987. Just shy of eleven years old. She was a goat chosen ten years ago because of her splendid set of horns and black coat. She looked a though she had been whisked out of the Swiss Alps. She came as a young, dry does to be a companion to our first milk goat Snow. They came from a large heard of goats that roamed the acreage at will. I thought they would do the same here. They wanted leadership, however. And I was their appointed leader. They would go nowhere nor eat anything without me. They stood on the deck at my window and baaaaaed until I could stand it no longer and would go out with them. Then we built fences. Then they felt safe. Then I felt sane.


Minute was not a wonderful milk goat, but she was a remarkable being. I first noticed the tenderness in her when her first daughter had her first born. Minute was not having babies of her own that year, but she stood with Dritte all through her labor, then helped her clean and nurture the newborn son.

When Minute’s next daughter, Carob, became pregnant, Minute who was not bred, grew in size along with her through the five month gestation. Minute went into labor when Carob did, giving birth to water, never leaving the side of the kidding pen, while Carob gave birth to twins. When Carob was finished delivering, Minute was once again as thin as her single self should have been. When we let Minute into Carob’s pen, she cleaned and warmed the babies as if they were her own.

The next spring Carob was found dead in the barn—an apparent victim of rough play. As the goats were let into the barn for the evening, Minute walked to the body, licked it and talked to it with the same tenderness as she had greeted her when  she was born. Then Minute turned her attention to the matter of supper.

Minute became weakened and somewhat crippled in her later years. I do not know whether she had been injured as she dropped lower in the pecking order, or whether it was arthritis as part of her aging. It made her life more difficult as the younger, stronger goats were often brutal and unforgiving. And in the summer when the herd would run from the far pasture to get away from the rain or the playing horses, she would have great trouble keeping up with them, her back quarters giving out beneath her. She couldn’t have done it another summer.

This week she stopped eating and drinking. She had a look about her that was strained and stoic and brave. She died in a dark corner of her pen. She rests there now. I will move her body to the woods, but not yet. I need more time to acknowledge her passage from my life—hers as well as all the others who are passing from my life.

What interesting things have you found in your desk drawers?

Birthday Specials

Today’s post comes from Cynthia in Mahtowa

On Sunday I turn 75 years old. In the past I have celebrated “landmark” birthdays with gatherings of almost everyone I know. The first one was for my 60th. It was a potluck (I provided ham and turkey) in the basement of church-turned-theater. I called it “The Funeral of my Youth” and decorated with photos from my past. Since I have friends from several different pieces of my life, I asked them to wear a nametag indicating why they knew me and when they met me. I think about 50 people were there. Upstairs in the “sanctuary/theater” a couple friends performed songs they had written in my honor, another sang John Hartford’s “Tall Buildings” for me. A friend and I performed a short play (vignette?) of “I’m Herbert” by Robert Anderson (it’s one of a collection of four short one acts titled “You Know I Can’t Hear You When the Water’s Running”). It is two old folks sitting on the porch trying to remember their past.

When I turned 64 I threw another party based on the Beatles song. Again in the basement of the small church-turned-theater. Less elaborate, again a potluck but no “performances.” Well, one. We had to hear the song, of course. A friend sang it right before everyone walked out the door.

Then at 70 I invited friends again, even more as my circle had expanded. The church-turned-theater had been purchased for a home, so I found another lovely venue nearby—the Scott House. It is a historic-once-was-a-stagecoach stop between St Paul/Mpls and Duluth/Superior. It was still beautifully decorated from the holidays. The entertainment was the movie “Lumber Jill” where I played a “Creepy Old Woman.” ( ) Another potluck of exceptional tastiness. Another success…another group of 50+ or so. I promised everyone I would do it again…

But this year, even retired and with time to prepare, I opted for a less celebratory event. This year I decided I wanted to meet with people for dinner or lunch in small gatherings so I get to talk to everyone and enjoy their company more one-on-one and spread out throughout the month.

What do you do to celebrate those “special/landmark” birthdays?

Christmas Past

Header photo of Adliswil by Parpan05 (Own work), CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0  via Wikimedia Commons

Today’s post comes from Cynthia in Mahtowa.

Christmas is not one of my favorite times of the year, Memories are loaded with emotional and physical loss – each of my parents died, I received divorce papers, old reminders of the difficult maneuvering after my parents separated and divorced and remarried. Then there was exhaustion after the long hours working in my father’s retail business wrapping presents, followed by a six hour drive to southern Minnesota to be with grandparents, my parents smoking and arguing what seems like the entire way.

But one Christmas I love to remember: the year I was in Switzerland.

After my first year teaching I quit to travel in Europe. I ended up staying with a family in the small village of Adliswil just outside Zurich. They lived above their tearoom and bakery but also had a home up in the mountains near Einsedeln. The month leading up to Christmas they made candies — delicious Swiss chocolates, many with nummy hazel nut cream. (I thought they were called Moor’s Caps/Moorenkoppen, but I can’t find what I remember them being on the web…so memory being what it is…who knows what they were called.)

Not only did they put up with me, but they graciously allowed me to invite a college friend who was studying in England to join me for the holiday.

On Christmas Eve we drove up to their mountain home. The tree was decorated (did I help decorate it? I don’t remember) with real and lit candles. Interestingly my friend remembers many more details of the holiday than I do, but this we both remember: There was snow. In the evening, we walked somewhere I don’t recall and on our way up along the mountain road a man was riding a bicycle down the road yodeling. A perfect Swiss moment.

Do you have a favorite Christmas memory?

Whose Barn Was This?

Today’s post comes from Cynthia in Mahtowa

The Carlton County Historical Society in Cloquet recently embarked on a project to photograph all the old barns in the county before they are gone. A good number of them have been kept up or restored, but more have not.

When the project was brought to my attention, I asked if they would like to include my little barn, thinking it might not be worthy as it is very small and hardly a barn at all though that’s what I use it for. The volunteer who came to check it out loved it then took photos from several angles plus measurements (14x14x14).

Then I learned that they also wanted to know when the land was homesteaded, when the barn was built, what the barn was used for…and so began another research project — in addition to my previous project: “Why Blackhoof?”.



I retrieved the abstract from my safety deposit box and sorted through the many entries and pages of the land changing hands often, early on for logging purposes, a railroad easement, mineral rights. Then a man named August Wilson bought it in 1915 and likely he and/or his son built the barn. August’s son Herbert and his family owned it until 1948. (The original house is long gone, I live in one built by a widow, her neighbors and relatives in the late 1960s. )

In addition to the abstract I found a neighbor who has lived in Mahtowa most of his 80+ years who was happy to share what he knew and remembered. His Swedish immigrant father told him the Mahtowa area (my land is a mile north of Mahtowa as the crow flies) was once a magnificent, prime White Pine forest. So prime that logging companies fought over and for the right to harvest the trees here…then clear-cutting and leaving huge stumps. My land doubtless was included in the greatly logged so the trees now are relatively young with only a few White Pines here and there.

There still are connections to the Wilson family in the area, so I get a smattering of stories (though so far no one knows when the barn was built). One more connection links me to the history of my land: the eldest Wilson daughter — the Mahtowa postmistress for 48 years — was sister-in-law to a cousin of the woman at MPR who hired me in 1991.

The volunteer committee continues to locate, contact owners and get written permission to photograph and document whatever history they can about the barns. And now I have joined the committee to help continue photographing and collecting histories on other barns in and around Mahtowa and the nearby townships.

What do you know about the history of the land or house you have owned and/or lived in?



Why Blackhoof?

Today’s post comes from Cynthia in Mahtowa

In August I decided to respond to a challenge put out by the Blackhoof Estate Winery in Barnum. (Yes, it’s true, there is a winery in Carlton County at latitude 46.5030° N and barely gardening zone 4. They plan to fill 6,000 bottles of wine this winter. Amazing harvest…but I digress.) They invited people to find the origin of the name Blackhoof which is the name of a river, lake, valley and township just east of my farm.

Researching anything is my favorite indoor sport. MPR finally made use, encouraged and developed my skills for their benefit. But now I am retired, I have to find and/or invent ways to indulge in it.

And so I began.

Warren Upham’s Minnesota Geographic Names: Their Origin and Historic Significance, Volume 17, published by the Minnesota Historical Society in 1920, states that “Black hoof” is the English translation of an Ojibwe word.” Since it doesn’t mention what the Ojibwe word is…I googled and found  in an Ojibwa-English dictionary that Makadewaa is “black” and Ninzid (an) is “foot or feet.” Then perhaps Makadenasid might be “black hoof.”

But it doesn’t answer the question “Why” Blackhoof. I traveled to Cloquet to the Carlton County Historical Society for their files on the township and found these:

  • Named after a settler of that name (but who was that settler?)
  • Named for the abundance of black deer that once ranged the area (I could find no species of “black deer” native to North America though woodland caribou, moose and elk — not any deer– were abundant in the area before the settlers arrived.)

I continued googling…and found “Catahecassa (Black Hoof, possibly from ma‛ka-täwikashä), a principal chief of the Shawnee, who was born about 1740. He was one of the greatest captains of this warlike tribe…He was present at Braddock’s great defeat in 1755, and he bore a prominent part in the desperate battle against the Virginian militia under Gen. Andrew Lewis at Point Pleasant in 1774.”

Cool. But the question then is, what connection is there between the Ojibwe and the Shawnee in Ohio? Well, it turns out that the Ojibwe are part of a large language group of Native American and First Nation people known as the Algonquin “family.” As are the Shawnee.

Then the next question arises, how or why would the Ojibwe in northeast Minnesota know about Chief Black Hoof in the Ohio Territory? Turns out, that some of the Ojibwe on their migration west from the east coast and away from the Iroquois, settled in the Northwest Territory – including along the Ohio River and Lake Erie near the Shawnee.

So, getting closer. After reading what I had learned so far to my 93 year-old Minnesota aunt, she said, ”I’ve heard of Chief Black Hoof.” What? How? She had just read a book called The Other Trail of Tears: The Removal of the Ohio Indians. So I immediately ordered a copy. And then I found the author Mary Stockwell’s website and emailed her. And her reply was, “Yes, there was an Ojibwe-Shawnee connection. . .The tribe often joined the Shawnee in wars against the British (French & Indian War; Pontiac’s War) and then against the United States (American Revolution, Indian Wars of the 1790s, and War of 1812). And they also were among the tribes who ended up in Kansas. (Would you believe I learned that watching a Netflix series, “The Pinkertons?”)

But I still couldn’t confirm that would be the source for the name of the river and lake. And then a friend who grew up in Blackhoof Township, said her father told her it was named after an Indian tribe. Could it be a mistranslation of the Ojibwe word and really should be Black Foot or Black Feet? Down another path altogether? Back to Google. The Black Foot tribe in Montana turns out to also be in the Algonquin language family. And they were once in the Great Lakes area before migrating on to Montana.

And what about the Blackfeet Sioux? I tend to count them out as the Chippewa and Sioux were enemies, not likely the Chippewa would honor their enemies by naming a river and lake after them.

screenshot-2016-11-28-at-9-13-21-pmI found that none of the Ojibwe whom I contacted — Anton and David Treuer, brothers from the Leech Lake Reservation who are both authors and professors; Karen Diver, former Fond du Lac tribal chair currently serving as Special Assistant to the President for Native American Affairs; Linda LeGarde Grover, author and UMD Native Studies professor – have any idea.

So this is where my research stands as of today. I did win the challenge and received a bottle of wine and a cap, along with fame on the Winery’s Facebook page. I also received encouragement — or rather, a mandate — to continue the search.

Do you have any suggestions where to look next?