making mittens from sheep


My people have grown deep roots in Idaho, intimately tied to the earth and the seasons.  

We spent this last week sleeping and eating in the home that my great-great-grandmother built and that both my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother were raised in.  Now my cousin and his wife are raising their daughters in the heirloom ranch house surrounded by a sea of golden grass under the shadow of Caribou Mountain.  Generations.

I love that valley.  More populated by cattle than people.  Where wi-fi and cell service are sporadic at best. Where the grandfathers and grandmothers tell their stories and we all laugh and cry.  And where, when you fall down and bloody your knee you get back up and try again.  This is a land where tenacity grows.

Decades and decades ago my great-great-grandmother was pregnant and widowed with 7 young children to care for.  How this all happened is another story but the part of the story that I'm in awe of is the part my grandfather told me last week.

My great-great-grandmother had no family or relatives to rely on  She had been disowned for following her heart.  As a girl, she was raised in Switzerland and came to the U.S. when she was 18.  After the loss of her husband, she decided to sell her home and the land around it.  The cash she earned was used to buy the land where the little ranch house swimming in a sea of golden grass now sits.  I rinsed dishes in the same kitchen where she boiled water and cooked. She bought a few cattle and sheep.  She worked in the field.  She dug in the garden. She gathered wool from sheep who had died, washed it, prepared it, spun it into wool and made mittens and sweaters for her 8 kids! Can you make mittens from a dead sheep??  I can't!

She grew her cattle and sheep herd, bought more land and more land.  In her old age she split the land between her children. And her children split the land between their children and so on until today where my daughter and her cousins drive the ranger and mow down thistles in the same fields where this great woman worked.

I have her blood.  She is my great-great-grandmother of tenacity.