Of Grit and Bone 10/12/2015

I mentioned last week I am currently reading a book on the life of John Muir (see previous blog post)  There was a letter he’d written his sister Mary who still lived at home in the book.  He longed for more specific  news  on the home front and sent her a sample of the kind of letter he wanted her to write..

Mary, you should put some grit and bone of that kind in your letters. Here is an example:

     Dear John,    We are pretty well, but are fast growing weary of the many changes which now seem to be of daily occurrence.  We now live in a room made in the upper part of the barn next the orchard.

     We reach it by an outside stair.  It is hard carrying up the wood and water.  Once I slipt and fell with an armful of burr oak firewood and sprained my weeping sinew.  The cattle  live in the house now – the cows in the cellar, the horses on the first floor, and the sheep upstairs.  Nan will not go past the cellar door, but we do the best we can.

      The apple trees are dug up and planted upon the cold rocky summit of the observatory where I am sure they will not grow well.  The cattle do not stand the severe weather well this winter.  They stand drawn together like a dog licking a pot.

     Aunt Sally is married, and Lowdy Grahm has whooping cough.  Write soon or sooner.  From your sis Mary.

I scribble that nonsense only to show you that these small matters which occur in the neighborhood and which you do not think worthy of note are still of interest to us when so far from home”…..Affectionately JOHN

We had guests this summer from the East Coast.  One of my regular blog  readers stopped by with her two daughters on their way home from a family reunion to spend an afternoon with the Mrs and I.  The following is a follow up note I wrote this morning to her based on some suggestions from John Muir on how to write a letter. 😉

Iowa   823 feet above sea level,

October 11, 2015

Dear Lisa

It’s still dark outside as I write…. Been thinking I wanted to jot you a note to stay in touch.

Yesterday was a big day.

Normally I save Saturday’s to play catch up around the farm, but I needed to work on my brother-in-law’s new house. There is still another week of framing to do  before it is ready to shingle.

Before going to work,I  set up the self-serve apple wagon along the highway. That normally takes about 15 to 20 minutes by the time I get all of the signs posted.  After that, I made a mad dash to the farmers market to drop off two  baskets of apples.  Another vendor  graciously offered at the beginning of the season to sell my apples so I didn’t have to set up..   While I love the interaction with the public on a Saturday morning, I have too many other things going this season to carve 3 hours out of a Saturday morning. When I went back at 11 to pick up my apple baskets, only $7.00 worth of fruit had sold.  Judy (another vendor) said she would buy any remaining Suncrisp I had left.

” They make awesome apple pies! she said.

Since there was almost a full bag left, I traded her two bags of peanut butter cookies for 10 pounds of fruit.

I wonder sometimes how many of the older vendors are on fixed incomes.  It has to be hard to bake all of those cookies, breads, and other goodies and have to take them home when  they don’t sell.

There was a light mist in the timber and the low-lying areas as the sun was coming up.  The neighbor’s black Angus spotted me when I stopped to take a picture.

IMG_5533 - Copy

When I got to the job site, a mist was coming off the bog…


Mist on the ground

We framed all day,25 feet in the air. Worked until almost 7 o’clock. We do have a lift with a 12 foot cage to work at that height You would NOT catch me up there if I didn’t have that under me. 🙂

My brother-in-law invited me to stay for supper after we finished.  Took a couple more photos on the way home…here is one of my favorites:



Well, hope this note finds you well. Write soon!  Your friend DM


Have you ever lived far from home?  Remember the feeling of getting a personal letter?  Tell me about  a time you heard from someone that really encouraged you.  Why did it?

13 thoughts on “Of Grit and Bone 10/12/2015

  1. Liked this very much.
    Seems like such letters all but disappeared. I used to receive letters like that from grandpa from the farm he lived on while we went to school in a town during school year. My family has also saved grandpa’s letters to his sister, the letters were written by him while he was away at war, they were really sweet, he was wondering how his family’s farm was doing.
    With Skype and all such things, I cannot even remember when we wrote letters with some bone and grit.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh yes. In fact, letters were a lifeline for me at one point. I lived in Japan for a while. It was wonderful, but towards the end I felt very alone and went through a bit of a depression. The few people that wrote, really helped me finish out my time there. And then realize when it was time to return home again.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I do enjoy a note now and again. I also try to send them from time to time. There’s something about the internet that makes m feel like I have the best of both worlds, writing and staying connected almost instantly. The times, they are a changing. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  4. When I lived in Liberia, we sent and received the old aerograms. They were blue, very light, and folded in on themselves. You couldn’t enclose anything, so those letters always were written in a tiny hand, to enclose as much news as possible. Every bit of the paper was covered, and you had to be careful about opening them, so you didn’t destroy part of the message.


    • I remember those aerograms! My grandma would use and get those all the time from Germany…I couldn’t read them because they were written in German. I miss that grandma. She of all the people in my life, probably spoiled me the most. Everybody needs someone like that. (I think)


  5. The pictures here are gorgeous and your note truly contains the grit and bone that makes a letter great. Thanks so much– I am so late in reading this, but it is just as much a pleasure, now, as i suspect it would have been in October 2015. I do, indeed owe you and Micaela at least a letter (and probably several) with some grit and bone…and I am committing to finally making that happen when my semester ends (in a couple weeks). Once upon a time, I loved writing snail mail….and I had several correspondents who made it worthwhile. My friend Lesley, in Germany for many years, and a world traveler who visited other countries along the way, sent me aerogrammes just as you describe them, and I would write back in kind. Tiny, densely-written letters. My very first boyfriend, too, the product of a summer of locking eyes, lived overseas and we used to exchange letters briefly on that thin aerogramme paper. Both Lesley and that boyfriend were part of a more adventurous and exciting life than I generally lived, so those aerogrammes always seemed to smell and feel different than real paper….like they carried whole worlds with them (as they sort of did). As to regular snail mail…my cousin Fonya, in particular, who is now dead, and who, I suspect, told me things she never told anyone else in the family, except perhaps for romantic partners, used to send amazing, long, beautifully handwritten letters…and so did my friend Mary, who still writes snail mail every so often (she is still a bit of an anti-technology hold-out). I still have many of those letters… There is nothing like a letter– it is a moment in time, and timeless at the same time. Email and phone calls and texts all have immediacy and can be responded to with efficiency and timeliness…but snail mail has a little more gravity, I think. :Like what you’ve written here…(even though this is a blog-post), it definitely reads like snail mail. Gravity, and a real taste of time and place cling to it. It paints pictures and makes your life, and your time and place, and the people you meet, come alive. Beautiful writing and such a gorgeous slice of your life!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Lisa…I see (by clicking on your name) you are moving in the direction of blogging. I am excited! You are an awesome writer. I know your writing would be filled with “grit and bone” 😉


  6. P.S. in answer to your question– it was not when I was living far from home, but in a way, I was far away….when I got a letter and it was full of encouragement. I was at college, and that year, I went through probably the worst depression I’ve ever suffered, and remember feeling really at loose ends. I don’t know how or why my parents aren’t a big part of my memories of that time, but I suspect I was self-isolating and not staying in touch much. I smoked a lot of cigarettes, lived with a girl who’d been assigned to live with me (we both had taken time off of school so were not eligible to live off-campus, as our other friends did– and both had asked for single rooms. We got each other instead), and I read book after book (contemporary fiction) instead of doing my homework or reading my assigned readings. My roommate, a woman from Thailand who was pre-med and studied a lot, had a rice cooker and made rice and little sausages and beef jerky that her mother made and sent to her. We hung out in the room a lot and because of her rice pot, we both often skipped meals in the dining hall. I stayed up late and slept late and felt very disconnected from everyone. I was lonely, too– had a couple flirtations with (male) friends but nothing significant. I remember Fonya– the black sheep of our family, a strong, guarded woman who’d been hurt early in her life, who kept people from hurting her by lashing out in anger or retreating to her house and animals in the woods–writing me a letter full of comfort and wisdom. She had been beautiful and vivacious in her youth and had tons of suitors, but she was a loner at heart and lived like one. I remember her telling me not to spend any time or energy on trying to be “someone” for the benefit of others– to be cool, or to attract a partner. She was very clear: follow your own passions, do what you love, learn what it is you love, “above all else, to thine own self be true”– and, she assured me, that would MAKE me attractive. Self-confidence and self-knowledge, she said, were more attractive than anything else out there…and, of course, it meant the people who DID end up trying to get close would be people who were attracted for the right reasons. Hearing that from her was tremendously useful: it made me realize that, as much as it might have seemed I was totally “off” my own path, I was still on it because I was me, and couldn’t be anyone else. I was insecure, but I would find a way…and if I had faith and hung in there, what I was trying to do– to learn to trust my own intuition and follow my own center– would work out in time. And I would find someone to share the path with me, even if it took a little while…

    Liked by 1 person

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