Thursday, June 22, 2017



    I've always been a big proponent of going with the flow, seeing where things lead in whatever situations we invent for ourselves. At first look this may seem passive and maybe even a little lazy in a world that can swallow you up while you are gazing at the clear, blue sky, as the boat drifts down river, picking up speed. Do you hear that? Nobody said anything about a waterfall.....
  FANCESTOR has become such a ride. I left miles up river and now am paddling furiously through whitewater and submerged snags, ready to pull me under around every curve. Nobody could've even attempted this trip down river until recently. Without the help of my guides Google and Wikipedia, the bateau would've bottomed out- water too low. But now conditions are prime, my paddling skills have improved, and I can sense the  subtle changes in the river's fabric just by the sun on the back of my neck and the taste of the spray on my parched lips. Every Osterhout  I can dig up or find floating just below the surface, I grab by the scruff of the neck and muscle into the boat. A little CPR and they spit out their stories.
     It's taken me ten months, and 201 pages to get to the "massacre" at Andrustown on July 18, 1778. I know that's not very far down river, but I've sprung some leaks and made a few wrong turns only to scape bottom and grind to a halt. The Osterhouts are listed amongst the seven families memorialized on a plaque just down the road from the Russian Orthodox Monastery that now sits where the scalpings and kidnapping took place in July '78. But it's not Andrustown that I want to tell you about. Two days ago I discovered Mildred Osterhout Fahrni six pages down a rocky, small set of rapids. Never heard of her? That's not surprising. She's Canadian.
    Born the same year as my grandfather, Wray Osterhout, in 1900, as a young idealistic teacher the 18 year old Mildred taught the Doukhobors, hung out with Mahatma Gandhi and sang hymns with Dr. Martin Luther King, living a long and interesting life, dying in 1992. Not all Osterhouts were chain smoking shitbirds, boring farmers or Calico Indians. I'll let Mildred take the stern and sit back as she steers and determines where the bateau travels.
     The Doukhobors were a Russian cult expelled from the motherland in the late 19th century. Canada took in 8000 of them  around 1900 and by 1918 they'd become an embarrassment to Canada. The Doukhobors were nothing if not complex. Loosely translated as "Warriors for Christ" they did not believe in the institutional church, education, modernity, the industrial revolution or war. And these radical pacifists, when faced with conscription into the Canadian military during WWI, protested in their own unique way. They gathered at a predetermined spot, stripped out of their clothes and marched through town and the Manitoba countryside. If anyone disagreed with them they burned their barn. Arson was extreme but not violent. I'm not certain Gandhi would agree.  The Canadians reacted by rounding up all the Doukhobor children and attempted to "civilize" them.  Mildred O. Fahrni was hired to assimilate them and convince them to keep their clothes on. It had the opposite effect. Mildred didn't convert the children. Instead she became their advocate.
   I thanked Mildred for her piloting skills and took back the paddle. With a few clicks I had discovered just how Mildred came to walk with Gandhi. Her uncle was the obscure (but equally fascinating) missionary Dr. S.S. Osterhout. His father was......and within a matter of minutes I was back in NY in 1778 paddling furiously upstream in the swollen Mohawk River, following one of Butler's Rangers. In this bateau sits Walter Butler, Joseph Brant, John Cornplanter, Governor Blacksnake and Mildred's great, great, great.....grandfather William Osterhout. This is how the Osterhouts got to Canada and marched (naked?) with the Doukhobors. William Osterhout, unlike all the other kin I've come across, fought with the British. After the Revolution he was granted a 500 acre tract of land near Toronto. Google "Osterhout cabin." William's homestead still exists, listed as "one of the oldest" structures in Toronto, if not all of Canada. The only reason it's still there is because an artist colony known as The Guild, devoted to saving endangered historic architecture bought the property and then........I look up and spy all these beautiful, naked, flower strewn people wallowing in a mud puddle. It's the longest day of the year at GNJohn's. Happy solstice.