Diary of Mary Dodge Woodward
In 1882, when I was fifty-six,
too old to be following my children West,
I went with them to homestead in Dakota territory.
I went with them to Fargo with my old rose geranium
brought, to remind me of home, from Kingston, Wisconsin,
the town in which I raised these children and buried my husband
so long, it seems, ago, so many seasons past.
Here in Fargo we count the years not in days
or months, but in the seasons and their extremes of weather.
In April, seeding is in full swing.
Past springs, men waded
with rubber boots through mud and water.
Now dust coats their faces,
and the wind blows without cease,
and the dust flies in great clouds.
The boys went out about noon,
but could not endure it and came back in,
their eyes nearly put out.
The house, tight though it may be
fills with black dust; the sills piled.
I swept a dustpan full, upstairs.
Dust is even in the closets,
although they have no windows.
Our faces turn black inside the house.
In May the wheat rises out of the ground.
A bright yellow flower blooms with violets
in great numbers, some nearly pink.
In June terrific thunder and wind. The boys
said the granary roof fairly wiggled.
Plows were blown out of the furrows. The wind
has torn my pansies all to pieces; leaves
on trees hang in ribbons. Afterward,
a hard frost left the ground white.
July and a fearful storm,
The sky black as ink.
Then rain, wind, thunder
and lightning. The wind laid flat
everything in the garden.
I watched a brood of chickens
I had taken pains
to raise. The hen, too far
from the barn to get back in,
took the chicks under
her wing, but all were blown
hard against the barn and killed.
In August, harvest time. Now no rest
for man, woman, or beast until the frost,
which comes, thank heaven, early here.
I got dinner for thirteen men and baked
seventeen loaves of bread today.
Since last Sunday seventy-four loaves
not to mention twenty-one pies.
And puddings and cakes and doughnuts.
How beautiful the wheat fields look—
long avenues between the shocks,
and just as straight, one mile in length.
The feathery plumes of goldenrod grow
everywhere, reminding me of home.
This morning one of the boys said,
This is a God-forsaken country.
Not with the whole of Cass county
covered with number one hard wheat,
not with the wayside all abloom
with goldenrod and asters. My writing
resembles feather stitching and French knots.
This December we've had more snow
than any time last winter.
Elsie and Lena Lessing are hauling wood
with a four-horse team.
Elsie stands and touches up the leaders
with her whip like any man.
Those two have done almost all the work
on their farm this past season:
the plowing, seeding, harvesting. I cannot
understand how any
woman can do the work they do,
yet it is plain they can, they do.
In January the new year finds us
still here, the same but older,
sometimes lonesome, but not unhappy.
Forty-two below this morning;
our mercury will go no lower.
My frozen finger bothers me.
It is peeling, stiff, and cold,
but all I have to do at present
is feed my small family.
The boys are busy daily caring
for sixteen horses, the cow that gives
milk, the fifty hens and six
hogs, besides bringing in
wood and coal for the stove.
Walter went to Fargo because
our groceries were getting short.
I was afraid he would freeze, for the wind
was blowing, and in winter any Dakotan
knows what that means: to be lost
in blown snow can mean death.
Walter wore two fur coats,
one astrakhan and one buffalo,
besides his under coat. The last
hour he was out was hard for me.
I thought he would surely perish,
but he arrived safely home
at last with a good bag of mail,
The Daily Sun from Fargo,
and Scribner's Monthly to read.
February. People call this
the hardest winter for seven years...