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Said and Done

To hell in a handbasket? ... why not?

The character who coined the expression “going to hell in a hand-basket” probably thought of himself as a clever fellow, a linguistic tap-dancer. All we can say is that if hell was his preoccupation, we hope his basket was a single seater.

Let’s face it. Given a choice of up or down most of us would step nimbly onto the nearest escalator. We seek pearly gates. Down may be populated, but it’s not popular. Swing low, sweet chariot. Up — up — away!

Hell is a hell of a nation. That clod with his handbasket can have it. Here is an anecdotal antidote to counter this chap’s doleful turn-of-speech and put us in a right mind. A hand-basket is part and parcel of this true tale.

Almsted was a member of our ship’s crew. He was a Salt Lake City Mormon, a third generation Norwegian-American whose grandfather had tried valiantly but unsuccessfully to homestead a patch of land in Canada. Short summers and long winters taught him the folly of rosy dreams, and eventually drove him south to more hospitable climes.

Grandfather Almsted came away from Canada empty-handed except for an unlimited supply of stories — which his grandson knew by heart, and liked to tell us in the course of a nighttime mid-watch.

North of Parallel 54, Canada is a lace-work of streams and rivers. The French coureur-de-bois used these waterways as canoe routes in summer and snowshoe roads in winter. Almstead’s grandfather tried trapping and farming in season, but unlike the early French who’d been able to make something of their efforts, he didn’t strike it rich.

On a bright winter day he had built a fire on the shore of a frozen river, making camp for a noon meal and a pot of tea, when his bivouacking was interrupted by a strange sound and in due time a strange sight.

A Russian immigrant had established a ranch in a clearing he had grubbed out of the unwilling woods, and when the river was hard with ice, used it as his road for getting stock in and out of his place — something he could not do in spring and summer when swamps and insects made overland trekking practically impossible.

A bellowing and barking and yelling indicated that Almstead was not alone on the river. Soon around the bend that had hidden it, a strange team came into view. In the lead a big red dog was doing its best to escape a big red bull trying to overtake and trample the dog that was harnessed to it. The bellowing of the bull and the barking of the dog were matched by the shouting of the Russian teamster who sat perched on a pile of duffel in a sort of low sleigh that the unmatched team of dog and bull were hauling forward hell-bent for election.

Almsted’s grandfather had the impression of a rusty red blue of motion and sound passing him by at quick time. The oddest part of this conglomerate was a wicker basket fastened somehow on top of it all, a basket from which a red rooster had stuck out its head and neck, crowing lustily to add to the general din and flash of the passing phenomenon.

Before the upriver trip was completed bull and dog became friends, sober harness-mates that went quietly about their labors, drawing farmer and rooster eventually to the haven that was their goal.

The moral in this story is clear. In the sight of our Creator you are surely of far greater value than a crowing Rhode Island red. And — if a red rooster can get to heaven in a basket — be of good cheer! Why not you?

In semi-retirement after 58 years of writing for The Recorder, Paul Seamans of Gill will continue Said & Done on a regular monthly basis. Some of his columns have been previously published.

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