Weather… or not

Chapter 27

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I’m sure that you’ve noticed that the Miller County Ledger is a day early this week, tomorrow being the traditional Thanksgiving Day. Next week’s column will be appropriately longer to make up for the local news you are missing this week. Here are a few things happening around town, though.

Acting on a suggestion from a reader, beginning with this column I’ll be posting a forecast of the coming week’s weather in and around Walnut Shade, this being in the tradition of previous columnists who, I gather, relied heavily on the “Old Farmer’s Almanac,” the agricultural agent at the Extension office and assorted bunions and arthritic joints. My go-to source, on the other had, will mainly be the National Weather Service. Please be sure to carry an umbrella at all times and wear your mittens.

Forecast for 11/27 to 12/3/2011: the highs for the week will be in the mid 40s and the lows will be around 22. Less than .2” of precipitation is probable, so don’t expect to see snow on the ground any time soon.

The annual Harvest Dinner will be held at the Elementary School gym tomorrow. As noted before, Harry Singleton and Jason Glenn will be providing the entrees (traditional turkey, ham, vegetarian and vegan) and drinks. Please bring your family’s place settings and your assigned appetizer, salad, side dish or dessert. Dinner begins promptly at 2:30 p.m.

Al and Carol Higgs’ son, Rusty, was in town for Sunday dinner. Al says that Rusty has opened his salt manufacturing plant in Olathe and he hopes to have his product on kitchen tables by next May.

The Prairie View Extension Club met on Monday and finished planning for their “Christmas with Santa” fundraiser. Always lots of cookies and fudge to buy, gingerbread houses for the kids to make and photos with that “merry old elf.” Look for details in the Ledger after December 1.

Dorothy Westover reminds everyone that she’s still collecting recipes for the “Erin Go Bragh” cookbook. Dorothy suggests writing down the directions for all those Harvest Dinner dishes you prepare and send them to her at her new email address:

Jeff Barnett called from Maui where he and Eddy have been vacationing the last two weeks. He managed to get a ticket to see KU beat Georgetown in the Maui Invitational on Monday; Eddy declined to attend, being a loyal Mizzou alum. KU played Duke last night and won 68 to 61. Jeff has tickets for next week’s big KU-Mizzou football game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. Last we heard, Eddy and Stephanie are also going to be attending, cheering on the Tigers.

Inez Harris’ nephew, Harry and his wife Pamela, visited on Saturday from Marysville.
On Sunday, Lori Mendenhall had a visit from her sister and brother-in-law, the Marks from McDougal.

Eddie and Glenda Singleton, Hannah, Lauren and Emily, will be in Manhattan over the weekend, visiting with cousin Charles, wife Jennifer and daughters Rachel and Jessica. Eddie and Charles have tickets to the December 3rd football game with Iowa State, so Eddie will be going back then. Chances are the rest of the family will be tagging along to the Little Apple.

Me, right now I have no travel plans; I’ll probably just eat an apple, so…

Until next week, I remain…
Your Faithful Correspondent

On Sunday, I got a call from Miss Cecelia Davenport who had noticed that there had been no weather forecast in my weekly column since… well, there has never been a weather forecast in my weekly column. Frankly, I didn’t realize it was expected. No one else seems to have noticed, or perhaps they just haven’t had the inclination to let me know. It has been six months since I began this endeavor, so it may be that they were just giving me a little time to get my feet on the ground, as it were. Miss Cecelia, apparently, decided that my time was up and suggested that I begin including one. Now, I’m certainly not a meteorologist (I can barely spell meteorology without my word processor’s spell check screaming at me), nor do I personally know a meteorologist. The closest I come to that is Billy Thornton who, the minute he walks into Shirley’s in the morning, promptly gives the temperature, wind speed and direction, and barometer reading, he having invested in a “weather station” at Walmart a couple of years ago.

“Best thing I ever bought there,” Billy said. “Well, maybe that case of Tums comes close. Did you hear that, Shirley?”

“Have I ever asked you eat here?” Shirley yelled from behind the counter. “You probably get that gas from the venison jerky you also buy by the case at the Stop and Go.”

After the culinary repartee died down, I reflected on the fact that Miss Cecelia’s suggestion that I start predicting the weather fell into the same category as Miss Cecelia’s “suggestion” that the Town Council pass a noise ordinance after the July 4th car show in 1997 devolved into a nearly all-night episode of engine revving and horn honking. Or her “suggestion” that the commissioners proclaim December 1 to be “Mary Elizabeth Lease Day” in Miller County, that being the day in 1891 that the aforementioned Mrs. Lease stood before the members of the Agricultural and Mechanical Association gathered in the courthouse in Fremont and declared that they should “raise less corn and more hell.” At the time, Miller County was one of the few parts of eastern Kansas that grew almost no corn, our principle crops being apples, peaches and a bit of wheat, but the phrase struck a chord with the farmers attending the forum that day. Likewise, the newspaper reporters who had been following Mary Elizabeth Lease around the state picked up on it and began inserting it into the accounts they gave of her exploits. A crusader for woman’s suffrage, prohibition, evolution, and birth control, as well as an agitator against big business and the railroads, she became a regular guest in the home of Miss Cecelia’s grandmother and grandfather.  Miss Cecelia must have picked up her strong progressive streak from those grandparents because she has always promoted equality and justice, and the notion that community is more than just the place where you live.

Around Walnut Shade, when Miss Cecelia “suggests” something, most everyone listens very closely and acts on her suggestion. Hence, when she suggested that I include a weather forecast in my column, I knew that it would be a good thing to do, for me and for the town.


Al Higgs stopped by Shirley’s for breakfast on Tuesday and we got to talking about serendipity. Actually, we were talking about weird, unexpected, funny things that happen, like how a dime can roll across the floor and into a crack in the wall, a feat you couldn’t accomplish no matter how many times you tried. Well, I guess that’s sort of the definition of serendipity, isn’t it?

Al thinks his son Rusty’s new business is the result of serendipity.

Rusty Higgs was always the kid in school who asked “Why?”

“Why is the boiling point of water 212 degrees? Why not 213?”

“Why do Monarch butterflies know which trees to migrate to every year?”

“Why do we have two kidneys and only one liver?”

“Why do left-handed females live ten year longer than left-handed males, but right-handed females live only five year longer than right-handed males?”

His seemingly endless curiosity enabled him to win a full scholarship to Stanford where he eventually earned a PhD in biomolecular chemistry and job offers from companies all over the world. After working for a number of agricultural producers in the U.S., Argentina, Korea and Germany, he had one of those “Aha!” moments that led him to started his own company here in Kansas.

As Al tells it, here is what happened: Rusty was spending a couple of weeks of vacation in the U.S. on his way to Thailand to interview for a job with a multinational corporation researching ways to alter the DNA of rice to double the yield and increase its nutritional properties. He was having lunch with Al and Carol and talking about his last health checkup.

“His company doctor said that he needed to decrease his salt intake and increase his physical activity, both of which are hard for Rusty to do with his crazy work and travel schedule. I remember he was sitting there with the salt shaker in his hand, about to put some on his BLT when he had that look on his face that he always got as a kid when he knew the answer to a problem he was working on. He said, ‘Dad, why is salt white? It would be a lot easier to see how much you are putting on some of the food you eat if it were red or blue or green. How about green salt on mashed potatoes? You’d know exactly how much you were using.’

“I said, ‘I don’t know whether green salt on mashed potatoes would be all that appetizing.’”

“‘How about if it changed back to white after a couple of seconds? Just enough time for you to see how much you put on? Like those glue sticks that start out pink and then become invisible as they dry.’

“I told him that I thought that might work, but at the time, I thought it was just another one of his off-the-wall ideas. Well, as usual, he proved me wrong.”

Within six months, Rusty had patented his idea: a chemical process to allow salt to start out one color, depending on the food it is used on, and become invisible as it is incorporated into foods. He was able to secured start-up funds to open a plant to manufacture his product and he and his family have moved back to Kansas from Germany where they have been living. “Chameleon Salt” will be on the shelves soon and we’ll all know precisely what we are putting on our food. I know that Rusty has done some product research to determine how customers will react to the colored salt varieties, but I wonder over time if the novelty will increase or decrease salt use. Will “pretty” salt help us use less or entice us to use more?


Tom Clemons stopped by to tell me that he and Michelle had a call from Darren Timms, one of the film makers who had stayed with them back in July. Darren and his partner, Emily Bishop-Ross, are producing a documentary for Australian TV about the Oregon Trail. They had intended to be back in Miller County in October, but were delayed in Idaho in September when a van carrying their film equipment was stolen. It was recovered a couple of weeks later in Utah with everything intact, but those two weeks caused a very difficult interruption in their schedule. Tom said that they would be back in Miller County around Christmas doing interviews with descendants of some of the families who decided to make this area their home rather than continuing the long journey to the west coast.

As I’ve previously written, the Oregon Trail was the reason for Walnut Shade’s creation. If it hadn’t been for the need for repairs to the wagons coming from Independence and other parts just north, east and south of there, many of our founding families might have gone as far west as… Westmoreland or Marysville! As it has turned out, we have been fortunate that they early travelers decided to put down roots here and to let their friends back in Indiana, Ohio, New York, and Massachusetts know about this part of the country.

A central part of the documentary will weave in the research that Hal Dane has done on the wagons that made the trips west. Hal defended his dissertation a couple of weeks ago and will be graduating from the University of Nebraska on December 16th. Timms and Bishop-Ross interviewed Hal when they were here in August and segments of the interview are to be include in the documentary, according to Rodney, Hal’s grandfather. It looks like Walnut Shade will have another celebrity in the “family” when the documentary is completed.


On Saturday, Pat and Alice McManus’ puppy, Roxy, completed her training to be a therapy dog. The training was conducted by the Delta Society and co-sponsored by the Miller County Extension Council. So far, eight dogs have passed the course and they are visiting the hospital in Fillmore, Walnut Rest here, the six Miller County elementary schools, and Dr. Gilmore’s clinic in Willow Springs. Pat and Alice are excited for Roxy to be joining the “pack,” as it were.

Roxy, interestingly, has turned out to be a surprise puppy, not only because she learned her duties so quickly, but because she isn’t the medium-sized terrier the McManus’ (and Dr. Cramer) thought she would be. Apparently, she’s got a lot of Wheaten Terrier as well as golden lab (and probably a few other things) in her. Right now, she weighs 75 pounds and Pat isn’t sure she’s finished growing.

“When we adopted her in August, she was about seven months old and severely malnourished and small. She weighted twenty-two pounds. Dr. Cramer said that when Jane Combs brought them to him the last day of June, Roxy and her three brothers and sister each weighed around twelve pounds. They quickly gained some weight in the month with him, but she’s been eating like a horse ever since we got her,” Pat told me the other day when Jerry and I met him while he was walking Roxy.

“Dr. Cramer thinks her growth spurt is about to end, but I’m not so sure. Her size makes her a wonderful therapy dog, though. During the training, we noticed that the kids loved to snuggle up with her on the floor and she’s a good height when she stands by the beds at the hospital. We are going to be visiting Miller County General every Saturday morning beginning the week before Christmas and will start going to the schools after the first of the year.”

As Roxy and Pat continued on their way, I asked Jerry if he thought he’d like to become a therapy dog and he told me he had all he could handle keeping Judy and me on an even keel. I’m sure that’s true; we do tend to lead very hectic lives. Well, at least that’s the case with Judy and her Extension responsibilities. For me, I tend to live vicariously through the folks here in Walnut Shade and except for the Gilbert twins and the regulars at breakfast at Shirley’s, no one seems to raise their blood pressure much above 70 over 120. Of course when Rusty Higgs’ salt starts hitting the shelves, we may all need to spend some time snuggling with Roxy.

About stclairc

Abstract artist, photographer, writer
This entry was posted in Natural world, Observations, Serendipity, Small Town Life, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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