Minnesota fever

(Impressions from the memoirs of Sarah Leonard Cole, 1871) The piano is sold, the wagon filled With all we own. Wisconsin is behind Us now in the tall grasses of April.

Our little French pony seems not to mind Ducks and hens, the cows' meditative pace. We camp where trees sway and the stars are kind.

With my apron I cover baby's face, For the mosquitoes are anxious to feed. The Pomme de Terre is banked with Queen Anne's lace.

One keg soap; bushel of early-rose seed; Thirty-five yards of rag rug; butter churn; Wedding chest. An answer for every need.

With Minnesota fever our hearts burn. We'll fish, plant, gather as the seasons turn. What the prairie will teach us we can learn.

Recipe for butter Set out pans beside the wagon, Cover milk against the night. Dawn reveals a yellow layer Pulled to the top by lunar light.

Pour off cream into the churn, Anchor it in the wagon's front. Harvest the fruits of a rough ride - Butterballs big as hazelnuts.

I've often read what my great-grandmother Sarah Cole titled ``Carving a Home Out of the Wilderness.''

In 1871, the trip by prairie schooner from Wisconsin's Lemonweir Valley to western Minnesota was a journey of exploration. Sarah's father wanted to ``put a stop to such foolishness'' - going off to face Indians and hardships.

``But,'' wrote Sarah, ``we had the Minnesota fever hard; go we would, and go we did.'' She, her baby, and her husband packed up to join her husband's relatives on the trip West. The entourage included three covered wagons and a herd of cattle.

She also wrote about waiting for the men to return from rounding up the cattle: ``I would sit by our camp-fire with a big denim apron with which I shielded the baby from the mosquitoes (and I could not see the stars only as the wind swayed the tree-tops) listening for the tinkle of our cow-bell. I often sat alone this way until late, really enjoying the wildness of it and peeping at the stars for company.''

For ``Minnesota Fever'' I chose a definite rhyme scheme to represent the continuity of the journey. Sarah seemed confident in the success of their venture. I felt something secure and reassuring about lines of equal length, so each line has ten syllables.

``We had plenty of milk all along,'' Sarah also wrote, ``and while on the road set it in pans on the ground at night, each covered with another pan. In the morning I would pour off the cream into a five-gallon churn which we found room for in the front corner of our wagon, and during the day it churned itself into little balls the size of hazel-nuts, so we had nice butter too. We had an old-fashioned tin baking oven, and could bake delicious biscuits by our camp fire.''

In ``Recipe for Butter,'' I used a four-line x, a, x, a pattern found in ballad stanzas. However, the meter and beats per line are not balladlike. I was mainly concerned with a four-line rhyme, thinking a recipe would be easy to memorize if it rhymed.

I'm working on more poems about my great-grandmother and hoping to explore new patterns in the territory of poetry.

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