Larry Verstraete – Author, Educator & Travel Enthusiast

In Search of Barolo

We came to Turin, Italy, in good part to find Barolo, a small village about an hour’s drive away.  

Barolo is a picturesque place, full of history, impressive medieval structures, and an exclusive product known the world over – .  Barolo, the deep red wine that bears the village’s name.

We’d been to Barolo five years before, and we remembered it fondly.  The village is quaint and normally filled with tourists. Many tour in groups, or like these cyclists from Canada and the U.S., ride from town to town, enjoying the scenery and the challenge of navigating the hills and cobblestone streets that connect them.   In September, when we visited this time, the busy season had pretty much ended.  The streets were quiet, but the shops were still open.

The village of Barolo has many wine shops that offer tastings of the region’s wines, but Jo & I set our sights on Damilano’s, the winery we had visited on our first trip to Italy.  We had such a good time then and had learned so much about wine making that we deemed a repeat visit necessary.

We hoped that Marcella, the gracious and knowledgeable host we had before would still be there.  Lucky us.  She was.

Marcella studied wine chemistry in London. Her understanding of wine dynamics was obvious. Prompted by our many questions, she educated us and our palettes, once again. She poured generous servings of several Damilano wines, then briefed us on the individual personalities of each one.

Under Marcella’s watch, we learned a few things about wine chemistry and Barolo wine production:

  • Only wine produced from grapes grown on the hills around the village can bear the name Barolo.  Purchase a bottle of Barolo anywhere in the world and you can be assured the wine was produced here.
  • The soil around Barolo is heavy in clay.  Grapes grown here have unique qualities that contribute to Barolo’s one-of-a-kind taste.
  • Every hill around the village offers something different – different chemicals in the soil, different exposure to the sun.  Wine produced from grapes on adjoining hills, or sometimes even on different sides of the same hill, will differ in taste and quality from each other.
  • Barolo wine sits in oak casks for 3 years before being bottled.  Pull a Barolo off a shelf in a wine shop, and you know it is at least that old and probably even older.
  • Properly stored and aged, Barolo matures over time.  Give it another 5, 10, 20 or more years, and the tannins diminish, bringing the true taste and quality forward.
Grape crusher at work along the streets of Barolo

We spent an hour and a half at Damilano’s.  We worked our way from Lange, the least expensive but still wonderful variety produced by Damilano, to Liste, its most expensive and full-bodied Barolo.  We left happy, a bottle tucked under my arm that will be ready to open in 5 years, just in time to celebrate a certain someone’s landmark birthday.

Our next stop wasn’t far away – next door, at a charming restaurant serving the most delicious pasta, made fresh the Italian way.

Treasure Hunt in the Museum

We came to the British Museum with a purpose in mind.  In hindsight, it was probably a good thing that our focus was narrow because the British Museum is a rambling place, filled with thousands of antiquities.  Our Frommer’s Easyguide to London gave this saucy description: “If you don’t know what to look for, the Museum will be a stupefying series of rooms notable mostly for the zombified tourists staggering through them.”

In that respect, the guide was right.  Dazed tourists, numbed and overwhelmed, were everywhere.  But Jo and I came with a list of items to track down.  All we had to do was find them.

I’ve had a life-long interest in treasure.  Writing Lost Treasures: True Stories of Discovery and Mysteries of Time gave me the opportunity to delve into the subject.  Several items from the books were on display at the Museum.  This was my chance to see them,

The Rosetta Stone

Truly a marvel.  It was discovered in 1799 by Napoleon’s soldiers as they set about demolishing a walled fortress near Rosetta, Egypt.  Until then, no one knew how to interpret hieroglyphics, but the stone was coded in three languages – one of them hieroglyphics – all delivering the same message.  By comparing the hieroglyphic message with the two other known languages, Frenchman Jean-Francois Champollion cracked the code and unleash thousands of years of previously lost Egyptian history.

Mildenhall Treasure

Discovered by Gordon Butcher in 1938 as he plowed a field in Mildenhall, England, the Mildenhall Treasure yielded a vast array of objects – dishes, bowls, goblets, spoons, ladles and coins.  The treasure dates to 400 A.D. and was likely buried by a wealthy Roman family to hide it from invading armies.  It is the single most valuable find of Roman silver ever located in Britain.

Sutton Hoo

In 1939, archeologists probed earthen mounds on the property of Edith Pretty, near the estate of Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, England.  Deep beneath the soil, they discovered an immense burial site likely of Viking origin. Among the goodies: the remains of a boat over 8 metres long, gold jewellery, gem encrusted swords and scepters, silver bowls, dishes and spoons, a gold purse containing twenty-seven gold coins, and helmets like the one shown above.

The Hoxne Hoard

The Hoxne Hoard was found in 1992 by Eric Lawes who was using a metal detector to find a hammer in a field near Hoxne, England,  In all, the Roman treasure yielded 14,780 coins as well as assorted jewellery, pepper pots, ladles, silver toothpicks and silver spoons.  Historians believe that the treasure was hidden in the ground around 400 AD by a wealthy Roman family during a time of war.

Traveling on the Heels of Terrorism

Jo & I at Buckingham Palace, the day of the Parsons Green attack. We didn’t know then the severity of the problem.

My wife, Jo, and I were in London when the latest terrorist attack occurred.  We heard the news on BBC television around 8:45 am, just a few minutes before we were planning to head out of our hotel to catch the subway to Buckingham Palace. The announcer couched the news in gentle terms: “There’s been a security breach at the Parsons Green Station.”

It sounded mild, just a precautionary note, not much more.  Besides we were catching a different line at the High Street Kensington Station – not the one running a few stops away at Parsons Green.  What’s to worry about?  So we ventured out anyways.

Throughout the day, we heard little more about the incident other than a few brief announcements at various subways stops directing commuters to find alternate routes and avoid Parsons Green. Only later that evening when we were watching TV, did we hear the full report.  This was a terrorist act.  A bomb with a timing device had gone off a bit too early to do its intended damage.  Nevertheless, it injured 30 people, one a 6-year-old school boy.

Security was tight at 10 Downing Street

Even though this was the 4th terrorist attack in the London region this year, It seemed to us that most Londoners took the news in stride.  They went about their business like usual.  We heard no discussion on the street, but at every venue, security was obvious.

Although we have our share of violent activity in Canada, fortunately we’ve had nothing of this scale or frequency.  Mass attacks are rare.  As tourists, we tried to adopt a life-goes-on attitude, but we became fundamentally different travelers in the days that followed.

We no longer took our safety for granted.  We became more aware of our surroundings, of the people brushing up against us, of the sirens blaring down the street.  We plotted escape routes when we visited places.  We noted exit signs, the doors leading elsewhere, the flow of human traffic.  I noticed for the first time, a security guard in the hotel lobby.  Perhaps he’d been there all along, I couldn’t say for certain, but I breathed easier knowing he was there now.

We became more suspicious, too –  of people dressed in different garb, of those with wild-eyes or unkempt looks, of those speaking different tongues or hauling strange packages.  On the subway, I found myself moving away from these people, or at the very least keeping a careful watch on their every move.

Tower Bridge, site of an earlier terrorist attack this year..

When we flew out of London a few days later, security at the airport was tight.  Perhaps it had been this way before, but this time I was acutely aware of the precautions being taken. When I was asked to stand by as an inspector rummaged through my carry-on and plucked out a bottle of some liquid that I’d forgotten to declare, I felt – not annoyance as I might have before – but gratitude instead.  And when we stood in line for customs in Rome later that day, and I found myself beside a suitcase that someone had left unattended on the floor, I felt a surge of anxiety that refused to go away.

Terrorism maims and kills those directly affected, but in my case its tendrils reach much farther.  Overnight,I become less trusting, more suspicious, more fearful, and more intolerant of differences.  I accepted losses to my personal freedom without question. I believe there are many others who, like me, are building walls of protection around themselves, and casting suspicion, doubt and blame upon others in the name of safety.

Perhaps that’s the ultimate damage enacted by terrorists.  Perhaps that is their ultimate goal, too.

To Write a Great Beginning

For many writers, the beginning of any story – long or short, fiction or non-fiction – is a challenge.  Where to start?  What to include?  What not to include?

I’m in such a place now with my work-in-progress middle grade novel.  I’ve finished the first draft.  I’ve started revisions. I know now what the story is about now.  I know the theme, the characters, how the plot evolves and yet….  I’m not quite satisfied with any of the half-dozen beginnings that are stored on my computer.

Why?  Because so much is riding on those first few lines, especially for writers of youth material.

A strong beginning pulls readers forward.  A limp start leaves readers – especially youngsters – floundering and wondering if it’s even worth plowing ahead. This may be particularly true for boys who might be reluctant readers. A few lines, a paragraph or two, maybe a page, and if they’re not captivated by the story, many less proficient and inexperienced readers will simply give up.

A few years ago, while I was visiting Arizona, I browsed through the children’s section of Barnes & Noble, pulling novels off shelves to scan the first lines in some popular books written for 7-12 year-olds.  How did the pro’s begin? I wondered.  To emulate the experience of young readers, I gave each book a maximum of five lines to establish the basics and draw me into the story. Anything longer and the book went back on the shelf.

Here are ten beginnings that passed my rudimentary test.  Each one teased, prodded or enticed me with a creative hook to read further, sometimes in less than my 5 allotted lines.  Do you agree with my selection?

“I’m going shopping in the village,” George’s mother said to George on Saturday morning. “So be a good boy and don’t get into mischief.”  This was a silly thing to say to a small boy at any time.  It immediately made him wonder what sort of mischief he might get into.

George’s Marvelous Medicine – Roald Dahl

l

   Not for the first time, an argument had broken out over breakfast at number four, Privet Drive.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets  – J.K.Rowling

Tale of Despereaux This story begins within the walls of a castle with the birth of a mouse.  A small mouse.  The last mouse born to his parents and the only one of his litter to be born alive.

                                                                          The Tale of Despereaux – Kate Camillo

My English teacher, Mr. Selkirk, says I have to write something, and it has to be long, on account of the thing that happened over winter recess – which in my opinion, doesn’t amount to much.  It’s not like I meant for Danley to get hurt, and I don’t think that what happened was one hundred percent my fault, or even a lot my fault, even though I don’t deny that I was there.

                                                                                                   Twerp – Mark Goldblatt

  It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened.  No.  Wrong word, Jonas thought.  Frightened meant that deep, sickening feeling of something terrible about to happen.  Frightened was the way he had felt a year ago when an unidentified aircraft had overflown the community twice.

                                                                                                   The Giver – Lois Lowry

The Whipping Boy

The young prince was known here and there (and just about everywhere else) as Prince Brat. Not even black cats would cross his path.

The Whipping Boy – Sid Fleischman

red pyramid We only have a few hours, so listen carefully.  If you’re hearing this story, you’re already in danger.  Sadie and I might be your only chance. Go to the school.  Find the locker.  I won’t tell you which school or which locker, because if you’re the right person, you’ll find it.

The Red Pyramid – Rick Riordan

There was a town, and there was a girl, and there was a theft.  I was living in the town, and I was hired to investigate the theft, and I thought the girl had nothing to do with it.

Who Could That be at This Hour – Lemony Snicket

girl who could fly  Piper decided to jump off the roof.  It wasn’t a rash decision on her part.

                                    The Girl Who Could Fly – Victoria Forester

whimpy kid

I wish I started keeping a journal a lot earlier, because whoever ends up writing my biography is gonna have a lot of questions about my life in the years leading up to middle school.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel – Jeff Kinney

Finding the Next Great Idea

Where do you get your ideas?”

When I visit schools and libraries, this question invariably gets asked.  It’s the most difficult one to answer because I really don’t know.  I usually fumble through the answer by giving examples:

From a newspaper articleCase Files: 40 Murders & Mysteries Solved by Science

The article explained how a forensic study of a single strand of Beethoven’s hair provided insights into the cause of the composer’s mysterious death.   What other cases from the past has modern science solved?

While lost on a mountain hikeSurvivors: True Death-Defying Escapes

Years ago, my wife, two young children & I wandered off a mountain trail and spent several panic-filled hours trying to find our way back.  We succeeded but the experience led to a question:  How do others escape life-threatening experiences?

From a presentation  –  At the Edge: True Death-Defying Escapes

In 2006, Andrew Brash, a Calgary teacher, came to town to talk about his Mount Everest climb. In his presentation, Brash described his team’s rescue of Lincoln Hall, an Australian climber given up for dead by others in Everest’s Death Zone.  To rescue Hall, an act that Brash felt was the morally correct choice, he had to abandon his own climb.   In Brash’s story, I found a theme.   With the clock ticking, when faced with death or loss, what choices do you have?  What action would you take?

From research for a different bookSurviving the Hindenburg

I was looking for a story about a fire to include in Case Files.  The Hindenburg’s tragic end came to mind, but the science behind the fire didn’t fit the theme of the book.  The story of cabin boy Werner Franz’s remarkable escape, though, stuck.  It led to another book.

Fotomek / Pixabay

The truth is, I tell my young audiences, ideas are everywhere.  You just have to be open to finding them. Be curious.  Ask questions.

It’s a pretty simple answer.  But then, the original question is a complicated one, and it leads to other equally complicated questions.  What is the source of inspiration?  Is there a way to jump start the creative process?   Why do some people have a surplus of ideas while others have difficulty coming up with one?

In his web article, Where Do Ideas Come From?, Dustin Wax describes two schools of thought about where ideas originate.  He calls one the ‘artist as antenna’.  Here ideas free float waiting for someone to pick them up, the same way a radio antenna picks up signals when tuned to the proper frequency.

The second school of thought maintains that ideas are the product of hard work and concentration.  For writers, it means this:  Put words on the page, think long and hard, keep your nose to the grindstone, and write, write, write and behold, ideas will surface.

Looking back at my own experiences, I can see both of these schools of thought at work. Simple as it might seem, the answer I give my young audiences is probably an apt one.  Ideas come to those who are prepared to find them, to those who are curious, who pay attention, and keep plugging away even during dry spells when it seems hopeless.

From now on, when I am asked the question, I will give the same examples, but add one more.  It is this:

I took this photo while hiking in Arizona.  I first spotted the dog and his master at the trail head.  Later, I saw them again, this time midway along the hike.  There was something about the dog’s determined spirit, his willingness to rise to the challenge in spite of his short legs that struck a chord.

I am happy to say that this encounter was a productive one.  I just finished the first draft of a middle grade novel.  No surprise, it features a dog not so different from this one.

Exercise (and Write) With TED

A few months ago, my friend and fellow writer Suzanne Costigan, posted a blog on her Living Lunacy website that changed the way I view exercise. Rather than simply walking on her treadmill – a mind-numbing experience at best – Suzanne discovered a way to challenge her brain while still making the minutes fly. She tapped into TED Talks as she exercised.

profivideos / Pixabay

I’ve been following Suzanne’s lead ever since. With every workout at the gym, I tune into one or more topics of interest. There are over a thousand TED Talks online that are available for free listening or viewing on computers, tablets or cell phones, so the choices are many. The TED app keeps track of my favourites, recommends others, and logs my viewing history – a handy reference tool.

TED stands for Technology-Entertainment-Design. Ideas are TED’s currency so it’s no surprise that its slogan is “ideas worth spreading”. Each TED Talk is carefully crafted and presented by a skilled authority. Most start with a captivating story. Most are 18 minutes or less long, perfect for brisk workouts. All aim to weave together insightful facts that inspire, challenge and inform.

So far I’ve listened to a few dozen TED Talks on topics that range from cartooning and robots to library design and the plight of migrant workers. I’ve explored many subjects that are new to me. For those that aren’t entirely new, I often discover fresh angles that I hadn’t considered before – grist for the writing mill or at the very least, a way to keep current.

Not everyone is a fan of TED. Some critics have labelled it elitist and claim that the content is shallow and one-dimensional. I think they might be missing the point. A TED talk is just one person’s take on a subject, served in a bite-sized package. Like most things controversial or new, it’s up to the listener to maintain a critical outlook.

If you decide to hop on to TED bandwagon, no doubt you’d find your own favourites. But to get you started, here are 3 that I’d highly recommend:

Dannielle Feinberg – The magic ingredient that brings Pixar movies to life

Go behind the scenes of Finding Nemo, Toy Story, Brave, WALL-E and more, and discover how Pixar interweaves art and science to create fantastic worlds where the things you imagine can become real.

Anne Lamott – 12 truths I learned from life and writing 

A few days before she turned 61, writer Anne Lamott decided to write down everything she knew for sure. She dives into the nuances of being a human who lives in a confusing, beautiful, emotional world, offering her characteristic life-affirming wisdom and humor on family, writing, the meaning of God, death and more.

Marc Railbert – Meet Spot, the robot dog that can run, hop and open doors

That science fiction future where robots can do what people and animals do may be closer than you think. Marc Raibert, founder of Boston Dynamics, demonstrates advanced robots that can gallop like a cheetah, negotiate 10 inches of snow, walk upright on two legs and even open doors and deliver packages.

 

Location…Location: How Setting Influenced My Story

Among many uncatalogued photos on my computer, I have a number taken while I was writing my middle grade novel, Missing in Paradise.  The photos remind me of a research trip and how just being in a place can influence one’s writing.

In 2005, the book was just a vague idea without firm characters or a substantial plot.  The story centered around a teenager who discovers a treasure hidden in a wilderness location but I knew little else at that point.  Then I happened to read a newspaper article about a prisoner-of-war camp that once stood in Manitoba’s Riding Mountain National Park. I was intrigued. Could this be the far-off setting for my story?

To investigate, I drove 180 kilometers from Winnipeg to Riding Mountain National Park, then hopped on my bike to ride the final stretch – a bone-rattling 11 kilometres down Central Trail to the site of what was once Whitewater Prisoner-of-War Camp.

Built in 1942 to house German prisoners captured in World War II, the camp had been dismantled in 1945.  Of the original buildings – six bunkhouses, a large cookhouse and dining room, quarters for staff, a hospital, barn, and even a powerhouse for generating electricity – not one remained.

I was disappointed to have come so far for nothing.  Then, as I turned to leave, I noticed two blocks of concrete behind a cluster of aspens.  Rusting rebar poked through the mottled surface.  Clearly, these were the remains of a foundation that once stood on the site.

The two concrete blocks, the only remnants of the old powerhouse

I sat on one block and scanned the scene. I was in a clearing, choked with tall grass and peppered with trees.  In the distance, I caught a glimpse of water – Whitewater Lake, the camp’s namesake.

German prisoners at Whitewater POW Camp

In 1945, this had been a bustling place, filled with buildings and occupied by prisoners captured during the war.  Men had once stood in this same place.  They’d looked across the very same clearing. It took only a bit of imaging to picture the scene.

I knew then that this would the final destination for my treasure-hunting characters. It took a while to work out the plot, but when it came to writing the scenes at Whitewater Prisoner-of-War Camp, they came easily.  Visiting the site solidified the details, making them real to me, and by extension, hopefully real to my readers, too.

Here’s a small sample from the book when Nate, the main character, visits the old site with his treasure-hunting pals, Simon and Marnie.

I took out the aerial photograph of the camp. Simon and Marnie crowded around, trying to catch a glimpse under the flashlight’s narrow beam.  The buildings of Whitewater Camp radiated around a circle with the mess hall at the centre. On the far left stood Whitewater Lake. Between the lake and the buildings, tall pines rimmed the clearing. “Look. There is only one building at the camp with a clear view of the lake.”  With my finger, I traced a straight line from the lake through an opening in the trees to the camp. “There.”

“The powerhouse,” Marnie said.

“The powerhouse,” Simon echoed.

In 2014, I returned to the Whitewater site. This time a marker clearly identified the locations of buildings that once made up the camp.

Little Free Libraries – Your Chance to be Creative

Todd Bol’s first Little Free Library

Todd Bol’s library looked nothing like conventional libraries seen in towns and cities worldwide. His was much smaller, hand-built out of scrap wood, and modeled after a one-room school house. He added a sign above the school house doorway that read ‘Little Free Library’.

In 2009, Todd stocked the little school house with books, mounted it on a post in his front yard, and invited friends and neighbors to browse. It became a popular attraction, with visitors selecting books, dropping off others, and sharing in the joys of reading.

Todd Bol’s simple act spawned a world-wide movement.  Today, there are over 50,000 registered Little Free Libraries (LFL) around the globe with new ones sprouting up on every continent except – so far at least – Antarctica.   Most bear ‘take a book, leave a book’ signs, but that is more a suggestion than a rule.  There are no enforcers, no guardians, only stewards keen on spreading the written word.

Little Free Library along Carpathia Street, Winnipeg

Winnipeg, my hometown, caught the wave in 2012 when Charlene Roziere erected the city’s first one at 273 Mandeville Street. Today there are dozens more, most in front yards, but others in school playgrounds, coffee shops or along lanes – wherever book lovers are likely to congregate.

Anyone can join the movement.  The Little Free Library website provides Instructions on how to build and register a Little Free Library.  Once registered, the new LFL is added to a website map that pinpoints the location of each registered Little Free Library.  Click on the pin, and a box opens providing details and a photo or two.

The LFL website has downloadable blueprints and if you are so inclined, you can even order one pre-built.  But for handy folks and those with a creative edge, here’s your chance to go shine. While there are some basic guidelines, your Little Free Library can be constructed out of almost any material and in just about any architectural style you desire.

To whet your creative appetite, here’s a small sample of LFLs, drawn from a variety of sources across the Internet.

Conquer Summer Slide: Keep Reading Alive

It’s summer and the living is easy. With so many things for kids to do, reading sometimes takes a back seat. This can impact reading skills when school resumes in the fall. There’s even a term for the phenomenon: ‘summer slide’ – the loss of skills during the time students are away from school. Taken over several years, summer slide exacts heavy tolls as affected students fall progressively farther behind their classmates in reading achievement.

PublicDomainPictures / Pixabay

Fortunately, there is a remedy. An online publication by the Colorado State Library cites this hopeful statistic: Reading just 4 to 6 books over the summer has the potential to prevent a decline in reading. 

Simple? Maybe. Getting some kids to read amid the distractions of summer can be a challenge. The same Colorado publication offers strategies parents can use to encourage reluctant readers: set aside family reading time; let kids make their own choices; visit the library together etc.

Here’s one I didn’t see there, though: Participate in a summer reading program or reading contest. There are a number out there, and even some online versions where kids chart the books they read and chat to other readers about them.

With the TD Summer Reading Club, for example, kids across Canada can take part through local public libraries as well as at home and online. .

Scholastic Canada, one of my publishers, offers a similar initiative with their Happy Camper Program.

Another of my publishers, Rebelight, is running Summer Reading Challenge. Admittedly, I have a vested interest in this one because my novel Missing in Paradise is on the selection list. But blatant self-promotion aside, this is a wonderful opportunity for readers to discover exciting new books while simultaneously combating the ills of summer slide.

The rules for the Summer Reading Challenge are simple. Kids read a young adult or middle grade novel published by Rebelight, then post a short review on social media. Each review yields a draw for great prizes. The more books read, the greater the draw possibilities. Full details are on Rebelight’s website, but hurry. The contest ends on August 31, 2017.

The Secret Lives of Two Trees

A photograph in a recent National Geographic article caught my attention. It showed an immense, gnarled apple tree with limbs spreading high above a country home at Woolsthorpe Manor, England.

Trees, especially old and gnarled ones like this, have long fascinated me.  What events did they stand witness to?  What stories might they tell if only they could speak?

In the case of the National Geographic apple tree, what was noteworthy was not the tree’s size or location, nor the fact that it was centuries old.  What made it noteworthy was what happened under the tree.

Newton’s Apple Tree – Woolsthorpe Manor, England

In 1666, Isaac Newton sat under the tree. In a contemplative mood, he observed a falling apple. Why does an apple always drop perpendicularly to the ground? he wondered. He reasoned that some type of force made the apples fall as they did, and from that Newton went on to the derive laws of physics that stand to this day.

Another Tree
Irena in her nurse’s uniform

Seeing the photograph reminded me of a lesser known apple tree I researched while writing At the Edge. This one stands in a garden in Warsaw, Poland, and it too played a pivotal role in history.

During Poland’s occupation in World War II, the Nazi rounded up Warsaw’s 450,000 Jews, and herded them into a 16-square block section of the city. Disguised as a nurse, Irena Sendler – an administrator with the Warsaw Social Welfare Department – infiltrated the heavily secured Warsaw ghetto. She visited families, administering medicine where needed to avoid suspicion, but intent on something far riskier – smuggling Jews, especially children, out of the ghetto.

Often, Irena escaped with children hidden in sacks, boxes, body bags or coffins inside an ambulance. Other times, Irena led them to freedom through sewers or holes in the ghetto wall.

Once outside the ghetto, the children were given new names and false family histories. A network of fellow conspirators placed the children in homes, orphanages and convents around the country. To track the location of the rescued children so they could be returned to their proper families at the end of the war,  Irena then made a trip to a neighbour’s garden.  In the dirt below an apple tree, she hid glass jars stuffed with tissue paper containing the original names and new identities of the children.

[perfectpullquote align=”left” cite=”I was taught by my father that when someone is drowning you don’t ask if they can swim, you just jump in and help.  Irena Sendler” “link=”” color=”#16989D” class=”” size=”16″][/perfectpullquote]

For 16 months, Irena continued her dangerous mission, rescuing over 2500 children from the ghetto. On October 20, 1943, she was arrested. Interrogated, tortured, and sentenced to death by firing squad.  With the help of of other conspirators, Irena escaped and went into hiding for the remainder of the war.

After the war, Irena recovered the glass jars. Equipped with lists of names, she spent years tracking down rescued children.  When possible, she reconnected them with parents or grandparents.

In 1999, four Kansas teenagers working on a school project about the Holocaust uncovered Irena Sendler’s largely forgotten story. They tracked her down and wrote a short play about her deeds called Life in a Jar. With her story now public, Irena received awards and commendations.  In 2007, at the age of 97, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Visitors to Irena Sendler’s applie tree
Remarkable Indeed

So there you have it.  Two apple trees, unremarkable in appearance, but remarkable for the secrets they harbor from history.

 

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