Saturday, December 26, 2009

Leave a Note

Christmas Day arrived, clear and white with frost. All seven of our children were spending their Christmases elsewhere, most of them far away. We’d thought Larry might come by bus from Spokane, but since he has no cell phone, no computer, and has never (so far as I know) written a letter, we just didn’t know if he’d show up. By noontime, we’d heard nothing so we decided to pack a picnic and enjoy a Christmas mini-getaway.

We drove over the tree-shaded, frost-coated Mountain Loop Highway to the Robe Valley, one of our favorite getaway spots. I grew up here, and it's still home. We reached the Hemple Creek campground by 1:30. The sun had already dropped behind Mt. Pilchuck, throwing the empty park into twilight. We parked beside the Stillaguamish, looking upriver to where the sun still lit the Gold Basin cliffs. The picnic tables and benches glistened with frost crystals, so we opted to enjoy our home-made clam chowder and egg-salad sandwiches in the comfort of our van. While eating, we watched the shadows creep from the river toward the top of the cliffs.

Still thinking that Larry might find his way to our house and worried we’d not know he’d been there, Hank wished aloud that we had one of those leave-a-note boxes people used to hang beside their front doors.

I’d completely forgotten about those, but suddenly in my mind I saw the box we had, back in the days when we didn’t own a telephone and people often dropped by unannounced. My grandfather had crafted it of brown-varnished wood to look like a little house with a peaked roof. It was about 6 inches high and only an inch or so deep, with a door nearly the size of the entire front. The hook that held the door closed was also the doorknob. Scrawled across the front in yellow paint, "Leave a Note" announced its purpose. If we weren’t home, a visitor could write a message with the pad and pencil kept inside.

When the family returned from an excursion, the first person to the porch flipped open the little door and checked the message pad. It was like checking our telephone or e-mail messages today. If neighbors had stopped by, it was easy enough to walk down the road to see them. But if we’d missed friends or relatives from Granite Falls or Snohomish, there were always groans of disappointment. We had missed a chance for face-to-face contact and fun.

On the way back to town, Hank and I passed my childhood home with all its happy memories of Christmases past. I’m sure the people who now live there have no need of a “Leave a Note” box. But a thought flitted through my they ever wonder about the history that lingers in the little house where they are busy making their own memories? I hope they’re leaving happy “notes” for their children to remember.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Three Gifts

Three shopping days before Christmas. I’m leaving for one last excursion to the mall, but before I go, I need to put down some thoughts to share with you...thoughts about three gifts I’ve received in the past two days that thrill my heart. They’re gifts that have eternal value.

One of the gifts came yesterday as a phone call from my Minnesota “sister,” Donna. We met in registration line at Seattle Pacific College (now University) many years ago and became lifelong friends within five minutes. Donna, an only child, lost both her parents when she was ten years old. My big, boisterous family welcomed her and helped release the lively personality that had been so long suppressed. Today Donna’s body is twisted with osteoporosis, and she lives with constant pain, but her positive attitude still sizzles across the miles whenever we talk. Her gift to me yesterday was to remind me of my godly parentage. Some of those memories had been obscured when the process of aging ravaged Mom’s life, and Dad’s. Donna reminded me of Mom’s heart for God in earlier years and that God does not hold it against us when our mind gets broken. She also said that Dad, although very private about his spirituality, was one of the most godly men she’d known. Her gift to me was a new gratitude for my parents...and what a long-term gift our friendship has been!

The second gift came early this morning when I clicked on an e-mail from daughter Lenora in Tucson. She and Steve had sent a gift in our name to World Vision to clothe many children in poverty-stricken parts of the world. Jesus tells us in Matthew 25: 34-36 that when He returns to earth, He will say to those who have obeyed him: “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was...naked, and ye clothed me....”

Our gift from Lenora and Steve helps us to obey the command of Jesus. What an eternal reward is ours--and theirs.

The third gift came by phone just minutes ago from a good friend, Dr. Jerry Rusher, who is spending his second Christmas without his dear wife. On Sunday he confessed that he felt sad and depressed and asked for prayer. Several of us gathered around, and I prayed out loud for him.

He called this morning to thank me for that prayer. I don’t even remember what I said, but God heard. He lifted the sadness and restored Jerry’s energy. He is excited about his children coming on Christmas morning. He’s eagerly anticipating upcoming mission trips to Africa and Haiti, where he will help native doctors and patients. Most exciting of all to him was finding that he could carry some much-needed medical tests with him to Haiti. The tests will cost one dollar apiece and will help who knows how many people who otherwise would suffer needlessly.

I am thrilled for our friend, but I am more thrilled for the gift: the opportunity to see God at work, once again, in response to our prayers.

And now I’m headed for the mall. But I already know that anything I buy there will disappoint or eventually wear out. The gifts that make me truly happy are gifts like these three I’ve already received.

My wish for you is that your Christmas too will be blessed by the intangible gifts of friendship, peace, and helping others.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

My sister Patty's daughter, Tami Wheatley Nichols, lost her battle with cancer yesterday. She leaves her husband Bert and almost 13-yr.-old daughter Delaney, as well as brother Eric and sister-in-law Dayna and her parents. Please continue to pray for all of them. Tami had hoped to hold out until after Delaney's birthday on Dec. 26, but was just too sick.

We will continue to build the benefit fund. The medical expenses have been overwhelming for this little family.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Please click for a clearer image.
l. to r.:Tami and Bert Nichols, daughter Delaney, Tami's mom Patty Rawlins Wheatley,
sister-in-law and brother Dayna and Eric Wheatley

In my previous post, I mentioned my friend Hazel's comforting advice in the devastating loss of our nephew Byron in a plane crash. Now, many years later, Byron's sister Tami is fighting an aggressive cancer that is overwhelming her strength, the family's spirits, and their finances. If you don't already know, we have undertaken an exciting pre-Christmas fund raising project to help her. Anyone wishing to make a donation to the Tami Nichols Benefit Fund can receive a copy of my book, "A Logger's Daughter: Growing Up in Washington's Woods." All proceeds go directly to the family. You can find out more about the book on my website, . You can order it there through PayPal, or contact me directly at

Some Great Advice


My dear friend Hazel went home to heaven a few years ago, but as I sorted through a pile of papers recently I found a quote she’d sent in 1987, after my young nephew Byron Wheatley died in a plane crash. It seemed to summarize her life’s philosophy. “Hold loosely everything that is not eternal.” Her letter ended with characteristic enthusiasm, “What a beautiful morning! Lets go somewhere and celebrate!”

We were of different generations and spent most of our lives widely separated by geography, but we were connected in ways I can only explain as God's. Often Hazel called or wrote to say she'd been impressed to pray for us. Invariably, we been in some crisis and needed those prayers. Sometimes it was her or her family needing prayer.

Hazel held loosely the things of this world, though we shared an intense joy in the beauty it offers. We loved to go exploring, and wherever we might be living, we managed to get together for a couple of weeks every year.

When we moved to Alaska, she was thrilled to visit. We went for walks through the woods at midnight, enjoying the flaming sky as the sun dipped below the horizon, then came right back up again. We visited Denali Park and gold mine tailings, rode a sternwheeler on the Tanana River, took a camping trip to Valdez to see the resurrected town after the earthquake of 1964, explored the Kenai peninsula.

When I visited her and her husband in Pennsylvania, we scuffed through brilliant autumn leaves, collected cones for wreaths, wandered through cemeteries and tiny villages.
We both enjoyed writing, poetry and art. Her poems praised her Lord and Savior, and her stories told her adventures in introducing others to Him. We never had time for all the things we liked to do, but Hazel always took time to listen to people. She had a wonderful knack of turning the conversation to what was at the center of a person’s problem, then pointing him or her to the One who had the answer.

Whether Hazel and I were together in person, or via letters or e-mail, I often heard, “What a beautiful day! Let’s celebrate.” What a glorious truth, to know that she’s celebrating today in heaven.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

MacBook Musings

This summer we bought a digital camera. In my delight at not having to ration my picture taking to the usual roll of film, I snapped thousands of photos and downloaded them to my little Mac Mini. I overloaded its storage capacity. Its circuits ground slower and slower until my old friend threatened to freeze up.

So we drove to the Apple store and picked out a sleek laptop, which will accompany us on our travels. When we’re home, we can hook up the old monitor, keyboard, mouse, and printer and use it like a desktop. I’m so proud of my prowess! I will never be as computer-literate as most of today’s middle-schoolers, but then, they’ve grown up navigating the world of electronics. They don’t worry about writing legibly by hand.

Back in the good old days, the teaching of penmanship ranked right up there with readin’ and ‘rithmetic. Students learned how to shape the building blocks of communication on sheets of blue-lined penmanship paper.

Alas for this eager learner: My brain and my hand didn’t communicate very well. No matter how hard I tried, my big, soft-lead pencil smudged and jerked across the page, making untidy angles instead of flowing curves. It got worse when we learned to write with ink. Each of our desks had an inkwell--a hole in the upper right corner--into which fitted a bottle of ink. Using wooden pen holders with replaceable metal tips called nibs, we dipped them into the dark liquid, and trying not to get too much on the nib, we practiced the same exercises we did with our pencils. If we did it right, ink flowed from the tips of the pen onto the paper in neat cursive that gradually faded with each letter. Then we dipped the pens again. But if we didn’t get it right, our finished exercises would be blotched with blots and spatters of ink.

Whether using pen or pencil, handwriting for me still causes great tension. My readers often have to ask for a translation. Which brings me back to those fascinating, frustrating, fabulous computers.

  • Frustrating, because those in my generation start with a disadvantage. Learning to use a computer can be confusing and complicated.
  • Fascinating, because the Internet has opened windows onto worlds we could never have imagined exploring.
  • Fabulous, because we can communicate with people all around the world with just a few keystrokes and clicks of the mouse.
Sometimes I marvel at how easy it is to share the written word now. In my lifetime, I’ve gone from pen holder and ink pot to fountain pens and then ball points. I graduated from the monstrous, noisy typewriters in Miss Easton’s typing class to the smaller portable typewriter I carried to college and upon which I later typed my first novel (original and three carbon copies), after first writing it in longhand on yellow legal pads. Then came a state-of-the-art Selectric typewriter. My fingers flew over that keyboard, barely whispering, and I loved it. I next tried a combination typewriter/word processor with a window that showed three or four lines of typing at a time, then bought my first real computer. It came with a word-processing program that no one even knows about any more.

One thing is not going to change though. Even the smartest computers can’t replace the thinking, feeling, creating persons operating them. Their ideas and compassion change the world for the better. And that, this Thanksgiving season, is one thing for which I’m very grateful.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Hometown Parade

What's more fun, marching or watching the crowd?

By 8 a.m. the day of the Granite Falls Railroad and Alumni Days parade, my old home town is ant-hill-busy. Both sides of Granite Avenue are lined with canopies and tents in various stages of set-up. Vendors and festival officials mill about as latecomers like me try to steer our vehicles through the confusion.

Suddenly, a figure from the past grabs my attention. A woman, shapeless in layers of garments under a sweeping, street-length coat, leans on a walking stick. She’s topped her ensemble with an outlandish, wide-brimmed hat. It’s Mrs. F., once an object of mixed pity and amusement to the young people of the town. With a jolt, I realize this can’t be Mrs. F. She was already an old lady fifty years ago, when I last saw her.

From her motorized go-cart, the director points me to the spot where I’m to set up my shelter and offer books for sale. Right on a corner! Not only a good spot for vending, but I have a front-row seat for the parade and people-watching. Hank is sick, so brother-in-law Jimmy has come to help me set up. My sisters Lois and Patty are down the street at the alumni breakfast, and brother Bill is helping at the Granite Falls Historical Museum. Here we are, the remaining Rawlins siblings, back in the town where we went to school six decades ago.

Families towing excited children pass. I smile at them, remembering the upwelling anticipation that once kept me bouncing on my toes the same as the children are doing. It doesn’t matter that many of these faces are tawny or black, where Granite Falls kids were once mostly Caucasian. One dark-eyed tot with a purple lollipop in her mouth breaks away from her family and talks to me earnestly. “I can’t understand you with candy in your mouth,” I say to her. She removes it, but I still can’t decipher her words. Then her mother calls to her in Spanish, and I know why I couldn’t.

Another town character waddles past, beaming good cheer in every direction. “Isn’t this fun?” she asks each time she goes by.

Across the street, the high-school cheerleaders, wearing orange-and-black trimmed outfits, set up a pie-in-the-face fund-raising booth. They could have been my own high-school classmates, full of energy though not so physically fit as teens were back then. With preparations finished, they group themselves in the street and practice cheers.

A growing crowd wanders from booth to booth. My sisters arrive from the breakfast, along with old high-school friends. Strangers, acquaintances, and friends stop to visit. Looking at my book, A Logger’s Daughter, opens the floodgates of memory for many of them. Oh, the stories that pour out!
Here comes the band!
Music trumpets from up the street. Here comes the parade, first the flags and then the Granite Falls Tigers high-school band. Who cares if their notes are a bit uncertain? After all, school has barely begun.

Every age is represented in the groups on parade, from mini-cheerleaders marching in formation, to 4-Hers on their float, politicians, church groups, and wrinkled Shriners with the float and calliope they’ve used for years.

Ladies in red hats and purple outfits follow a shiny black Model-A draped with a red lace shawl. A platoon of belly dancers shimmy down the street, some with far more belly than dance. There’s a “Sauerkraut Band” and some of Seattle’s Seafair Pirates. The local museum’s entry is a wagonload of plastic pumpkins filled with candy. Brother Bill marched with other museum volunteers to toss candy to the children. He arrives before the parade is over, saying they’d been too generous to the kids at the other end and run out of candy. He collapses into one of my chairs to watch the rest of the parade.

Niece Heidi deposits her toddler, Grace, into Papa Bill’s arms so she can comfort little Noah, crying because his red balloon has escaped and headed toward the clouds. Sister Lois calms Noah’s crisis by commandeering one of the balloons tied to my tent.

They say you can’t go home again, but celebrating Railroad Days in my old home town comes pretty close. It’s a wonderful chance to observe the whole gamut of life in one place. I’m reminded that people are pretty much the same today as they have always been. That gives me hope for the future.

Now that’s a Sun Break thought!

The first three photos above are courtesy of Lois Drake. The one of Bill with granddaughter Grace is courtesy of Mr. Cecil Andrews, from his collection taken for the Granite Falls Chamber of Commerce. You can find more of his photos online at Greater Granite Falls Photo Collection.

Cecil writes, "In your blog you could let folks know how active the Granite Falls Chamber is becoming and encourage them to join. Individuals are just as welcome as businesses. They can apply online at our web site: Granite Falls is a community on the move and the parade is just one of the things the Chamber sponsors."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Rainbow People

Vicki, one of my rainbow people.

My heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow in the sky--
...William Wordsworth

Driving down the freeway a few days ago, we saw something we’d never noticed before. We’d been caught in a downpour so heavy we couldn’t see the pavement for the water washing across it. Spray from their their wheels made it difficult to see the vehicles around us. Hank slowed, clutched the steering wheel and hung on for dear life.

As suddenly as the cloudburst began, it stopped. The sun broke through behind us. Each vehicle still churned up a traveling cloud of water droplets from the water on the roadway. And then--we could hardly believe what we saw-- a rainbow caught in the spray followed each vehicle. Some rainbows arched properly. Some were little spots of color. Others spread out in pools of moving green, yellow, red. The drivers stared straight ahead, intent on getting where they were going. They didn’t realize they carried rainbows in their wakes.

We all know people like that. They are too busy going about the business of daily living, laughing, loving, encouraging, and helping others, to ever see the rainbows in their trail. Like the drivers on the freeway, they can’t see their rainbows from where they sit. But they brighten our lives.

Like Wordsworth, I love to see a rainbow in the sky. But it’s even more beautiful to see the aura of life-giving hope that surrounds persons who are living life the way God wants them to live it.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Promise for Oxendal

Kathi in her Scandanavian rainboots at the front of the beautiful church in Oksendal. The altar, carvings and other decorations were used in the previous church which dated back to the 1700s.

Back view of the Evangelical Lutheran Church at Øksendal

The boathouse once used by Jon Husby. When the tide
came in, it was easy to get boats down the ramp.

While searching for her Norwegian roots in the village of Øksendal, Norway, stepdaughter Kathi discovered the farm where her great grandfather, Jon Andersson (Sjølseth) Husby, had lived and worked. Although the house was not the original, several original structures, including the boat house at the edge of the fjord, remained on the property. She felt overwhelmed to stand where her ancestors once lived and commented, “I still don’t quite know what to do with my feelings of being connected to something much larger than myself.”

As she inquired after local Husbys in a little store, one customer introduced himself. He was Børd Bøye, pastor or preste of the local Evangelical Lutheran state church. She attended church the following day, thinking that she would have a better chance of meeting family there.

The present church building had been constructed in 1890, so the family members that Great-grandfather Jon left behind when he went to America would have worshipped in that location. The altar and decorative pieces inside were from the original church built in the 1700s and would have been familiar to him.

Only a few adults attended the service, apparently for their children’s benefit since it was a special Thanksgiving service. Kathi had discovered that most adults in Øksendal seem to believe that religion is a root cause of the world’s problems, (a common theme, in Kathi’s opinion, when people become prosperous and self-reliant.) Although the entire service was in Norwegian, she tried to follow along with the singing. Afterwards, everyone had hot dogs at the back of the church to celebrate Thanksgiving and then left.

Pastor Bøye offered to show Kathi the bell tower. They climbed up a dark, steep stairway that gave way to a ladder, then scaffolding, then foot-and-hand holds. He opened a panel in the wall so she could see out and take photographs. All of the old furniture was stored in the attic. She felt awed to see the very seats her ancestors had used when they worshipped.

After they climbed down from the bell tower, Kathi sat with Pastor Bøye on the steps of the church and talked. His story broke her heart. He had been at the church for eleven years and had made no discernible difference to the adults at all. He shared his dream that the people of Øksendal would become a blessing to others and themselves and that they might grow in their relationship to God and to each other. He longs to see every home a praying home.

As I heard this, I remembered Kathi’s great-grandfather, who brought his vital faith with him to America, and all the other Norwegian pioneers whose faith gave them the strength and courage to build new lives in a new land.

Kathi prayed with Pastor Bøye before she left. She promised to share his dream with us in America and to ask us and our churches to pray for him and this community, which seems to have forgotten God.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the readers of this blog would, through their prayers, help to ignite a spiritual reawakening among the descendants of those the stalwart immigrants left behind in Norway?

A Norwegian in America

The Jon Andersson Husby family, c. 1915
l. to r., Ingebord, Ingwald, Anna, Hendrick Sr. (Hank's father), Ida, Jon Husby

In the 1880s, many young men left Norway to seek better prospects in America. They brought strong muscles, their skills at logging, fishing, or farming, their faith...and not much else. Jon (John) Andersson Husby was one of them. When he arrived in Michigan in 1882, he was 19 or 20. He went to work on a farm, as he’d done in the old country, but summer’s heat was more than he could stand. Decades later, his eyes twinkled as he told his grandson—my husband Hank—that Michigan was so hot he could hear the corn popping in the fields at night. The farmhands were served salt pork three times a day. It jiggled unappetizingly on the plate.

John soon took passage for the Pacific Northwest via sailing ship around the Horn–the southernmost tip of South America. He loved the Puget Sound, which reminded him of Norway’s fjords. The Northwest’s damp climate reminded him of Norway, too.

He acquired a stump ranch at Parker’s Landing on the Columbia River, halfway between the future towns of Washougal and Camas. He built a rough board shack to live in. There were no bridges across the Columbia, but steamboats stopped at the landing to take on loads of milk and produce bound for Portland on the Oregon side of the river. Rafts of logs floated down the river, as well as barges of grain from eastern Washington. In the summers, John and his friend Ole Reinseth hired out to logging companies to cut virgin timber. Family stories relate how they walked many miles north to the Puget Sound country for lumber camp jobs. When not logging, John worked to dig out the stumps dotting his property (hence the name stump ranch). He cleared enough space to pasture a cow and raise a garden.

In 1890, he sent for Ingeborg Reinseth, the sister of his partner Ole, who had found work as a chambermaid in England. We know nothing about their courtship, but Ingeborg came to America and married John. Their four children were born in the house John had built. By now he worked at logging sites closer to home. He also planted a prune orchard. Dried prunes were in great demand in Germany in the early 1900s. They could be shipped long distances without refrigeration and could be baked into breads and cakes as well as eaten dried or stewed. Washougal and Camas became known for their numerous prune orchards, as well as peach, pear, and apple orchards, although World War II spelled the doom of the German prune market.

In about 1890, Ole Reinseth donated land for a Lutheran Church near the Washougal River, and he and John Husby helped to build it.

The pulp mill at Camas became the largest employer in Clark County, and John’s sons and a son-in-law, as well as his grandsons, made their living at the mill.

Hank loved his Grandpa John Andersson Husby and shares his traits of humor, hard work, and strong faith. The last time Hank saw his grandfather was in 1956, shortly before he died. A visiting pastor came into his nursing home room and asked John about his relationship with Christ. John’s weak voice suddenly steadied. The words rang out as he recited the Apostle’s Creed:

“I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Maker of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord...”

A half-century later, tears still run down Hank’s cheeks as he recalls the firm testimony of faith that had guided Jon Andersson Husby to leave his homeland and launch out into an uncertain future.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Norwegian Names

Photo by Kathi Ferguson

This cemetery in Norway dates
back to the 1200s: a geneologist's paradise.

To make better sense of this blog, please read the preceeding story, Finding Norwegian Roots.

Our globe-trotting daughter Kathi continues to send us updates as she searches for her Norwegian relatives. Her search is complicated by the Norwegian system of naming people. The system has changed throughout history, and there are regional differences as well.

A child was given its “real” name, its first name, at christening. Almost every person took his or her father’s name as well. Kathi’s great-grandfather, Jon, took his father Anders’ name. He became Jon Andersson. His sister, Manghild, would have been Manghild Anderssdatter (the daughter of Anders.) Previous to around 1900, the women used their father’s name all their lives, married or not.

In some places, the father’s name (patronymic) was the only last name used. But in others, one other name was added. Commonly, it was the name of the farm (or address) where the family lived. If Jon Andersson was born or settled on a farm called Sjølseth, he would be called Jon Andersson Sjølseth. If he moved to another farm, then his last name would change to Husby, or whatever the farm was called.

Some families had a hereditary last name, sometimes of foreign origin and often very old. These names were often found in the cities or among high officials.

Complicating all this, in the late 1800's, new naming patterns emerged. In one of them, a married woman could take her husband’s patronymic.

In another, children took their father’s last name (i.e., Husby) instead of a real patronymic.

The transition period lasted until 1923, so that researchers can find both old and new patterns even within a family. In that year, a new law ordered that each family should have a hereditary last name; only one. So some families took the name of their father, others a farm name, and some kept the hereditary names. The women lost their last names. But today, Norwegian women, as a rule, keep their last names after marriage.

For further information on the Norwegian naming system, go to this link:

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Finding Norwegian Roots

Part of the village of Øksendal in the municipality of Sunndalsøra, where Kathi found her roots.

In this nation of immigrants, most of us can trace our ancestry back to pioneers of one kind or other. My adventurous stepdaughter, Kathi, lives in Naples, Italy, and takes the opportunity to travel in many European countries. Most recently she set out for Norway to find Sunndal, the community her great-grandfather, Jon Anderssen Husby, left in 1882, when he emigrated to the Pacific Northwest at the age of 19.

With information provided by Don Reinseth, a distant cousin in Washington State, and armed with a great deal of pioneering boldness, she found where Jon was born, the house where he was raised, and the farm where he worked before emigrating. She also found a number of relatives she didn’t know she had.

Due to the modern electronic miracles of e-mail and Facebook, she was able to share her research, her adventures as they happened, and pictures as well.

The sun breaks through on the Øksendal pier, at the tip of the Sunndalsøra fjord.

In her Sunndalsøra hotel, Kathi met a girl who Googled the Norway phone pages in both Sunndalsøra and nearby Øksendal for Husbys and gave her directions to the nursing home. Along the way Kathi took dozens of photos of Husby grave markers, in cemeteries that dated back to the 1200s.

Five patients in the nursing home were named Husby, but all were too sick to talk to her. An assistant and a guest there looked at her telephone list and recommended that she talk to a man named Per Steiner Husby. With help from the clerk at the Øksendal store (also named Husby), she found the Per Steiner Husby farm. Per and his wife had already received two calls telling them that an American was looking for them.

They pulled out volumes of family history that have been compiled back to before the 1700s but couldn’t seem to find Jon (pronounced Yone) Andersson Husby. So they called another cousin, Helge Husby, who turned out to be one of the contacts Kathi had been given by Don Reinseth in America. It was Helge’s opinion that Jon Andersson Husby was actually born Jon Andersson (Anderssen) Sjølset (Sjølseth). Because the birth dates and American emigration dates match, he believes that they were the same person.

Per’s wife took Kathi to see the place where Jon lived as a young man. The house was not the original, but some of the other structures, including the boathouse, were present when Jon lived there.

Later, Marie Husby, the clerk from the little store, took her to see another family. They poured over a volume of family histories from Øksendal, excitedly turning pages and making phone calls. Then they took her to a farm called the Sjølseth/Sjølseth farm. They had also deduced that Jon Anderssen Husby was born to Anders Larsen from the Sjølseth farm and that, indeed, Jon actually was born Jon Anderssen Sjølseth. (People often took the place names of where they lived as their surnames.) Jon had evidently changed his name to Husby at some later date. Perhaps the immigration officials in America could neither pronounce or spell Sjølseth, so he gave them a name they could handle.

However it happened, Kathi found herself standing on the ground in Norway where both her great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather had lived, surrounded by newly found relatives.
She still has unanswered questions. Why did Jon leave the beautiful fjords and farms of Norway to become a logger in Western Washington? Why did his descendants on both sides of the Atlantic lose track of each other? Why is so little known of his story?

It’s up to pioneering modern-day researchers like Kathi to fill in the blanks of the past.

This is the farm where both Jon and his father worked. Kathy can't officially determine that it was a Husby farm. If Jon's father was not an oldest son, then he would not have had his own farm. In that case, they would probably have worked for someone else. If that someone else had been a Husby, that might explain why Jon took that last name. Husby is also the name for "house by a city" or for a group of houses. So Jon could have taken the name for a neighborhood. The original farmhouse is on the left. All photos by Kathi Ferguson

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Snohomish County's Favorite Hike...The Big 4 Ice Caves

Early visitors at the ice caves.
Photo courtesty of Granite Falls Historical Museum

Hot Weather Weakens Ice Caves. This recent headline told a familiar story. The ice caves at Big Four Mountain are a favorite hiking destination for people in our part of Washington State and have been ever since Big Four Resort was built in 1921 at the foot of its namesake mountain.

Every spring, snow avalanches fall from Big Four’s sheer cliffs and pack to glacier hardness. Cascading waterfalls burrow under the ice, forming caves that tempt the ignorant or foolhardy to enter. Almost every year, in spite of warning signs at the trailhead, someone is hurt. A few people have died under collapsing ice. The newspaper story in question was triggered by another such incident. Someone, probably climbing on the glaciers or the cliffs above, had slipped and fallen. Rescuers passed through one of the caves to help him, and got out just as chunks of ice came crashing down behind them.

But for those who use good sense, the ice caves make a spectacular outing. The trail is smooth and mostly level for a good part of its one-mile length, making it handicapped-accessible to and even past the newly installed bridge over the Stillaguamish. It begins as a plank walkway over wetlands, where you can lean over a railing to watch small trout schooling in the shallow water. Walkers have a choice of turning off on a trail which loops back to the trailhead via the roadbed of the old Everett to Monte Cristo Railroad or continuing on through some old growth trees to the river and up to the foot of the mountain.

Steve and Lenora Anderson on the new metal bridge

Beyond the bridge, the stream from the glaciers enters the river and the trail begins a moderate climb. Along the way, hikers see all stages in the life of the forest, from seedlings growing on nurse logs to decaying snags that house bugs and birds. Once we were lucky enough to see one of these snags topple to the ground without warning. We were also fortunate to be far enough away that the many-ton behemoth missed us!

Yes, if a tree falls in the forest, it does make a noise.

The last part of the trail is the most difficult. A recent winter’s avalanches, adding to the devastation of previous slides, snapped trees in half or completely uprooted them. One of the avalanches took out part of the trail, necessitating a detour. But the new gaps in the forest afford one a sneak preview of what awaits around the last corner. The massive wall of rock, with snowfields sloping upward from the base, is breathtaking.

Below: Avalanche passed this way

Up close, wildflowers springing from newly uncovered ground bloom madly to finish their cycles before snow comes again.
Tiger lilies and budding fireweed

In fact, in whichever direction you turn, the scene is breathtaking, even with a summer’s worth of dirt begriming the glaciers. Just remember, if you go, obey the signs warning against too close an inspection!

Snowfields at the base of Big Four

Don't climb on this cave's roof !

Cooling off in the rush of chill air from the caves

Feeling close to creation and its Creator

Thursday, September 10, 2009

In Defense of Big Families

Delbert Rawlins and his five offspring, in the doorway of our "new" house.

Today, big families are the stuff of TV reality shows.
In my grandparents’ generation, they were simply reality. Grandmother Rawlins raised seven children. Grandma Schmidt gave birth to eleven, eight of whom lived to adulthood.

Those fifteen children raised smaller families, but still, having four or more babies wasn’t unusual. In the next generation, the size of the families dwindled to two or three children. And now our children are raising children...maybe. Of the five siblings in my immediate family, several of their offspring have no children. Four of the offspring have one child apiece. Only one had as many as four babies.

There are lots of reasons for this. Almost every mother is expected to work outside the home today. Children are not needed to help with the family workload like they were in their grandparent’s day. Young people expect to have a career and to make a good living before they even think about having families, and some wait until their biological clocks are on their last ticks.

Years ago I asked my dad why, when making enough money to live on was so difficult, he and Mom had had so many children, so closely spaced. He looked nonplused. “They just came,” he said.

I had barely turned six when brother David, the last of us, was born. Five children in six years and one month! Poor Mom scarcely had time to recover from the last birth before becoming pregnant again. She said she cried when she realized another baby was on the way. An aunt who prided herself at having stopped at two well-spaced siblings criticized our parents for having “all those children” so close together. “How do you expect to care for them when times are so hard?”

We children were blissfully unaware of all that. We didn’t even know that a new brother was joining the family until the evening Daddy picked us up from various neighbors who’d been caring for us for nearly ten days. He drove us to the hospital in Everett.

Daddy left us in the car with an admonition to be good. “I’ll be right back with a surprise,” he said. In minutes the doors of the hospital swung open. Light flooded out, and we saw a white-uniformed nurse pushing a wheelchair toward our old car. Mama sat in the wheelchair, holding a bundle on her lap.

Daddy stowed her suitcase in the trunk, then took the bundle while the nurse helped Mama into the car. He placed the bundle in Mama’s arms as we children crowded close to the back of the bench seat to hug and greet her. She turned around with smiles and a few tears at seeing us again. Of that moment, she later said, “I’ll never forget all those little round faces peering like moons over the seat back.”

Then the bundle squirmed and made odd little noises. Mama folded back the blanket to show us little-round-face number five, twisting itself into an outraged wail. We had a new baby, and with five children in the family, we would never lack for someone to fight with or have fun with.

Children are precious and should be treasured. There’s a lot to be said for big families.

Baby Grace Mooring makes new friends at a family reunion.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


A glance at the clock this morning told me it was time to get up. But something was amiss. The bright sunshine which has greeted us most mornings this summer had taken temporary vacation. Gray light filtered through the blinds. Overcast skies threatened rain...needed, of course, but not particularly appreciated. We’ve been spoiled!

On the other hand, most of us like variety. Daughter Lenora in Tucson, Arizona, called yesterday to say that it was cool enough to leave the house and sit on her patio. For her, that was cause to celebrate!

Here in western Washington, we comment when the wind kicks up. Evenings we stand at the window to enjoy the interplay of setting sun, clouds, and salt water. We love storms, too. At dusk recently, we walked down the street, marveling at the light show going on in dark clouds over the Cascade foothills. The sky above us was clear, the thunder too far away to hear, but the show was better than fireworks...and just as dangerous in our dry forests.

(One of many lightning-caused fires smolders in the western foothills. This one is too small for serious concern but officials keep an eye on it.)

On the east side of the Cascades, wildfire is a constant hazard. This summer a number of lightning-caused fires sent firefighters from all over the state to try to save property. Friend Carolyn and her husband recently moved to Omak in the northern part of central Washington. They love it there, but in two years they’ve watched two fires from their home.

Here’s what she wrote about the most recent conflagration:

"We saw it begin this afternoon. Three little tan wisps of smoke curled slowly into the sky behind the hills in the west. They didn't look like much, just a bit of smoke that would soon disappear.

"A couple of hours later, the sky began to take on a grayish cast. Joe tuned into the sheriff's radio frequency. Bits and pieces of conversation crackled. Fire units called to Buzzard Lake. Evacuations likely. Old Highway 97 closed.

"We looked to the west again. A burnished orange glow backlit the hills, with smudgy brown clouds billowing above. A brisk north wind blew the ugly clouds toward the south. By supper time the orange glow became a neon light on the hilltop. The entire sky turned brown and gray and white. Dusk deepened as the orange glow pulsed, turning red, back to orange, then fading only to reappear and begin again, all the while moving behind the hills to the south. Monotone voices on the radio droned about road closures and shifting firefighter units. They gave directions for citizens seeking evacuations.

"Since we worried that some of our property might be in the fire's path, we hopped into the truck and headed south on Highway 97,parallel to what we thought was a fading fire. Out beyond the town, the sky turned black. Then the acrid smell of smoke began stinging our lungs,and cinders and bits of blackened foliage floated down in front of the truck. About 6 miles south, we couldn’t believe our eyes. A jagged line of red orange flame exploded out of the night and burned angrily down a steep hillside toward an access road. Looking above the fire to the top of the hill, we could see a second line of fire streaming down the other side. Black smoke billowed above flames which looked like molten lava.

Credit: Al Camp/The Omak-Okanogan County Chronicle

"Enough. We turned around and headed home. We are grateful for professional firefighters who have gotten all residents safely out of harm's way, for family and friends who have taken them in, who are monitoring the flames and doing all they can to protect livestock and property. Nothing else can be done till morning.”

Several days later, Carolyn wrote:

“By Saturday morning, the flames on this side of the hills had been extinguished. A layer of smoke like cotton batting lay over Malott (a nearby town) and wrapped around the hills. The fire now had a name--the Oden Road fire. Two residences and a vacation home were destroyed."

By Tuesday, Carolyn said, the fire was mostly out, with only a smoky haze still drifting up and down the valley.

East-siders and “coasties” alike, we’re much aware of the hazards of wildfire. As we watch the current destructive fires overrunning hills and residences in southern California, we are grateful for the sacrifices of firefighters and others whose work keeps us safe.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Time for Blackberries

Ready for the picking...come and get 'em.

Less than two weeks left in August! Thistledown and fireweed fluff float through the golden air. The native plants in our front yard are well on their way to becoming a mini-forest. Flowering red currants and twinberries are loaded with berries, as are huckleberries, red osier dogwood, and snowberry shrubs. Rose hips are reddening. Flying creatures buzz, dart, and flit through sun and shady patches—black-and-yellow bees and wasps, smaller insects too, as well as butterflies and birds.

The thermometer reads close to eighty, but a feeling in the air tells us fall is near. Is it leftover chill from the cool morning? Is it something added by the changing angle of the sun? Maybe it’s the scent rising from the fields below our hill where crops are ripening. Or the sweet smell of blackberries ready for picking.

Whatever it is, something of my childhood returns to me every year at this time. I remember the giddy anticipation of a new school year—old friends, brand-new pencils and tablets, new things to learn. We're reluctant to say goodbye to the unstructured days of summer. There's a depth of sweetness in end-of-summer activities. The cold river has finally warmed enough to spend entire afternoons splashing in the swimming hole. Our mother's labors in the kitchen make the house smell of peaches and pickling spices. We bring in huckleberries from the woods for her to turn into our favorite jam. And she makes our other favorite jam, blackberry, from the little mountain berries we’ve picked as a family in the high, logged-over areas on nearby hills.

The little berries were hard to find, but we knew our best chance was to search a recently- logged area. The vines sprawled over stumps and dead brush and crept along the ground, hard to see unless we knew what we were looking for. The biggest, juiciest treasures grew in the shade of other plants. When we found a patch, we called the nearest parent or sibling to come share the bounty.

Nothing is tastier than those native blackberries. They can still be found in open, recently cleared spaces, but an interloper has crowded its way into many of the haunts they once interloper with larger, more bountiful, easier-to-find fruits.

The Himalayan blackberry came from seeds imported and developed by none other than Luther Burbank, the genius who gave us many new or improved varieties of plants back in the mid-1800s. It’s a vigorous, adaptable grower whose stout, sharp thorns discourage those who try to dig it up. Birds love the sweet fruits and disperse the seeds far and wide. The masses of canes, up to thirty feet long, overwhelm native plant life and crowd it out. It’s a bully of a plant.

Genesis 1:31 says, "God saw all that he had made, and it was very good." Even those pesky Himalayan brambles have something good about them. The berries are delicious. Hank and I picked a couple more gallons this morning in less than two hours. Tonight we’ll have blackberry cobbler. I’ve already made jam. And we’ll have pies this winter to remind us of these golden August days.

Hank at work in the blackberry patch.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Cape Flattery Perspectives

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 NIV).

Hank and I walked from the dimness of the Makah Cultural and Research Center museum at Neah Bay into bright summer sunshine. I love the feeling of history that pervades that place. It’s not at all like most USA small-town historical museums. No stagecoaches, no old-time wash machines, no photos of early-day street scenes. The history here goes way back, thousands of years before the European arrival on New World shores.

Five hundred years ago, a mudslide buried the Makah village at nearby Ozette, perfectly preserving everyday household articles, tools, basketry, ceremonial objects...all made of ordinarily perishable fiber, bone, and wood. Archaeologists and modern-day Makahs rescued these artifacts and used them to reconstruct parts of the ancient culture lost with the coming of the white man. They built the museum to share that culture with visitors and to teach it to their young people. The past, the present, and the future come together here.

We’d observed how the Makahs adapted to the changing natural cycles: gathering roots, berries, shellfish and other necessities; fishing; seal hunting; whaling. Their long houses built of cedar planks were well-suited to the cool, rainy climate. We marveled at their ingenuity—from constructing end-to-end whalebone and driftwood drains to carry rainwater away from their houses—right down to the tiny torches that seal hunters wore on their headbands while searching dark sea-caves for their quarry.

We drove through the town of Neah Bay to Cape Flattery—the westernmost headland of the contiguous United States—to one of our favorite places: a three-quarter mile trail leading through fir and cedar forest to the point of the Cape.

It’s a popular trail. We lingered while other hikers passed us on the new boardwalk, noting scars on cedars where Indian women had once harvested bark for making mats, baskets, hats, capes, and other articles of clothing. We imagined them picking huckleberries and salmonberries, thimbleberries, and salal berries like those growing in the understory beside the trail.

In weather less calm than this, visitors hear waves crashing into the cliffs long before they see the ocean. On this day, we heard mostly the cries of seabirds echoing through the forest. Then the point narrowed. From either side of the trail we looked down into blue-green waters reflecting the sedimentary bluffs and sea stacks.* Arching caverns yawned deep into the bluffs. The scene looked like it hadn’t changed for an eternity, but a sign posted along the trail informed us that on a stormy day, we would feel waves crashing into those caves, shaking the whole point. Someday, who knows how far into the future, the roofs of the caves will collapse and the point we stood on will erode into the sea.

Fog had closed in by the time we reached the final viewpoint, hiding nearby Tatoosh Island from view. In summer, Makah families once camped on the island to dry their winter’s fish supply. Whalers set out in sea-going canoes to intercept their migrating prey. Later, the Coast Guard used the island. An inoperative lighthouse still stands.

On my first-ever visit to this magical place, I peered into the dark caves where bold hunters once swam in pursuit of seals, imagining them armed only with spears and the tiny torch flames on their headbands. Even from above, the water looked frigid.

Suddenly, a pale shape rose from the nearby depths. My heart nearly stopped as the apparition grew larger and larger. A big, sleek head popped up, followed by huge shoulders and flippers. Two-thirds of the creature was still underwater--the biggest sea lion I’d ever seen. Two dark, inscrutable eyes peered into mine. The creature blinked and sank straight down and out of sight like a spirit from the deep.

Today, the waters are full of orange hemispheres trailing whitish tentacles. Squid? “No,” said the Makah ranger, a woman, stationed at the overlook to answer visitors’ questions. “They’re migrating jellyfish. It happens about this time every year.” She didn’t know where they came from or where the current would take them. But as far as she knew, they always came and always would come.

That would be nice. But history—ours, the Makahs’, that of the ocean creatures—tells us that nothing lasts forever. Yet, God has set eternity in the heart of man, and he has made everything beautiful in its time. He has done that to turn our hearts to our Maker. I think that’s what I feel most powerfully when I walk the Cape Flattery trail.

* Columns of rock cut away from the main mass of rock by wave erosion and standing alone, often crowned with their own small forests.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Surprised by Serendipities

When my husband suggested a vacation trip recently, the tedium of a long car ride loomed large. Projects needed doing. I preferred to stay in my familiar holding pattern. But obviously, Hank wanted to go, so I arranged with a feline-loving friend to take care of our cats Popcorn and Peanut and to water our flowers.

Hank’s home-town high-school reunion was to be only a little more than 200 miles to the southwest of our home. But we took a long way around to get there. First, we drove north to cross Deception Pass bridge, then south down Whidbey Island. My enthusiasm quickened when I sighted dozens of brightly colored sails moving across the sunny waters near Oak Harbor. From a restaurant in Coupeville, above Penn Cove, we watched dozens more sailboats gliding back and forth in a slow motion race...a lovely serendipity.

We crossed Admiralty Inlet on a ferry so small that every storm halts its operation. Near Sequim we stopped to walk a sandy path topping the dramatic bluffs at Dungeness State Park. The pale bluffs contrasted with the deep blue of Puget Sound far below. Suddenly, a fountain of spray broke the undulating pattern of swells. A whale’s long, dark back broke the surface, then disappeared. Again and again, we saw spouts from at least three gray whales feeding in the shallow waters. More serendipity!

From there we drove on to Port Angeles to

visit my sister Patty. For the first time we
saw Patty’s new home and garden; small
but beautiful jewels reflecting her creative
skills. The next morning, she suggested
we drive to nearby Hurricane Ridge in the
Olympic Mountains to see the wildflower
display. Up a narrow, winding road we went,
heading into the sky. The steep slopes above
and below us wore borders and splashes and
carpets of wildflowers. We pulled off for a
face-to-face inspection. They were lovely.
I have photos to prove it.

From Port Angeles, we drove on toward Neah Bay,
Washington’s westernmost town. The road winds along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, with picturesque sea stacks, wild beaches, and views of distant Vancouver Island. We walked the shore and watched fog drifting in and out and even rising from the damp sand beneath our feet. Another serendipity.

We hiked to Cape Flattery where the Makah Indians once hunted whales. We visited ocean beaches to the south, along Washington’s coast. We stopped at a village called Taholah. A spit piled with huge, silvered
logs and stumps--a graveyard for the bones of old growth forest--guards the mouth of the Quinault River where it slows before discharging into the surf. Lines of stakes curve out into the calm river where Indians still fasten their nets in an age-old method of set netting. I’ve seen Alaska natives on the Yukon and Koyokuk do it the same way.

On Highway 101, between Aberdeen and Raymond, we passed through thousands of acres of forest leveled by 125 mile-an-hour winds in December, 2007. Trees lay like spilled toothpicks, tops all pointing in the same direction, an awesome sight. We’re not supposed to have hurricanes in Washington, but tell that to foresters trying to clean up the mess.

By now I’d lost count of serendipities. We arrived at Washougal, Hank’s former home at the entrance to the Columbia Gorge. After a wonderful reunion with high school friends as well as relatives, we attended his former church. I hugged our 90-year-old friend Hazel and her husband Clias. Hazel had been felled by a simultaneous stroke and heart attack the year before. We never thought we’d see her again...but here she was, walking and laughing and thrilled to see us. I stroked the velvety head of her newest great-grandbaby. These church folks had been my friends for only nine years, but some of them had crossed into old age in that time and young people were now middle-aged. We stood talking with Hazel and Clias about the changes in the church. Clias looked from the newborn to his wife, and said, “Yes, one by one, we come...and we leave.”

My heart flooded with gratitude for one more chance to reconnect with these people we loved. The trip I dreaded had surprised me with such a shower of blessings, I can’t even remember why I didn’t want to go!