Pineapple, poetry and Grampa’s Log

Posted on April 5, 2010


Think of this as a little spring concerto
played on bongos
accompanied by the first
and perhaps the last
of the Dutchmen’s breeches

. . .

Part I, written on Sunday, in which Pineapple appears

I’m invited out to dinner.  My contribution is in the oven, and a little glass of pineapple juice is at my side.  Aha, you are thinking, another post in the continuing saga of pineapple casserole.  You are right.

Today, in honor of spring and new resolve, I decided to try a slightly healthier version.  I cubed 12-grain bread and cut the sugar in half.  (I, um, left the butter alone.  I was raised in Wisconsin.)  I’ll let you know how it turns out.  The Cowboy says it smells good.  Miss Sadie, a wise terrier, says it smells like I’m going out somewhere nice and leaving them behind again.

Part II, in which poetry is committed

Since I can’t get them out of my head anyway, I’m taking my Civil War veterans out for the evening.  We are going to Elk Rapids on Friday to hear Jim Ribby, the Bard of Rapid City, present An American Iliad.   Jim is a fine performance poet and I’ve enjoyed his work at Stone Circle and other venues for a long time.  He’s also a member of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, and a Civil War re-enactor, and gave me some good leads when I began the research that has so obsessed me.  Jim has committed some 250 poems to memory, and keeps adding new ones.  (A couple years ago he learned some Inuit poems and hunting chants for a presentation at the Dennos Museum.  They are among the most powerful and haunting works in his repertoire.)

On Friday he’ll be doing pieces that tell the story of the American Civil War from Sumter to Appomatox.  Some will make you laugh, some will take your breath away, and some will make you think.  The evening, sponsored by the Elk Rapids Area Historical Society, will include appearances by reenactors and exhibits of military equipment from the era.  That brings me to . . .

Part III, in which the mystery of Grampa’s Log is solved.  Or not.

For months now Katy Newman has been telling me she’s going to bring Grampa’s Log out so that I can see it.  Family lore says that her great-grandfather (a veteran of Co. H, 101st Ohio Infantry) carted the log home after the Civil War.  The way he told it, when all hell broke loose, he ducked behind a tree.  Its branches absorbed the flying death, and Silas B. Anway came home with a chunk of the blessed shelter as a reminder.  Here it is: 

It’s shocking to see that metal embedded in the wood.  My elementary school teachers told us that the trees on Civil War battlefields were filled with shrapnel.  Some of those trees were still living when I was a child, 90 years after the battles, still carrying their burden.

I looked at S.B. Anway’s souvenir of his war, and I did not doubt its authenticity. He served the Union from August, 1862 to June, 1865. His regiment fought at Perryville, Stone River, and Chickamauga, and followed Sherman on the Atlanta campaign. He had more than his share of opportunities to duck. But I can’t imagine a soldier stopping to whack off a heavy chunk of wood, let alone carrying it with him for two years of hard fighting and long marches.  Besides, look at the bark.  It has burled around the embedded material, scabbing over the scars, forming a gnarled new skin.

I think this is what happened. Family lore says, and the Census of 1880 confirms, that S.B. took off on a long trip in 1879, leaving the wife and kiddies behind. We know he went to Colorado. I think he may have made a little detour, either on the way out or the way back—a trip down memory lane. I think he may have visited one of the battlefields where he had fought a dozen years before, perhaps even making his way back to Chickamauga.

I can see him searching through an overgrown pasture for the spot where he was when the firing began. There, over there, is where the Confederates poured onto the field. I can see him deciding this was the place where he ducked, firing blindly. Here is the sheltering tree. I can see him looking at the dead limb, remembering its shape, touching the rusted iron fragments. I can see him cutting that limb off and bearing it home with him.  

I don’t know what happened during that trip. Whatever it was, Silas B. Anway came home in 1880 a new man. He bought 160 acres of land in Antrim County and moved his family here. He became a sober public official. He helped to found George Martin Post 227 of the GAR in Eastport. He worked and prospered and worked some more. 130 years later his family still owns the farm on the ridge overlooking Grand Traverse Bay.  There was his log, lying on his great-granddaughter’s dining table, gleaming in the late afternoon sun.  Outside the horses whicker to each other in the paddock.  The good farmland stretches east over the ridge, ready to be turned and planted.  And a new baby was born this spring, a fifth generation to love this place.

I’ve only imagined how Grampa’s Log came to Antrim County.  Maybe it wasn’t that way at all.  But it might have been.  I went looking for confirmation of the stories my teachers told back in the 1950s and found these: 

  • An auction site had this entry, with a photo of a mounted log not unlike S.B.’s: “BATTLE OF CHICKAMAUGA” CONFEDERATE WAR LOG, CUT FROM TREE ca 1863. This very unusual item from the Battle of Chickamauga (Sept. 19-21, 1863), was cut from tree on battlefield. It was on the Union side of battlefield as the shrapnel is all Confederate. There are three bullets, large piece of Confederate Reed Shell, spherical case shrapnel, lead Sabot, Hotchkiss shrapnel & Confederate polygonal break shrapnel mounted on base of this War log. Measures 57″ x 12″ (bottom of base) and mounted on 20.75″ x 20.75″ base. Has a polyurethane finish.
  • The Army of Tennessee Civil War Art and Artifacts shop has a War Log on display that is not for sale.  The catalog entry says:  MS 25. Lookout Mountain War Log.  Battlefield souvenir cut down in the 1880’s by veterans or profiteers to sell to veterans and tourists. This one is simply loaded with shrapnel and a complete Confederate 6 lb. shot or shell. There are fragments from 12 lb. shells, Parrott shells and two Grape shot embedded in the tree. This tree stood in the middle of a veritable storm of shot and shell and who knows what is inside of it. I might have one of my Doctor friends X-Ray it. Check out the engraved brass tag. I can not say for sure, but this log could have been cut at Chickamauga considering the abundance of shrapnel. The log stands 48″ tall. Now this is real piece of American history, and you should drop by the shop to check it out. NFS.