These Ozark Hills January 2016

securedownload-1_2This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozark Hills Once upon a time in a land and a culture far away, I was younger. I was living in California, trying to make my way in the thriving music culture there, trying to make a name for myself, as they say.

I was playing around the Bay Area nightclubs, bars and little seedy coffee houses, and actually landed a gig on Broadway, in San Francisco, the place where the big kids came to play.

It was a fascinating little club, dedicated to being as unique, as trendy and as noticeably different as possible. As a consequence, my audience was as likely to be comprised of dozens of members of the french navy, when they were in port, or topless dancers from down the street where Carol Doda starred (not topless here, of course. they were just on break) or sometimes small groups of drag queens from down at Finnochio’s, also on break. And, of course, tourists. Lots of tourists. All of them came for a show, and they all got one. But for the performers on the stage, it was hard to compete with what was probably going to happen somewhere down there in front of us.

But I liked the atmosphere of the place itself, because it and its owners just passionately refused to take themselves seriously. There was always an irreverent comment, a practical joke, a drama over nothing, silly hi-jinks. you name it.

So when my parents died and left me a little money, not much, I engaged a friend who was also working in that club to come in with me and start another club outside the city in a university town, maybe. I thought I could draw a crowd, and my friend, whose father was a chef and who was a gifted practical joker, could make a place people might want to come. We could make a little bit of a living and I wouldn’t have to look for any more gigs. I’d have my own.

Now I’m sure anyone with any sense would be making a list right now of all the things we didn’t know and as an aside, notice that both of us were  in our mid twenties, where we still thought we knew everything.

We found a spot out on old Soquel drive in Santa Cruz, signed a lease, bought the requisite equipment, from antique back bar to coolers, a commercial stove, etc. and were ready for business.

But what kind of business would it be? How could we make it different enough, intriguing enough, to draw in a college crowd. The answer was to make it less of a bar, more of a social club with none of that aura of despair that comes with the traditional tavern. We made a kitchen and served food. We also refused to buy dice cups because we didn’t like the noise. Instead, if someone wanted to play a game to see who would buy the next round or put the next quarter in the jukebox, we’d make em play jacks, by golly. One of my favorite memories of that time was a Jacks tournament, won by a truck driver, sitting cross-legged on the floor, saying in a deep baritone “I said I had twosies, dammit.”

We also messed with the pool playing crowd, adding extra rules that could be invoked by bribing the bartender. The three primary rules could only be invoked by a player who was losing, and they were Snudges, Do-Overs and Make Missies.

With the snudge, a player could claim the cue ball was in an impossible position, place the butt of the cue stick against the ball and move the ball to the other side of the stick.

Do-Overs, of course, would be when a player hits the cue ball so ineptly that it didn’t touch anything. Whereupon, they could simply take the shot over from its new position.

The Make Missy was the worst of all, and only available when the situation was dire. Invoking that rule meant that the losing player could do absolutely anything to the other player as they were taking their shot – except touch them. Professional players hated us, but everyone else was having a great time.

As the late sixties progressed and tensions arose around civil rights and opposition to the war, tensions inside the club rose as well. We were stuck between a very liberal and politically minded university and Fort Ord, where soldiers were coming and going and occasionally coming back. We were concerned that without warning, those tensions could escalate into violence. We had seen it happen in the City.

Once again, my practical joking partner came up with a solution. She went to the dime store and bought a dozen each of cap guns and water pistols, and loaded them. If things got rocky, she’d simply pass them out and we’d have ourselves a shoot-out. It was a bit disconcerting for people arriving for dinner. But nobody got hurt and everyone remained friends.

But why am I telling you this. It was so long ago and far away.

Simply for this. The notion of the pool-playing rule, the do-over, has stuck with me through all these many years, and the impact of the notion, and the potential consequences, have dogged me all my life since, all the way back to my Ozarks home.

I read once in a little note on the side of a refrigerator the question, “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over.” That, too, was an idea that stuck.

I am concerned that in these present days of miracle and wonder, even in these blessed Ozarks hills, we had better be giving some thought not just to the do-over, but the do-better, or at least do-different. I’m thinking we are reaching a point in the continuing growth and change of the species and the changes it is making on the landscape, both real and metaphorical, that this season of high holy days in many traditions offers an opportunity for reflection on our doings to see how those decisions have worked out. Is our world a better place for our being here. Could it stand some improvements, some sane, sensible adjustments to our choices. If we could do some things over, maybe do different, maybe do a little better, now that we are old enough to know we don’t actually know it all.

Back all those years ago, we were striving to use humor to defuse violence, a lighter touch to drive away despair, a way to make a difference. We learned many things from that time in that place, but the thing that stuck the most is that once one takes a step toward making a difference, of doing better, no matter how many times you have to do it over, it never ends. If you’re lucky, and you manage to take on the challenges of your life without succumbing to despair, you might some time, just once in a while, get it right.

Here’s hoping for a whole world of opportunities for you and yours in the coming year, chances to excel, chances to bring your dreams to life, and endless, endless opportunities for do-overs. This is Marideth Sisco. Thank you.

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Thee Ozark Hills December 2015

securedownload-1_2This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozarks Hills. Well, here we are again, on the downhill slide into next year, and with no way to put on the brakes. I remember my folks talking about how much faster the time goes as you get older, and I thought they must be crazy. Everybody knew that time was endless, and the distance between daylight and dark sometimes took all day. In a day, you could do practically anything, dream any dream, play any game, hatch any plan. Heck, you could probably finish it all before dinner.

Well, times change, don’t they? Time gets shorter as the world seems to get smaller, and the opportunities for adventure, fulfillment, love, seem to dwindle at the same rate. Then the generation before us begins to die off, the ones who hold on become frail, and all of a sudden we can’t look to the older generation for advice, because they’re us. How does that happen?

The end of any year always turns our thoughts to endings in general, and this year we’ve seen quite a few, near and far. In my hometown, or next door, they’re digging up a lengthy section of sidewalk that’s in the way of a new project, and that wouldn’t be anything unusual, except it’s the section in front of the old Cassville High School building, itself long gone, and is the section that was poured in segments, once a year as each graduating class passed into history, and each student’s name was stamped into the concrete. It includes the classes of the early 1940s, those 18-year-olds who went to war, and as the song says, “they came back different if they came back at all.” It’s hard letting go of things like that.

I experienced something similar when I was in my early 20s, and had gone out to seek my fortune in the far west, without a single thought that anything in my little village would ever change. How could it. Noting had ever changed, so far as I knew. And of course, at 19, I knew everything.

But then both my parents died, my father from heart trouble or from his temper, and my mother four months later from cancer, or heartache. Once the funerals were over, I returned to California and stayed 10 years before setting foot in my little town again.

And when I did, the most curious thing happened. Things had changed, and I expected that. Some houses were gone and others erected. They’d torn down the berry shed and Goldie’s Cafe, and the little rock house where I was born.

100_0839And the people from my childhood had vanished. The Hardaways were gone, and Martha Hinson and Mary Cain. Even Uncle Hugh and Peggy were vanished, sent to some other realm beyond my imagining. And yet. And yet. My brain totally refused to make that large a shift in perspective. I couldn’t make myself see it. I literally couldn’t believe my eyes. For I’d been picturing that little town, its streets, its people, its own memories of itself, for every day of my 10 years away. Martha Hinson’s house was gone, but I could still see it. Perry and Polly’s little shack by the railroad crossing wasn’t there any more, but I saw it. And I knew as sure as I’m standing here that behind those two new houses south of the hotel where my family lived, there was still an indentation that formed an x worn into the ground by wagon wheels before there were streets. I bet if I looked hard enough, I could still see that massive old fir tree out in the field across from Mac Harrell’s house that was the last vestige in my day of the old city park that still lay there under the pasture grass, just as described to me by my grandmother. It’s curious the tricks that memory plays, letting us see what was with greater clarity than the present view. Letting us see within the weathered faces of ourselves and our contemporaries the fresh young faces we once wore. Hearing still those same young voices, so full of humor and confidence.

Yes, this is the month of endings, another year in which we hope we’ve collected not too many regrets, wasted too much precious time, or followed too many rabbit tracks down too many trails. But if we’re lucky, and we are, there will be scattered among our travels a great many things for which to be grateful, times spent swapping tales and sharing adventures with friends, wrestling garden beds from the reluctant earth, drifting out on the wide water drunk on moonlight.

Time grows old, the song says, and love grows cold and fades away like morning dew. But not always, and not if you’re paying attention.  Some of our times grow sweeter in memory, and some loves grow dearer with age. It’s all a matter of perspective. We can choose to see through a glass darkly and catalog our mistakes, our regrets, our misfortunes and missteps. Or we can raise a glass in gratitude for every day and every experience that has led us all the way down the years from our callow, arrogant youth to a viewpoint wherein we behold the wonders of a vast universe in which we are only tiny sparks of awareness, significant only to ourselves and those who love us, but immensely grateful for the view.

This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozark Hills, wishing for you the best of adventures and a flawless landing in the next brand new year.

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These Ozark Hills – November 2015

securedownload-1_2This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozark Hills. First off, I have to say – Wasn’t that a glorious sight this week to see the entire area around Kansas City’s Union Station awash in a sea of Royal Blue. I couldn’t help but notice that at a distance far enough to see the whole crowd,  the scene most resembled a giant flower garden. No riot. No car burnings. No violence. just pure joyous celebration – 800,000 hearts strong. And that was just those who lived close enough to attend. That many and more, celebrating from afar. Congratulations, Royals. You certainly lived up to your name.

Now in other news. This past week also marks another event – a birth announcement, if you will. But first some words on how that came to be.

Once upon a time in a galaxy not so far away I returned to the Ozarks from a life of not so much fame but a reasonable amount of adventure, I finished the schoolwork I’d left hanging for a decade or two, and settled down to a real job, as a newspaper reporter for the West Plains Daily Quill – It’s a regional daily paper with strong roots in the town and in old school journalism. The two guys running the show when I got there, in fact, were the son and grandson of one of the founders of MU’s almost legendary school of journalism – the Martins, Frank Junior and Frank the Third.

Junior acquired the little hometown paper in the late 1940s when he returned from a storied career as a war correspondent in Burma. Frank the Third came home in the late 70s-early 80s from a post as city editor at the New Orleans Times-Picayune. That was when Frank Junior fell ill, and Frank the third assumed the editorship. This was no county shopper. They grew the newspaper and shaped it, added the Associated Press wire service, then little green-screen computers, etc. etc.

I arrived shortly after the computers and was there to see the last functioning teletype machine in the U.S. unplugged, replaced by a chattering little dot matrix printer but still spitting out  national and international news on endless scroll-like reams of printer paper.

Just recently, that newspaper sold, the last Frank retired, and the style of the paper became more colorful, more focused on local news, but still managing to retain its substance as real-life, respectable journalism. I served 20 years there, off and on, and in between. As happens in small town papers with a world to cover and only 5 or 6 reporters to cover it, every reporter had more than one beat. Mine was the courts and cops for a while, then the environment, then investigative assignments, news analysis and some features. In school I had learned more or less how to write. At The Quill, I learned what to write about.

Somewhere in there I started a Gardening column. Because I garden, and because they needed something local to go on the farm page. Over the years, those little essays came to be a collection. After my retirement, I stumbled into this little part-time radio gig, where I remain today. And some of the installments in that now six year old audio adventure have inevitably been about gardening. I can’t help it. I garden, and that effort has always been to me as much metaphor as it is sweat labor.

But then, just a few months ago I happened upon a CD in my files that contained nearly all those old newspaper pieces, I was inspired by that to attack the local library’s microphishe files and ferret out the rest. One thing, of course, led to another. And so today, with just a little bit of fanfare, I am happy to announce the birth of a published collection of all those ramblings about the living green rooms of our lives. I named it Crosspatch, after my newspaper column in which I was always complaining about something attached to the gardening life. Its middle name is lengthy but descriptive and is Cranky Musings on Gardening in Rocky Ground. Its last Name is, of course, Marideth Sisco.

After many long months of gestation, I am happy to announce that the book is done. birthed from my head like Zues’s children and on its frail way into the world. Just in the same week that has seen area gardens including mine, succumb to the first frost.

Thanks to Sarah for this photo of her garden - before the freeze of course.

Thanks to Sarah for this photo from her garden – before the freeze of course.

Normally I would be writing about that, as in the past, of the metaphors around death and darkness, the return of the cold and the shortness of days. I know. I have the evidence of years of such ramblings, right here in my hand. It’s in the book. But I also must confess a secret. Although the book is done, the garden is not. The garden almost never is. Where the summer garden is blackened by frost, grass filled and in disarray, the winter garden is green and flourishing, awaiting its winter wrap of heavy duty row cover. I actually have one more flat of kale and bok choy sitting in the front seat of my car, rescued from a friend who, unbelievable as it sounds, planted too much. These will be added to the little patch of dirt about 3 by 10 feet that I’ll enclose with a polyester blanket and have greens all winter unless temps go below zero and stay there. If that’s in the forecast I’ll throw some 4 mil plastic over the top.

And see, I still can’t stop talking about gardens and gardening. Book or not, I’ll probably be a pest about it all winter. Or at least until the seed catalogs come in. In the meantime, I hope you find time to enjoy these brief and precious  days of Indian summer with me. And when the catalogs arrive, I hope you’ll search, as I will do, for something to plant in next year’s garden that will produce blooms in sweet royal blue.

This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozark Hills. Thanks for listening.

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Ready to Take Orders!

We should start shipping around November 2, 2015. Click here to buy books and CD’s from Marideth  at the  Squareup store, OR click here to print an order form.


You can also follow me on Facebook.

Over 300 pages of musings on gardening by Marideth Sisco.

Over 300 pages of musings on gardening by Marideth Sisco.

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It’s Out, or Almost

securedownload-1_2My new book of gardening essays, titled Crosspatch: Cranky Musings on Gardening in Rocky Ground has arrived at the printer, has been accepted, and proof copies will arrive October 15 – just in time for the holidays!
It’s 254 pages jam-packed with thoughts, notions, some wee bits of wisdom and loads of odds and ends on gardening as the valuable, healing meditative expression of hands in dirt and head in the clouds – a uniquely human effort that feeds both body and soul. It’s the total gardening me, guaranteed to be out standing in my field.
Those of you who followed my years-long gardening column in the West Plains Daily Quill and/or my radio essays “These Ozark Hills” will find some of these pieces familiar. They (no pun intended) cover a lot of ground. I can’t wait for you to see it, read it and let me know what you think!  The book will be available at a variety of outlets by Halloween or before. Or you can order an autographed copy from me.
cover for blog copy
Crosspatch: Cranky Musings on Gardening in Rocky Ground – retail $24.95 plus S/H. More comprehensive info about ordering and shipping soon.
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These Ozark Hills; October 2015

 We Waited On The Moon

securedownload-1_2This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozark Hills. I had only about one toe in the Ozarks this past weekend while I and some companions visited friends and family up near Columbia. Our aim was to reconnect with a young woman we’d known almost since birth, had sometimes helped raise and had stayed behind as she went on her way into adulthood. She’s in her mid-thirties now and is bright, confident and remarkably self-aware.

Her closer family, in welcoming these former adjunct mothers, planned some small outings to entertain us and show us the area where they lived. And they did. But one of them in planning the outings, happened on some fellows I had met earlier, in other circumstances, and it was here our voyage veered away from its original intent and headed us off into the cosmos. Really. It was a good reminder of how all things connect, whether or not we see the connection.

My story begins much earlier, when I was invited to speak at a meeting of the Missouri Master Naturalists at their state gathering up at Lake of the Ozarks. At that meeting I met a woman who thought I’d be a good speaker at another gathering, this one of Missouri River Relief, an organization that has taken on the task of tidying up the state’s big rivers.

So I went, met them at St. Joseph, told them a story or two, and marveled at both their success and their stamina, for they had gone out that morning with several boatloads of volunteers with the temperature on the river a scant 26 degrees, and filled two  giant dumpsters with everything from tires and mattresses to junked cars and waaay too many formerly owned diapers from that cold river. It’s what they do. They organize all year gathering volunteers and support for six “major” cleanups, and spend more of their own energy and knowledge in supervising other groups and organizations in cleaning smaller streams. That night, after the first day of the cleanup and the talk, they sat me down at a campfire beside the river and told me the story of that place.

We were sitting within a stone’s throw of the very spot where pioneers headed west crossed the Missouri River and drove their wagons right off the map, led by a guide who simply followed a track through the grass that would take them through Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, and all the way to Oregon, if they lived.Whether they did or not, no one they left behind would ever know.

It was on this spot, they told me, that someone among a band of settlers coming from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia penned a longing lament that became a popular song of the times, called simply Shenandoah.

“Wait a minute,” I said, for I knew the song. “What’s with the Indian chief and his daughter and all that business?”

They explained, saying the song had become so popular among the flatboaters and other rivermen that it had traveled to St. Louis, then to New Orleans and across the Big Pond to England, where people had never heard of Shenandoah, nor did they know what it was. They changed and added to the words until it made sense to them, and then they sent it back to us. The songwriter had been singing to the river, not to an Indian chief. I thought about that all night, and by morning, had put the words back to where I thought  they might belong.


And last weekend, in the dusk dimly lit by the eclipsing moon, and with considerable help for these old bones, I and a quartet of companions boarded the giant 24-foot-long jon boat of the River Relief and headed upriver from Cooper’s Landing, toward St. Joe, to wait for the clouds to part so we could view the rare and elusive total eclipse of the supermoon. After an hour or two drifting down and motoring back up again, the clouds opened into a wide bowl of sky, and there she was, a dark, rusty eye, just beginning to open in a vast field of stars made visible by the earth’s shadow cast on her face. We howled at her. Dogs and coyotes some distance onshore howled back. I sang the song. Then we sat in the profound darkness as it slowly lightened, listening to the water’s song, marveling at our own insignificance in a vast, wondrous, living universe in which we are all merely along for the ride.

It’s just a suggestion, but if you have a Christmas list or are looking for activities and organizations worthy of a small endowment, consider adding  to your list as I am to mine the river keepers of Missouri River Relief, who work so hard and are so generous of spirit,  who chose to share with us this gift, a blessing beyond measure that they could just as easily have kept to themselves. This is Marideth Sisco, from the edge of the Ozarks, on the edge of a small and fragile planet, at a rare, brief moment in time and space when it is granted the power to darken the moon, and we its tiny creatures the eyes to see it.

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These Ozark Hills; September 2015

securedownload-1_2This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozark Hills. We here in the hills have been asked recently to do what most of the folks routinely have had to do in other parts of the world, that is, to adapt gracefully and with some ingenuity to enormous changes in our environment. We’ve gotten off easy so far, most of us. Grace and ingenuity can be easily seen demonstrated by south sea islanders who voted recently to just disband their country and move elsewhere when rising sea levels were literally washing the ground from beneath their feet. They simply declared their country to no longer exist, and left to cast their fates to whatever wind would take them to another, safer land. And they did it in the nick of time, because there was barely enough dry land on their land for them to stand while voting. In other places, lines of refugees more than a mile in length flee a combination of war and famine, not chanting let us in or give us jobs, but simply We are human. We are human.

Here in the Ozarks, it’s another story, with farmers struggling against ongoing, too ample rain that makes grass grow tall, but not enough dry days to cut and cure it. My farmer landlord has bided his time, glad he didn’t fertilize those bottom fields too heavily, and waited for August to, well, act like August. Finally this morning, with August having turned the corner into September, he drove up outside, unhooked the brush hog and attached the haybine behind his tractor.

“I guess I’ve gotta go cut hay,” he said. “I don’t need it, but it’d be a shame to see it go to waste.”

Seldom heard words in the Ozarks, about a seldom-seen act – a second cutting, in September, due to excess hay in the field.  An uncommon occurrence here and due, apparently, to a too-active Pacific El Nino.

Trouble is, now the weather gurus have posted their finding of a significant risk that the one approaching our western coast  and due to start demonstrating its power sometime this winter will be even bigger and reach even farther east. So about the time we finish dealing with overgrown pastures and too much hay, we can expect snow, heavy snow and then more snow. After reading about that I put a post on my Facebook page that said I would soon be moving more wood closer to the basement door and hence within easy reach of the furnace. Whatever generation we live in and however our climate is behaving, we have learned the hard lesson that change is inevitable and that whatever we expect is subject to change. The trick is, and always has been, to be flexible enough to adapt. I remember, for instance, the drouth in the early 90s that was only abated when hay from western states started arriving by the train-load and even the prisoners in County Jail volunteered to load the hay from railcar to pickup truck to save starving livestock. I’m so old I remember a similar, and worse, time in the mid-1950s when such largesse was not available, and some farmers couldn’t even afford gas to drive their suffering livestock to market, nor get a decent enough price to drive home, and so shot some cattle to end their suffering, in hopes the rest would have enough to stay alive.

Those times are awful enough that we hope never to repeat them. One would hope such experiences would teach us to be frugal instead of profligate with our resources. To care for what we have. And to be generous with our neighbors who have it worse than we do. For that is the way of the Ozarks in which I grew up.

But the world changes. And so, too, do we. Would that we could build another kind of pipeline, to send our excess water to desperate farmers in California who have provided us with a vast bounty of fresh food these many decades but are having to resort to watering crops with waste water from the oil fields just to keep crops alive. Even if they succeed, will we want to eat them?

And here in the country’s middle, where the breadbasket still thrives, albeit with its own problems of overgrowth and too much rain, we do not think of how to help others, and respond to the news of hunger at home and abroad with a whining stinginess that suggests such others outside our own enclaves should just fend for themselves. One would think Katrina had cured us of the “sink or swim” doctrine of social progress. Time will tell. For a new El Nino, when it strikes California, will bring heavy rains to a country virtually devoid of vegetation. The water will have nothing to stop it, and it has the potential to bring a level of devastation more vast than we can imagine. I lived in California, in the mountains of the central coast in a normal rainy season and saw how a single mudslide could bring whole communities to a halt for days, sometimes weeks. How much worse will it be this time? And what do you suppose a head of lettuce will cost come February.

So the world has changed, and it is my hope, as one who has lived here almost three quarters of a century, that we will elect, in trying times now and to come, to remember that we are part of a larger community, a larger family, and will turn our thoughts and our doors toward a more open way with our neighbors near and far. Hard times do not exist apart from us, even if we do not experience them directly. They are happening to our family, whose most urgent cry is likely to be we are human. We are human. This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozark Hills.


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