As I was going to . . .

Featured image: Wildlife preening in Ox Bow Park.

Cogitation 4.130 Saturday 27 January 2018   Reader Mary K. Mishler responded to a photo of St Ives in last week’s post: “I’m reminded of my childhood riddle, ‘AS I WAS GOING TO ST IVES,'” she wrote.

Not everyone we know has heard that nursery rhyme. Here it is:

As I was going to St Ives,

I met a man with seven wives,

Each wife had seven sacks,

Each sack had seven cats,

Each cat had seven kits:

Kits, cats, sacks and wives

How many were going to St Ives?


Discussion about the nursery rhyme has ranged from which St Ives it refers to (there are two in England}, speculation about the directions the parties were going, the entourage’s bizarre makeup, to its relation to a similar ancient mathematical puzzle.

Whatever ambiguity, incredulity, trickiness actually, the puzzle poses, the usual answer is one.

Only one person is going to St Ives. That person meets a strange group coming from St Ives as he or she is going toward town, usually thought of as St Ives, Cornwall, but sometimes also possibly St Ives, Cambridgeshire.

First publication of the puzzle dates to the early 1700s. The modern interpretation is that it calls for a trick answer (only one person going to St Ives), rather than a math riddle.

The common mathematical answer, however,  is 2,801, if the listener got the directions mixed up. Or, it’s 2,802 if the narrator overtook the slower party of man with seven wives carrying or dragging seven sacks of cats and kittens, all heading to St Ives.

Oh my, what did the poet really intend to say? The nursery rhyme makes speculation fun, even when it would be tempting to make fun of speculation. Do the cats belong to a polygamous farm family that needs a herd of cats and kittens  to catch the mice eating their grain? Had they come to town to trade at the Farmers’ Market? Why St Ives, except that the town name probably has no other significance other than that it rhymes with “wives.”

I take the rhyme at face value as a trick puzzle. As a trick question it promotes the art and fun of careful listening. Marty’s grandmother, Edna Dintaman, had a riddle to test one’s powers of listening. ” Beech, birch and basswood, all begins with A. Figure that one out,” she’d say. “Ha, ha.”

A similar problem found in the Rhind mathematical papyrus

A similar computational problem appears in the Rhind mathematical papyrus, dating to approximately 1650 BCE.

The ancient Rhind manuscript poses a problem thought to be an algorithm for multiplying numbers by 7. The mathematical illustration is a house inventory that includes 7 houses, 49 cats, 343 mice, 2,401 spelt, and 16,809 hekat. Multiplying each successive sum by 7 adds up to 19,607.

That’s pretty straightforward, especially after I checked out the meaning of “hekat”: an ancient Egyptian volume unit to measure grain, bread, and beer. In today’s measurement a hekat equals 4.8 litres. That’s a tidy sum of bread.

Going to St Ives . . . a pleasurable stroll  for us

On a path to St Ives. The town of 10,000 is on the farthest land mass, two miles from Carbis Bay. .
Free-range chickens on the Field Path from Zennor to St Ives, Cornwall, UK. The Atlantic lies beyond.

Marty and I, and friends, have walked to St Ives, Cornwall on many paths countless times. From Carbis Bay we walk two miles along the coastal path to the library, green grocer, butcher, other shops, post office, galleries, beaches, restaurants, pubs, and beyond to diverse coastal and field paths.

Along the way we’ve met cats, birds, and people (many with dogs). One woman was followed by five dogs; she had dog walking down to an art where the dogs didn’t even need a leash. Some years ago we’d pass a horse, chickens, and a pheasant in a yard along the path, all in an urban area. On country lanes we’ve met tractors, horse riders, and cars.

Last year when we met Millie, the Alsatian dog, and her friendly elderly owner. Millie kept sniffing around, pacing back and forth, to find our dog. Who goes walking without a dog, Millie’s actions spoke out loud and clear. Well, we do, Millie, sorry. When we pass Millie’s house she responds to us with a few barks of greeting, all without getting up from her spot on the deck.

Purpose of rhymes

Nursery rhymes, among other uses, help improve the logic and deductive skills of children–and adults. Such is the case of The North wind doth blow.

A winter robin greets us on a walk from Carbis Bay to St Ives.


The North wind doth blow and we shall have snow,

And what will poor robin do then, poor thing?

He’ll sit in a barn and keep himself warm

and hide his head under his wing, poor thing.

What child would not associate security and warmth with home while empathizing with poor robin? Of course, many nursery rhymes have a political or historical meaning, too.

Let rhymes be rhymes be markers of the times

One doesn’t want to spoil the fun of the rhymes with overmuch analysis, though some is needed. For instance, Rain, rain, go away is said to date back to Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603). The constant rivalry between England and Spain came to a head when Spain launched the Armada in 1588.

Spain lost the battle, due in part to the stormy weather that scattered the Armada fleet. Hence:

Rain, rain, go away,

Come again another day.

Little Johnny wants to play;

Rain, rain, go to Spain,

Never show your face again!

Discovery, organic milling and chick-raising 

We had breakfast this week at Twin Six in Wolcottville in neighboring LaGrange County. What were all those big trucks doing going down a dead-end street? Well, we found out there’s a big organic W.O.L.F. Co-Op mill on that street. A related retail store provides a go-to, not overlarge, place for a nice selection of organic foods.

At the store I picked up cereal, peanut butter, and the 2018 Catalog for the Townline Poultry Farm at Zeeland, Michigan. If I were into poultry farming I’d place an order for chicks tomorrow.  From the catalog I found out they offer eight standard breeds, six rare breeds, and other birds that include ducks, turkeys, pheasants, bantams, and guineas.

What fun it is, for a few hours at least, to be an armchair farmer. Of the eight standard breeds raised for egg production, only one, the White Leghorn, is a white egg layer. These others lay brown eggs: Isa Brown, Amberlink, Black Sex Link, Rhode Island Red, Barred Rock, Black Australorp, and Red Cross.

One of the rare breeds, the Aurucana-Ameraucana strain, lay colored eggs. In addition to egg color, the catalog for each breed notes egg production, temperament and hardiness. The temperament for the Rhode Island Red, for instance, is “Docile (aggressive roosters).” The Isa Brown is their best brown egg layer.

Delivery of the chicks is like it has always been–USPS, good old postal service. “Due to ongoing biosecurity measures, Townline will no longer allow orders to be picked up at our location.”

Among the six cautions on biosecurity measures the firm notes that one should wash one’s hands after handling poultry or equipment, Also, “Do not allow poultry to live indoors,” and “Do not snuggle or kiss the birds, touch mouth or eat around the poultry.”

There, I’ve put in almost a morning’s work from my armchair. Here’s a final word about French Pearl Guineas: “A popular game bird known for alerting against predators and sought after for their well-known insect control.”

If you knew half of all that information about poultry you should be on the TV quiz show, Jeopardy.

Winter scenes in LaGrange County

Oliver Lake, frozen over.
A wetland stilled by a deep freeze.
Sited at Oliver Lake: James Oliver, d. 1871, “created the Oliver Chilled Plow Works in 1850 and had a large plant in South Bend. Oliver invented a plow in the 1850s that took the world by storm, sometimes referred to as one of faming’s greatest single inventions, a plow with a hardened point.”
The Pigeon River at the Nasby Dam.
Nasby Dam near Mongo in LaGrange County.

Winter scenes in the City of Elkhart

The skate park along the Elkhart Riverwalk.
Sun sets over downtown..


Anabaptist World Fellowship Sunday, 21 January

Last Sunday at church we sang songs from Argentina, Haiti, El Salvador, Zimbabwe, Nicaragua, and Swaziland. Wonderful! Spirited. Uniting.

Pastor Nelson Kraybill’s sermon title was “The Spirit unites us in Christ.” Pastor Carolyn Gardner Hunt presided at the Lord’s Table. Pastor Frances Ringenberg was home nursing a cold.

How precious the gathered faith community is, for here is the place where heaven and earth come together. God’s gracious, giving goodness is revealed as we invite God to walk beside us with brothers and sisters around the world. That, to me, is reassuring, inspiring, and life-giving.

In 2015, Nelson Kraybill was installed as president of Mennonite World Conference, a non-stipendiary position. At the global gathering in Harrisburg, Pa., a local individual made a shepherd’s staff for him that includes the words, “MWC – GOD’S MENNONITE PEOPLE – CONTINUING THE WORK JESUS BEGAN THROUGH WORSHIP, SERVICEM PEACEMAKING, AND EVANGELISM 2015. The other side has the words, THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD. Nelson said he will give the staff to the next president, following his six year term. The silk painting in the background is called, Drawn From the Reeds, 2010, by Andrea Kraybill. The story of Moses, Andrea wrote, is “a sign of expectant hope. A vulnerable child carrying the hope of a nation, the story calls us to also look in hidden places for God’s heartbeat.”

For a glimpse of the Anabaptist world family, see

Plow on

As I enter a new week . . . may just enough puzzles, nature’s beauty, spiritual gatherings, and reader response shepherd me on.



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