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Notes from a Western Life
Ranging Far and Wide on the High Plains and Beyond
Linda M. Hasselstrom's Blog

Wild Onions on the Roof

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The Great Plains Native Plant Society hosts the Claude Barr Memorial Great Plains Garden on part of my ranch. The visitor center, currently under construction, is a reconstructed log cabin moved from its original site some miles east of here. The roof is "gumbo"-- a thick clay natural to this area, that sets up almost like concrete.

In her early-June, 2010, report to members, Cindy Reed, president of the GPNPS wrote: "I could see that some struggling weeds had sprouted on our roof, so I went up the ladder and began pulling them. There are many wild onions . . . delivered in the gumbo last fall. I left the onions, but removed the beggar ticks and such, in the fear that in the usual manner of such annuals, they would respond to their dry lives on the roof by producing as many seeds as they could even if they themselves are only the smallest of plants. Depauperate is the word. The onions don't appear depauperate, or at least not yet-- they don't have much for a root system, so it will be interesting to see if they survive."

I particularly like the fact that the wild onions are sprouting on the roof. I used to earn the ire of the buckskinning mothers at Rendezvous because when their kids followed me around camp, I'd teach them how to tell death camas from wild onions by eating some-- and send them home stinking.

The teaching evolved by accident. When I took the solitary walks I enjoyed, carrying my journal and camera, I would often be followed by children who wanted to know WHY I was looking at the plants, WHY I was writing, WHY that plant looked like that, WHY the bear had scratched that tree. And they'd been warned by their parents not to eat death camas, but they weren't sure why, or what it looked like. So I showed them that death camas and wild onions do look a lot alike. Just looking might not be enough to distinguish them, but a wild onion crushed in your fingers smells and tastes like super-powered onions. Death camas just smells like a crushed green plant.

Once they knew, they'd delightedly pick wild onions to take home to their mothers for stew, and eat a few on the way. Some of the mothers were horrified; even brushing their teeth didn't get rid of the smell-- it oozed out their pores for days. And of course the kids were thrilled to know something the old mountain men knew.

In commemoration of that lesson, one of those kids later planted a wild onion from the Big Horn Mountains on George's grave.

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For more information:

The Rendezvous Page on this website

The Great Plains Garden Page on this website

Great Plains Native Plant Society website

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My Brush with Fame: Charlton Heston

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When Charlton Heston's party arrived in the La Veta buckskinning camp to publicize his new movie The Mountain Men (made in 1980), armed dog soldiers (campers who served as voluntary police, just as they did in plains Indian tribes) stopped the retinue at the entrance. George returned from the gate a few minutes later shaking his head. "Dog soldiers won't let them in without authentic attire. Have we got some extra clothes to loan them?"

Shortly, Heston strolled into camp wearing his clean buckskin costume from the movie, looking like a beginner. Lines of dusty men in skins black with the grease of a hundred fires hooted and guffawed, repeating legends about men who divorced wives who washed their leathers.

Behind Heston, smiling feebly, came his crew. One woman wore my skirt with her own off-the-shoulder blouse while another had belted George's shirt for a very short-- and historically inaccurate-- dress. Several men had pulled borrowed leather pants over shorts but were wearing flip-flops or sandals. Everywhere, camera lenses three feet long poked out among the mismatched clothes and fringe.

That summer George's son, Mike, was thirteen and a mirror of every sullen teenager I'd known. We'd grown testy about his behavior in another camp earlier in the summer. On the rare occasions when Mike showed up for meals, he gobbled dumbly and departed. If I mentioned firewood, he glared, lower lip pushed so far out I giggled until he stalked off. In daylight, we might spy him in a lump of other gawky juveniles trailing slim girls in buckskins around camp. He usually crawled into his bed roll after we were asleep. We tried to tell ourselves we didn’t smell liquor on his breath.

But when the dog soldiers summoned everyone to the central fire to welcome Heston to camp, Mike materialized, grabbing my sleeve. "Charlton Heston! Can you take his picture for me? Pleasepleaseplease? I'll give you anything."

Fired by the zeal of every mother whose teenager actually speaks to her, I plunged into the crowd, butting elderly women and trampling toddlers. In the center, I braced myself against the jostling herd and craned my neck, looking for Heston. A man so tall I couldn't even see over his leather-covered shoulder pushed me aside.

"Hey!" I yelped, trying to push him back. "Out of my way! I've got to get a picture of Charlton Heston for my son."

A voice behind my ear murmured, "Tell him to turn sideways; you can look through his ears."

The man in front of me turned and said quietly, "Pay no attention to my son. And my apologies, ma'am." Charlton Heston-- yes, I’d yelled at the actor himself-- took my arm and pulled me up beside him. "Now, son,” he said, handing my camera to the man who had spoken in my ear, “take a picture for the lady. "

Just then, Crazy Bear, one of the campers who had been most antagonistic to Heston’s visiting camp, interrupted the formal ceremony, insisting the actor sample a ceremonial stew. When Heston dipped his knife into the pot, he lifted out an old moccasin. Other rendezvous folks surrounded Crazy Bear and dragged him aside; Heston merely smiled at the insult.

Oh, and I was out of film. No, I didn’t get a photograph of Charlton Heston.

That afternoon, the movie folks erected a screen in some trees near camp so that we could watch Heston's movie from the comfort of our camp. It promptly blew down.

Heston rented the La Veta drive-in, announcing that all buckskinners would watch the movie for free. Approximately five thousand people stampeded through the dust to the parking lot and drove, whooping and hollering out the windows, to the outskirts of town. Boisterous souls set the mood, firing black powder and blanks.

As vehicles with old flags and mink hides flying from the antennas pulled into neat rows at the theater, cars full of local families roared away, spraying gravel.

Dozens of us ran for the refreshment stand to beat the crowd. When we pushed through the door, the teenage crew behind the counter stopped giggling and flattened themselves against the back wall, faces pale. As soon as we started ordering junk food, though, they realized we were only human.

We enjoyed the movie immensely, though we gleefully spotted plenty of anachronisms and inaccuracies. When one of the characters uttered good lines, the audience’s ki-yiiiiii, wolf howls, and guns could no doubt be heard all over town. When we spotted vapor trails or power lines in the background of scenes, we groaned and honked our horns.

Several police cars cruised by during the film, and when we left, a couple of them were parked casually beside the road into town, as if to ensure that we turned toward camp.

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For more information:

The Rendezvous Page on this website

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