Blue Shadows Farm
Publication Year: 2009
Published by: University of Wisconsin Press
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Title Page, Other Works by the Author, Copyright, Dedication
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I don’t remember ever seeing the metal box. But here it is, dust covered, dented, and buried under some bigger storage containers. It is dull green, a couple feet long, a foot or so wide, and maybe a foot deep. I blow off the dust, slowly lift the hinged cover, and peer inside. ...
1. Ambush—March 1865
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Private Silas Starkweather rode with his head drooping, fighting to keep awake as the hot Mississippi sun bore down on his heavy, woolen, blue Union uniform. The reins hung slack in his hands as his horse plodded along, each step turning up a little puff of reddish-brown dust. ...
2. New Orleans Hospital—March 1865
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Silas Starkweather dreamed of home, especially of his mother back in Watertown, where he was born. He dreamed of helping tap maple trees this time of year and making syrup. He dreamed of the sweet smell of the sap boiling on his mother’s cookstove, and how pleasant it was. ...
3. Limited Duty—April 1865
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Silas, his head still wrapped in bandages, sat at a little desk in the headquarters building at the Union army’s Camp New Orleans. His job was to file official-looking papers in brown folders and then carry them across the camp to another office. He did this each day, finishing by midafternoon. ...
4. Nature Hike—October 2000
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Not one of the hikers predicted the bolt of lightning. I know I didn’t, and I had seen a good many lightning storms here at Blue Shadows Farm. Joe Crawford, Link Lake Middle School teacher, didn’t see it coming. Not Mrs. Anderson either. Surely not Mrs. Ashley Anderson, ...
5. Sophia—May 1866
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Why are you sneaking around? I thought you were a bear. You scared the bejeebers out of me,” Silas Starkweather said as he held up his broadax, prepared to defend himself. He’d been using the wide-bladed ax to square the sides of a pine log that he would use for his cabin. ...
6. Accident—May 1866
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Cabin-building proved far more difficult than Silas imagined it would be. Initially, he thought, What’s so difficult about chopping down a few trees and stacking them up to make walls? Simple enough. Besides that, his new farm had nearly a hundred acres of trees, about half of them white pine, which made perfect logs for a cabin. ...
7. Cabin Building—May 1866
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Acouple mornings after his accident, Silas still felt stiff and sore and not up to his old self. The bump on his head had gone down, but it was still there—just to the side of where he had been shot. Someone in the New Orleans hospital had told him he had a hard head. He smiled when he thought of the comment and how it must be true. ...
8. Olaf Hanson—May 1866
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Feeling better, Silas hauled stones all the next day, some as large as a big cooking pot, others smaller than a man’s fist, and every size in between. Silas carefully inspected each rock before tossing it on the cart. Some were red, some multicolored, some black, some white with flecks of gray. ...
9. Sophia’s Garden—May 1866
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The days became noticeably longer and warmer toward the end of May. One early morning, with dew hanging on everything and the sun creeping up over the trees to the east, Silas sat on the front porch of his new cabin with a cup of coffee. The smell of new pine wood mixed with the smells of the morning. ...
10. Attack—October 1866
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The summer days passed quickly as Silas worked hard to establish his farm.With the help of his neighbors, Silas broke ground for three more five-acre patches to be planted to winter wheat. Fall had arrived before Silas had even been aware of it. Great flocks of Canada geese winged overhead, on their way south, honking loudly. ...
11. Gardening—October 2000
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Hello,” I said, answering the phone that hung on the wall across the kitchen from my wood-burning cookstove. I’d traded in my dial phone a couple years ago for one of those fancy push-button phones. But I insisted the installers hang it on the wall. The phone has always hung on the wall, from the day when we had party-line telephones in our neighborhood, starting back in the early 1900s. ...
12. School Board Meeting—October 2000
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Ashley Anderson, true to her promise, filed a complaint with the Link Lake School District about what had happened on the field trip to my farm. She also wrote a letter to the newspaper, which I read with great interest. ...
13. Memories—October 2000
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Aweek after the school board meeting, I sat by my old cookstove. I could see the dishtowels drying on the same rack that my mother used. I heard the snap and pop of burning wood, and smelled the occasional whiff of oak smoke that snuck out from the stove lids. I loved that smell, even though the smoke did tend to darken the ceiling. ...
14. Snowstorm—December 1866
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Snow began falling shortly after noon, a few scattered flakes at first but as the storm grew in intensity, the wind picked up, swirling the snow around. Fall had turned quickly to winter. After the first hard frosts, Silas busied himself taking care of his team of oxen, puttering around the cabin, making another chair and bench ...
15. Wolfgang and Amelia—December 1866
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The snowstorm blew itself out during the night. In the first light of morning, Silas crawled out of his snug bed to a cabin that was frigid cold as the outside temperature had plummeted during the night. Rex rested in front of the fireplace, on the bearskin rug. A few coals still glowed in the remaining ashes. ...
16. Housekeeper—December 1866
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The weather had warmed some the following day and the wind had gone down. After a light noon meal of bread and sausage, Silas sat in a chair by his fireplace, reading Walden. He heard a knock on the cabin door. ...
17. Kitchen Stove—January 1867
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The arrangement worked well. Sophia continued going to school each day, spent the weekday evenings working and sleeping at the Starkweather cabin, and walked home to help her mother on Saturdays and Sundays. She returned each Sunday afternoon to the little log cabin that she had come to like. ...
18. Opportunity—October 2000
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“Free cup of coffee, huh. Never one to pass up something free,” I said, laughing. I wondered who she was talking about and whether the fellow had anything to do with the school board meeting and the incident on the nature hike. I still have Ashley Anderson’s reaction stuck in my head. Is she an example of the new parent, I wondered? ...
19. William Steele—October 2000
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Afew days after my visit with Kate Dugan, I was working in my garden, gathering up the trash left over from the growing season— dead tomato vines, tangles of squash and pumpkin vines, rutabaga and beet tops—that sort of thing. I was using a six-tine barn fork. ...
20. Blue Shadows—February 1867
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From doing farmwork, Silas Starkweather’s hands became tough and calloused, his muscles hard. He was surprised how all the hard work had agreed with him. The time had passed quickly since he arrived in Link Lake last spring. He’d planted ten acres of wheat in five-acre plots, each surrounded by a fence he had built with his own hands, ...
21. Mixed Thoughts—May 1867
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Silas and Sophia’s routine continued much as before Silas’s birthday, except for the nights. Silas tried to tell Sophia that she should return to her bed in the cabin loft, but he didn’t know how, or perhaps he didn’t want to. His thoughts were tangled and troubled. ...
22. Wedding—July 1867
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Sophia made all the arrangements. She contacted the famous preacher Increase Joseph Link and asked if he would marry them. He reluctantly agreed. He asked both Sophia and Silas why they had never darkened the doors of the Standalone Church, where he preached every Sunday when he was not on the road spreading his message of saving the land. ...
23. New Baby—February 15, 1868
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A cold spell gripped the Link Lake community for nearly two weeks. Some nights the temperature plummeted to thirty below, and the high temperature stayed below zero. Dan and David, Silas’s trusty oxen, seldom ventured from the lean-to that shielded them from the brutal northwest wind. ...
24. Elsa—April 1872
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Silas and Sophia named their new baby Elsa, after Sophia’s grandmother who lived in Germany. With Sophia’s tender care and the loving attention of grandparents Wolfgang and Amelia, the baby flourished. By the time she was a year old, she was walking and soon was the major attraction of the neighborhood. ...
25. Increase Joseph—Summer 1872
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The days following their daughter’s death, Silas and Sophia moved as if in a trance. Elsa, with her blonde curly hair, bright blue eyes, and vibrant personality, had been a bright spot in both their lives, a ray of sunshine during days of clouds. Silas plodded through his work, walking behind his oxen as he plowed and smoothing the fields where he would plant oats. ...
26. Going Home—August 1872
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In mid-August, Silas stopped at the mercantile. Owen Davies greeted him and informed Silas that he had a letter for him. Silas saw that it was from his mother in Watertown, New York. ...
27 Modern Nature Educators, Inc.—November 2000
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As I drove to the high school, I was still thinking about William Steele. He sure thought he was the biggest toad in the puddle. If Modern Nature Educators was anything like him, I doubt I’d want much to do with them. ...
28. Modern Nature Educators II—November 2000
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I glanced around the gymnasium and noted that now nearly all the chairs were filled. I just couldn’t believe that so many people were interested in nature study, but I guessed that new jobs along with a broader tax base and lower taxes might be the main draw. ...
29. Greed—Summer 1874
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Two years passed quickly. Sophia continued helping Increase Joseph with his tent ministry, especially when he set up in such nearby towns as Pine River, Grand Rapids, Waupaca, and Coloma. She had become convinced by Increase Joseph’s message, about how saving the land was as important as saving souls. ...
30. Borrowed Hay Mower—Summer 1874
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Each spring Silas, who had now lived eight years in the Link Lake community, wandered his freshly worked fields in the evening after supper with his head down. Occasionally he would kick at a clod of dirt, sending up a little puff of dust. Or he would reach down and pick up a little stone and then toss it aside. ...
31. Tornado—August 1875
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of their beloved Elsa. She thought of the little girl every day as she cleaned the cabin, helped care for their growing herd of dairy cows, and tended her garden. She remembered the little girl’s giggle, her bouncy personality, and how she loved working with her daddy. ...
32. Silas and the Arrowheads—Summer 1876
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Preacher Increase Joseph was once more of great help to the Reinert family, following the loss of their beloved Anna. Although the Reinerts had not attended his church, in fact had attended no church, the famous preacher made all the arrangements for Anna’s funeral, including burying her in the Standalone Cemetery, ...
33. Kate Dugan—November 2000
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After the meeting at the high school and hearing Modern Nature Educators tout their wares and wow the public with their electronic gadgetry, Kate Dugan had more questions than answers. Her biggest concern—all of this sounded too good to be true. She had a notebook full of facts. ...
34. Hiking Emma’s Farm—November 2000
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Joe stopped at the newspaper office promptly at three-thirty the next day. Kate was on the phone when he came into the office; she waved a hand at him as she wound up her conversation. ...
35. Abe and the Kittens—May 1880
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Silas and Sophia celebrated Abe’s fourth birthday in February. He was becoming a difficult little one, clearly with a mind of his own and often avoiding direction from either of his parents. ...
36. Quilting Bee—November 1885
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Each winter the neighborhood farm women living on this side of Link Lake gathered on several Saturdays to sew on their quilts. They took turns hosting, moving the quilting bee from farm to farm; this month they worked at Silas and Sophia’s cabin. Although it was a bit small for this sort of activity, ...
37. School Days—October 1886
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Ma, Teacher wants to talk with you,” ten-year-old Abe said as he burst through the cabin door upon arriving home from school. He was in fifth grade. “Got anything to eat?” ...
38. Christmas Program—December 1886
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Sophia told Abe about her meeting with Miss Emerson. She was a bit surprised that he hadn’t asked about it when she returned home. Abe had begun his evening chores without being asked. He carried in stove wood and quietly placed the sticks of split oak in the woodbox. ...
39. Picnic—July 4, 1895
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The years sped by. The Depression of 1893 had its grip on the country, especially in the cities, where many people were out of work. Thousands of urbanites were hungry and near destitute by 1895. As farmers, Sophia, Silas, and Abe always had enough to eat, but they, too, felt the sting of low prices and knew about the terrible problems in the cities. ...
40. Skinny-Dipping—August 1900
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The Starkweather family hadn’t been much for churchgoing. Especially since the passing of the Reverend Increase Joseph Link back in 1893. Sophia had taken a real liking to that strange preacher who always wore black and seemed to gather his inspiration from a red book he always carried with him. ...
41. Abe Farming—May 1901
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The spring sun bore down on Abe Starkweather’s back as he guided the team of Percherons across the newly plowed field where he would plant corn in a few days. A meadowlark sitting on a fence post sang its spring song, its yellow breast reflecting the sunshine of the morning. ...
42. Ole Brothers Circus—July 1902
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One day the following year, in July, the Ole Brothers Circus showed up in Link Lake for two performances, one in the afternoon and one in the evening. The circus moved from town to town by horse-pulled wagons. It was quite a sight to see the circus moving down the road, a string of fifteen circus wagons with an elephant walking in the midst of the entourage. ...
43. New House and Barn—Spring 1903
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Abe heard birds singing outside the bedroom window when he awakened. It was Sunday morning; his head felt like a horse had kicked him. His mouth tasted as if he’d been chewing on horse manure. He rolled over and went back to sleep. Faith, his wife of not yet a year, had been up since dawn, tending to the cattle, ...
44. End of an Era—1905
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Faith continued doing most of the farmwork, and Abe, although he did manage to plow and plant the fields each spring and do some of the harvesting, kept drinking. His problem had gotten worse, if anything. Faith had recently brought up the situation with her mother-in- law. The two of them had become close friends. ...
45. Gravel Pit—1906
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One promise Abe had made to his father was to keep the farm’s many fences in order, replace the posts when they rotted, buy new wire when it became rusty, and put up an entire new stretch when a tree fell on it or a winter storm smashed the fence flat. In April, the year after his father’s death, Abe worked at restoring a stretch of fence ...
46. Merrifield Visits the Farm—November 2000
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As I probably said earlier, I always keep a big pot of coffee going on the woodstove, no matter what season of the year. It gets a little strong by late afternoon, and when that happens, well, I just add a little water and thin it out some. Of course, first thing every morning, before I do any chores, I start a fresh pot. ...
47. How Dry I Am—1919
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For the next few years, Abe Starkweather’s gravel business continued to bring in money, but not at nearly the same pace as earlier. By 1919, all the roads in the area had been thoroughly covered with Starkweather gravel, including the main streets of Link Lake, Willow River, Plainfield, Almond, Pine River, Poysippi, Waupaca, and more. ...
48. What Now?—Summer 1919
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The rest of the summer of 1919, Abe Starkweather crawled out of bed each morning with no direction for the day. His head was clear, and his headaches had disappeared, especially the headache he had every Sunday morning after an all-night drinking bout at the Link Lake Tap. ...
49. Visitors—Summer 1920
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Abe’s former drinking buddies spent the winter discussing his potato beer and how it almost blew off the top of Noah Stringfellow’s head when he tried it. A couple of them also heard about the explosions that went on for more than a month, at all hours of the day and night at the Starkweather place. ...
50. Purified Corn Water—Summer 1920
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Just as they had promised, Bernardo and Little Louie drove into the Starkweather farmyard a week later, an hour or so after dark. This time Abe was waiting for them. During the week, he had cleaned up the mess the exploding potato beer had left in his secret room in the back of the potato cellar, swept up the broken glass, ...
51. Living High on the Hog—Summer 1922
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Two years passed. Money from Abe’s “purified corn water” project poured in, making him and Faith even more money than they made selling gravel. Bernardo had made it clear to Abe, though, that he shouldn’t tell anybody what he was doing. Bernardo said some people wouldn’t understand the importance of purified corn water, ...
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Sophia celebrated her seventy-fifth birthday in early 1925, but her health had been going downhill steadily for the past several years. Abe or Faith looked in on her every day, and Faith’s maid spent part of each day at Sophia’s cabin, preparing her meals and helping keep the place tidy. Sophia refused to move to the “big house,” as she called it. ...
53. Depression, Then War—Summer 1932
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The Depression’s strangling impact moved from the great cities to the countryside. No one escaped. Unemployed men rode the rails, traveling from town to town looking for work and settling for a meal. Scarcely a day went by but that two or three men, people called them tramps, jumped off the Chicago and Northwestern freight train ...
54. School Board Decision—November 2000
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I was baking bread on that cold and rather dreary November day. November days could be like that, not really fall and not winter, either. I always considered November just sort of a “blah” time. The trees had lost their leaves, and a hard frost had killed all the flowers. A good time to do something creative like baking bread— ...
55. Threshing Days—August 1945
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The farmwork continued. These last days before the war ended, it was threshing time and it was the Starkweathers’ turn to host the threshing crew. Somehow Faith had gotten back into the good graces of the neighbors so they at least would help with threshing. Mort Reinert, her husband’s cousin, ran the old Reinert farm with his bachelor sons, Ellsworth and Vernon. ...
56. Postwar—August 1945
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After atomic bombs wrecked havoc on major Japanese cities, World War II ended on August 14, 1945. The Village of Link Lake sponsored a big parade celebrating the war’s end. World War I veterans marched down Main Street, firing their rifles periodically. People lined the streets, waving American flags and cheering. ...
57. Jim Lockwell—August 1946
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Emma soon discovered that operating the farm by herself was more than she could handle, even at age twenty. She fell into bed each night exhausted, only to rise again at five the next morning to do it all over again. ...
58. Fishing—August 1947
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Ayear after Emma hired Jim Lockwell, she still didn’t know much about him. It was obvious he was a hard worker and he seemed to enjoy everything that he did. She remembered hearing him whistling one day when he was cleaning out the chicken house. Shoveling chicken manure is one mean job no matter how you look at it. ...
59. New Year’s Eve—December 31, 1949
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Every New Year’s Eve as far back as Emma could remember folks around Link Lake brought in the New Year at the Lakeside Pavilion, a dance hall located on the shores of the lake and just a half-mile north of town. The wooden building was built during the flapper era of the 1920s and now was beginning to show its age. ...
60. Green Growing Farms—Summer 1960
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The years passed, and the Starkweather farm prospered with Emma and Jim working as a team. But people continued to talk. One Saturday evening, Emma and Jim had been buying groceries at the Link Lake Mercantile and were walking to their car. They had to pass by the Link Lake Tap, and just as they did, ...
61. Holding On—June 1980
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Emma loved the late weeks in May and the early weeks of June. Each year around her birthday (May 15) she looked forward to the lupines; she now had an entire hillside of them leading up to the cemetery on top of the hill above the old cabin. Almost every evening during these first weeks of spring, when the chores were done, ...
62. Longtime Relationship—1986
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Emma tried to ignore the Professor Golightlys of the world, the bankers and loan agencies that encouraged borrowing to buy more land and equipment, the university extension specialists who proclaimed the need for farmers to get big or get out, and the factory farmers who were held up as models for the future. ...
63. Offer—November 2000
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It was a cool, clear, fall morning. Frost covered everything, the dead grass, the dead wildflowers, the barn roof. I walked to the mailbox to fetch the mail as I did every day around eleven. One thing about mailman Bill Swenson, you can set your clock by him. Unless the roads are slippery or it’s Christmastime. ...
64. Secrets—November 2000
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After hearing Kate’s new take on Modern Nature Educators, I couldn’t sleep all night. I didn’t know what to do. I had a chance to sell Blue Shadows Farm at a price way beyond anything I could have hoped for. Didn’t even have to dicker over the amount. If I sold, I would be able to spend the rest of my days living right up there on top of the heap. ...
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Back in 2000 when Emma Starkweather discovered the metal box with her grandfather’s things, she not only learned why he had been digging holes, but she discovered that he had found something else. As his journals revealed, at first he hated farming and had no ambition to continue beyond obtaining clear title to his land. ...
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Page Count: 390
Publication Year: 2009