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Stories from Bernie's current trip - a mule voyage from Canada to Mexico

Coyote Mummy Halloween
October 30, 2008


A long way from a store-bought Halloween
Outside Zurich, Kansas

Traveling across the Great Plains in my mule wagon looking for traces of the Western Interior Seaway, I find myself drifting farther and farther from a store-bought existence. Need fruit? This week it’s coming off a Hays pear tree. Need spice? Last week, Mark LeSage loaded my wagon down with cayenne peppers. I unraveled a length of bailing twine, threaded my finest needle and strung peppers all morning. Voila. Dried chili peppers to keep me warm this winter on the Plains.


Bernie demonstrates Great Plains winter heat
LeSage Ranch
North of Nicodemus, Kansas

And so it goes this Halloween. In lieu of store-bought scare crows propped on hay bales, I’m bringing you a creepy story captured by wagon out here on the Great Plains.

Here’s how it started.

It started with a rumor in Logan, Kansas. “There’s a dead critter in the Brown Country School House down the road.” a fellow told me. “You should check it out.”

Perfect! Much better than a plastic jack-o-lantern imported from China. I drove Polly to the school house, parked the Lost Sea wagon, unharnessed her and investigated.


Parked in front of the Brown Country School House

The Brown Country School House (named Brown, not for its color, but rather for the land owner who donated the land)has been abandoned for almost 50 years. Peering inside the wind-blasted school house, I found a remarkably intact structure.


50 years after school let out

At first glance, it just seemed like another abandoned prairie structure, no different than the thousands of other ones that scatter this sea of grass: windows smashed out, owl droppings on the floor and cracked plaster peeling off lathe walls. But what was that grey mass lumped in the far corner? Stepping closer, I made out a dog-sized body.


Dog-sized body

Leaning in closer, I saw the paw curled over the snout,the tail curled over the nose, as though keeping warm.


Keeping warm

Then I saw the mummy eye – and backed out of the school house. Spooky…


Mummy eye

Later that evening, Dave Sammons dropped by.


Dave Sammons

Dave, who lives a mile from the school house and runs the county grader, stopped by to check on Polly and me. I asked about the creature I’d found in the school house. In the dying light, he led me back into the empty building to explain.

To listen to what Dave said, and hear some howlin’ Kansas coyotes, click on the audio player below.

Field recording notes: This interview opens with Kansas coyote howls recorded aboard the Lost Sea mule wagon north of Nicodemus, Kansas. The rest of the interview with Dave Sammons takes place inside the abandoned Brown country school house.



Best of luck creating your own spooky, un-store-bought, Halloween.

Posted Thursday October 30, 2008 by Bernie
Listen to Your Rattle Snake Dinner
October 12, 2008

In the past 5,000 miles of mule travel, including a coast-to-coast mule voyage, I’ve seen a surprising number of rattlesnakes.

Zero. That’s surprising.

This week, I saw 5. Prairie rattle snakes 1 to 4 I encountered between Palco and Hays, Kansas.


Prairie rattler number 3
North of Hays, Kansas

Rattler Number 5 I encountered on my dinner plate.

On a recent evening, the retired college professor who was hosting mule Polly invited me to join a group of friends for a cookout at his carriage barn. On the menu were calf fries and rattle snake. (For the uninitiated, calf fries, or mountain oysters, are what you take from a bull to make him into a steer.)

Cooking was Marvin Pfannenstiel.


Marvin Pfannenstiel

In a moment, you’ll listen to Marvin chopping up and breading a rattler. But before you hear the sound of cleaver on chopping board, I wanted to share this picture guide menu to my new favorite snake recipe. I call it Lost Sea Rattler.


What’s nice about Lost Sea Rattler is that you don’t actually have to cook a snake to enjoy the cammraderie of a bunch of guys frying hunks of meat in boiling oil. After you’ve eaten snake the first time, cat fish looks a lot like Mr. No Shoulders. So get your fryer goin’ and let’s get cooking. Here, in photos, is your recipe.

Lost Sea Rattler (serves a dozen)
Ingredients:
3 medium sized rattle snakes – skinned and gutted
vegetable oil
salt
pepper
moonshine


Step 1: uncoil snake
Be sure snake is skinned before you do this. Dang they’re tough if you forget this step.


Step 2: chop snake
Note the google-eyed moose apron. No, chopping up a Kansas rattler isn’t messy. It’s just hard on your reputation as a host. From now on, folks will wonder what kind of meat you’re serving up…


Before and after
Now heat that oil to 350-degrees and get breadin’


Step 4: bread snake
If you can’t find the Snake and Bake, go for the cracker crumbs


Fried and ready to serve.
Bon appetit!
Note to bachelors: show up with this entrée at your next pot luck and your hosts will forever settle for that bottle of merlot.

Nothing goes better Lost Sea Rattler than with moonshine or rain water. If you’re watching your reputation, go for the iced tea.

Ready to get slicing and dicing? Then click on the audio player below as Marvin explains how to cook a serpent (note: the slamming sound you’re about to hear is Marvin’s cleaver).



Posted Sunday October 12, 2008 by Bernie
Fossil Posts and Lawyers
October 7, 2008


Terry Gottschalk
Logan, Kansas

Terry Gottschalk owns a fence building company in Logan, Kansas. When I told him I was traveling the Great Plains by mule wagon looking for marine fossils from the Western Interior Sea, the great inland sea that covered the Great Plains millions of years ago, he told me I should take a look at his fence.

His fence?

Seems Terry had built a fence using limestone fenceposts from Hays, Kansas, 60 miles south of Logan.


Terry’s fence

Terry explained that when the homesteaders arrived in this part of Kansas in the late 19th century, they found lots of grass and limestone outcrops but few trees. Because they needed to fence their claims, they turned to the rocks for their fence posts.


Land of the lime stone post
North of Hays, Kansas

The early Kansas homesteaders turned their newfound, brutal winters to their advantage. The lime stone they needed for posts was found in layered outcroppings. Using hand augers, the farmers drilled rows of holes into the stone, filled them with water and waited for the water to freeze. When the water froze and expanded, it split the stone into fence post size chunks.

These they erected in lieu of wood posts.


Fence post and soap weed
Logan, Kansas

100 years after the homesteaders split their posts with water, Terry Gottschalk gathered up ½ mile’s worth of them and re-erected them on his property. Big deal, right? Well, it really wouldn’t be except for one detail. Many of these 300-plus pound fence posts contained fossilized shells. According to Terry, of his posts, “about every third one has a fossil in it.”


Fossil shell in Terry’s fence

Nice. Traces of the Lost Sea right in an every day fence post.

A few evenings ago, while mule Polly and I were parked behind the abandoned Brown Country School, I spoke with Terry about his fence. No, we didn’t talk about the fossils. Rather, we talked barbed wire,lawyers and the size of Angus cattle. Until the 1960s they were short and fat (the cattle, that is…).


Terry explains

To listen to Terry, click on the audio player below. Terry picks up the discussion by saying how Angus cattle have only gotten taller in the past few decades.



Posted Tuesday October 7, 2008 by Bernie


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