Monday, December 29, 2008

Back to the Basics on Christmas

So much has happened since I've last written, everything from President George Bush handily ducking shoes to Israel going nuts on the Gaza Strip. But, through all the political BS, here I am in the cold freeze of winter. I really recommend finding a cold climate to chill in for awhile, it really calms the hot nerves of uncertainty. Suddenly, keeping the house warm, the drive cleared, the chain saw and the generator ready, and the cupboard stocked are all that matter. Sharing with the neighbors and the extended family- from rides to recipes to snowplows to saws to sewing machines- becomes the focus, and the national news may not be turned on for days, depending on how much snow is falling.

This part of Northwest Montana doesn't have enough money to keep the roads as cleared as they do in New England, so it took a bit of getting used to. The family has spent more than two thousand dollars on three vehicles worth of snow tires to get us around safely this winter. But one broken bone in the hospital, caused by sliding off the road, would far exceed that, and we haven't slid off the roads, though lots of people have.
The economy out here has been trounced. The aluminum plant is shutting down, a sand and gravel and cement company has shut down, the plywood companies have laid off, the tooling companies have laid off, the subdividing and building business has slowed to an idle. People are sober and grim, especially young teens and college students. They've never heard their parents sound so desperate. For Christmas, we decided our major presents would be donations to some of the local institutions that are now faltering. We donated dozens of turkey Christmas dinners to the Samaritan House, the homeless shelter and soup kitchen in Kalispell. The director told me, after showing me the super clean facility, that there are 400 homeless people in Flathead County, most of them young couples with children.

We had a fun happy Christmas with a Charlie Brown tree cut from our property. The family came over for present opening, a turkey dinner and an afternoon of sliding with our nine year old granddaughter. We made a rule that you had to scream all the way down the hill. We didn't drive a mile. We didn't go see new movies that were opening. We didn't move from our own little world. How relaxing. As a challenge to being laid back, I wore my PJ's all day, even under my snow suit out in the fresh cold air.

The day after Christmas, we received the e-mailed announcement from Kazakhstan that our son and his wife had a successful court day, and were granted permission to adopt the little two-year old girl they have been visiting for three weeks. Now, their four year old boy will have a little sister. And I will have a new granddaughter. I cannot wait to meet her. What a wonderful piece of holiday news! She will be arriving in this country in a few weeks, and her new Grampie and I will be traveling to Cape Cod to welcome her. She's from a land that is as cold as it is here.
It's still snowing out there. The horses love it, they gallop around knee deep in soft white stuff, and the dogs come in dragging snowballs on their fur. We have boots, mittens, and snow pants drying in rotation. We have good books to read, and modest little jobs that will pull us through. And it is beautiful beautiful beautiful.
Check out Grampie sliding, below.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Good things and bad things

Don't be afraid to buy a tree for Christmas. They are a "green" cash crop, and the farmers that live near me are meticulous in their care of the trees. They've got the rotation down to a science, and I am amazed by the precision of different sizes of trees growing in different fields. These farm grown trees are much better for the planet than factory produced artifical trees, believe me.

Happy "I did it" day to me. I have completed my eighth edit on my first novel, and at last, after four years, I am satisfied and shopping for an agent. The work has left my little computer here in Bigfork, and been electronically transmitted to several agents in Manhattan. I now have visions of my novel flitting around the skyscrapers of Manhattan like a little yellow finch, and I wonder who is going to open the window and let it in. But, it is off. And so, I am moving on to the NEXT novel. In the meantime. . .

So much is happening! So many questions asked and answered. I couldn't sleep on Friday night, wondering if anyone in the nation could figure out what needed to be done to save us from a re-run of the Great Depression. And then our Pres To Be made his Saturday remarks on infrastructure and education and other avenues of redemption. And so, now I can sleep again, because Obama has named avenues, which I hope are open to travel soon.

In Montana. . . always a startling assortment of news. W.R. Grace has been on the front page lately. Yes, easterners, the W.R. Grace of A Civil Action, where John Travolta played high profile attorney Jan Schlichtmann. The chemical company was accused and found guilty of dumping toxic waste in Woburn, MA, and causing the poisoning of drinking water and the deaths of children. Remember that movie? 1999? Great movie.

Well. . . . some things you just don't move away from. Here in North West Montana there is a town named Libby. W.R.Grace had a vermiculite (sort of light and fluffy type of mineral related to asbestos) mine there, knew that the substance was dangerous, never told the miners, and bagged the stuff up and shipped it around the country as insulation, called Zonolite. I remember my Dad kneeling in the attic under and eaves and pouring bags of Zonolite down between the studs of our New England farmhouse. It was dusty. The mine was in operation for 70 years. The EPA knew all about it, too.

A government study that ended in 1998 showed that death by asbestos related causes was 40 to 80 times higher in Libby than expected. The cemetery was full of former miners and their family members. Two hundred deaths are attributed to the mine's activities. The whole town was covered with dust, you see. It took a major battle to have the place declared a super fund site, but it finally was, in 2001, by a reluctant publicty seeking governor. She had been so pro-industry and anti-people that she really had to be held to the fire and face the people of Libby.

Well, la de da, this past week a class action suit has been settled, and old WR will be paying out millions of dollars (140 million in all) to a trust fund to pay people who can prove and have the receipts and/or the empty bags that they used Zonolite in their homes, and their health has been damaged. The catch is, each family or household can only receive a maximum of around five thousand dollars. Our EPA has made no formal announcements that the time bomb of Zonolite has been poured into millions of homes across the US. You just have to know about it.

Other news from Montana: (sorry, but it seems to be all about death right now)

The full reintroduced and growing wolf pack in the Hog Heaven area, south west of Kalispell, had to be killed this week. They were hungry, and had killed cattle and llamas over the last two months. More than a dozen wolves were shot. There was no place to relocate them to, given the wolf growth across the state. Sad, but the ranchers aren't sad.

And finally, some good news about death. Montana just made history by being the third state in the nation (Washington and Oregon are the other two) to de-criminalize physician assisted suicide in the case of terminal illness. Ten years ago on Cape Cod, I remember how much my mother suffered for months after she couldn't even stand, couldn't even lift her hands up off her chest. And how she begged for mercy. But it was illegal to grant her wish, so she had to continue suffering in the most horrible manner as she died of lung cancer. And she never smoked. She just kept asking, "Why, why, why?" And so, BRAVO to Judge Dorothy McCarter, who issued her ruling on Friday that a mentally competent person who is terminally ill can now make a choice and die with dignity in the state of Montana. Of course, there will be a battle, and some people will want the suffering to continue. But, I am happy that finally, the legal system is beginning to see the light in realizing that it is inhumane to force people to go through extreme pain and debilitation at the end of their lives. Judge McCarter's decision was based on the right to privacy. The case had been brought by a man with terminal cancer who sued the state because he wanted to be able to make the choice as to when it would be the right time to die with dignity. BRAVO to the Judge.
It's been warm out here, with not much snow. That meant it was hard to track the deer during hunting season, which is now over. The deer take was down by 20 percent, the lowest take since 1997. (25,000 hunters with tags, 1543 deer taken, 147 elk) That means a lot of hungry deer will be munching in my yard this winter. Now if we could only get the wolves and the deer together. . . This management of large wild animals is quite the thing, and not easy. There are only about a million people here in the state, and the state is huge huge huge, and still, there can never be perfection.
The ski areas are not open yet. This is unheard of . . . the slowest snow start for over fifty years.
But. . . this weekend it is supposed to drop in temperature down to 35 degrees below zero. From 40 degrees today to there is a 75 degree drop that I don't want to be outside for. The water heaters are in the horse water, the barn is ready, I guess we are ready. Wow, Montana is really something.

Curious about Libby? Here's a good book:

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Snow on the mountain tippity tops

It's December, and the turkey left-overs have been vanquished. I'm really going to miss the cranberry sauce that Little Bear made. First she took the hand-picked wild cranberries that had been sent to her by her Provincetown grandmother. (Thanks, Gramie M., that made the day!)Then Little Bear made up her own recipe transforming the berries into a delicious strained cranberry sauce that she poured into a heart mold. The whole thing was carried out in top secrecy with her Grandpa Jim, but it involved boiling, lots of sugar, a pinch of nutmeg, a half teaspoon of cinnamon, and two or three strainings. It was the best cranberry sauce I've ever tasted.

I'm already planning to cook another turkey, but I don't think I'll be able to replicate my granddaughter's secret recipe for the cranberry sauce.

In the meantime, we have heard the news that another little one may soon join the Cape Cod side of our family. This news has been a possibility for quite some time, but now I am finally typing our hopes out on my keyboard. My son and his wife and their son have recently traveled from Cape Cod to Kazakhstan (in the former USSR) to visit an orphanage for several weeks. A child has been chosen- a little girl. If all goes well, my grandson will have a sister soon, and we will be an international family. I know there are red tape hurdles to jump, so we are thinking positive thoughts for all to go smoothly, and I will be buying a birthday present for a little two year old in January. So much to look forward to!

Temperatures: Here in Bigfork, Montana: 19 degrees F. Wellfleet, Massachusetts: 51 degrees and breezy. Kazakhastan: 19 degrees. The members of our family are all sharing the same temperature today, while back home on Cape Cod, the weather is impishly warm.

Bigfork, MT: We've got snow on the mountain tops up in back of our house- this is called the Swan Range, which is to the east of Flathead Lake and Valley. Very pretty. Pretty high. Pretty cold. But down here, no snow in my yard yet. Yet is the key word.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Gratitude Stones

Happy Thanksgiving! In Bigfork, Montana, it's sunny, about 35 degrees Fahrenheit, and very very still. The bird is in the oven, the potatoes are ready to fire up, the pumpkin pies are made. There is a dusting of snow on the mountains behind our house- Way up there at the higher elevations, but nothing on our lawn. Yet. I'm looking back at the pictures of the snow from last winter, and know that it's on it's way. But not here yet. The down coats are ready, though. The snow blower and the chain saw are tuned up. The farrier took the horses' shoes off. The electric heaters are in the water troughs to keep the ice from forming. Winter tires are on the vehicles. Pantry is loaded with soup and rice and water and canned goods. Freezer is full of meat. Bank account, now that's another story, but today we'll be thankful for ALL we HAVE. And we'll sit down and know that all can be well with the world if we all want it to be.

Granddaughter Little Bear has collected pretty lake stones from Flathead Lake to use as Gratitude rocks. She recommends putting them in your pocket, and then when you feel them in there, immediately thinking of something to be grateful for. We all have one at our place setting, waiting for us. Peace.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Approaching Thanksgiving

You know, I do love to eat turkey. It smells so good baking in the oven, it tastes so good, and it makes such good soup. I don't know why we all wait for Thanksgiving to eat it. By the pound, it's a great buy.

I also love the live flock of wild turkeys that roams up and down my country road, so much so that I still buy my turkey to eat at the grocery store. Did you know that hen turkeys cheep? I can hear them cheeping as they come across my lawn hoping for handouts.

The flock of wild turkeys actually ate with my rooster every morning until Roo committed rooster suicide. (Jumped into the dog pen with a German Shepherd, cock-a-doodling until the very last moment, when the dog jumped up to catch him, and then wondered why Roo wouldn't play, as the feathers drifted through the air. Life is pretty harsh sometimes. And I really miss Roo. I never thought I would, but I do. He looked so good on my doorstep, with goose, his companion. You've heard of gender confusion. Roo had species confusion. I promise to write more about the deceased Roo soon.)

But the really cool thing that you've got to hear is the very loud gobble gobble gobble of the male turkey. He puffs himself up like a massive beach ball with feathers and comes trotting across the field with his harem of turkey hens, gobbling whenever there is a hint of danger. Danger: When our little black fiend of a rescue dog, Sammy runs out and chases them. Sammy loves to chase turkeys, but he doesn't really want to catch them. He just likes to see the great big huge birds launch suddenly, fly straight up into the air, and land in the the tippity top of the tallest pine trees. Now, that is REALLY something to see.

Ben Franklin was all for naming the turkey our national bird, rather than the eagle. I can see why. They are amazingly spry and strong in spite of their butterball reputations. And, they don't kill other animals to eat (except for the occasional worm) the way the eagles do. Don't get me wrong, eagles are beautiful. But they are also killers, they'll eat fish, mice, other birds, rabbits, cats, small dogs, kid goats- anything with blood, really. As long as they can get their talons into it and carry it away. Turkeys are way cool, not as stupid as the cartoons would have us think, taste good, and are good company. They are peaceful. Isn't that what we all want? Hooray for turkeys.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Purple State

It's three days after the elections, and Montana is still stunned. By what? By the fact that Obama won. The hunters bought into the NRA bull, and are waiting for Obama to come and rip their rifles right of their hands. It's hunting season. Check out these tasty venison steaks.

But there are plenty of ecstactic people about. I like to say that Montana is a purple state. We've got the unique Democrat Governor Schweitzer with his Lieutenant Gov. Bollinger- a Republican. They were re-elected, crushing their Republican opponent by 2 - 1.

McCain won in Montana , winning 50 percent of the vote, Obama winning 47 percent. Ron Paul of the Constitution Party caught 2 percent of the vote, and Ralph Nader, 1 percent. So, we are pretty purple. We have less then a million people, children included, living out here. Over 450,000 voted. We had three electoral votes, the same number of votes that Washington DC, Delaware, Rhode Island, North Dakota, Alaska and Hawaii had. Pretty small potatoes, so it was flattering that we were courted so nicely.

Obama visited Montana three times, including on the 4th of July. McCain and Palin never came by. Obama opened 18 offices around the state, and hired dozens of staffers.

Jim and I spent Election Eve in a Democrat bar called Reds (go figure) in Kalispell. It was amazing watching CNN on the big screen. New England went blue pretty fast. The cheers were heard all the way to the court house, where they were still voting until 8 PM Mountain Time, when Ohio turned blue. We were nervous though. Exit polls have been wrong before. We got kind of tired, and a little apprehensive. California was nowhere near coming in yet, so we booted twenty miles for home, hitting our living room just in time to hear McCain.

What a concession speech McCain gave, one of the best and most sincere of his campaign. Luckily, Palin was told not to speak. Golly gosh, didn't want to hear her. Then the pressure built to hear Obama's speech. The Grand Park field in Chicago was so crowded. I am old enough to remember Jon and Bobby Kennedy, and got very nervous about the tall buildings surrounding the park. Oprah and Jesse Jackson were crying along with thousands of other people in the field.

And then the future President of the United States stepped out with his family and wowwed us. He gave us all the audacity of hope. He was sober, he was serious, he was realistic, he was ready to work. A momentous moment in time, indeed. We called some relatives, because this was really it. People have been working for months to hear this speech, and man, was it good to hear.
We all got to hear it out here in Montana, and it was two hours earlier for us than it was for Cape Cod. The next day, people asked me, Is he really a Muslim? Wasn't he born in Kenya? Doesn't he have a fake birth certificate? Has he even voted in the Senate recently? They asked me, because I've been driving around with an Obama sticker on my bumper since pre-primaries; there is no Biden on my sticker, it was manufactured pre-Biden. I'm glad I could tell them all about Obama, and could even tell them to go to Google Maps to follow "Barack Obama's Journey" which is right there and ready to go and show. Very cool. And how he flew in to make key votes in the Senate. And how, of course he is an executive. Have you any idea of how much money he raised twenty dollar bill by twenty dollar bill, how many citizens he encouraged to sign up to vote, how many offices are set up around the country, how many people are working for him, and how he keeps tabs on all of it? Show me any other executive with that kind of energy going right now, please.
I spent Wednesday watching CSPAN and the positively wonderful reaction from around the world that we have elected Obama. It made me realize how very important we are to the whole world, and the importance of the meaning of the word American, and how it has changed so drastically in the past eight years.

It amazes me how people will believe anything when it's convenient. Now the McCain supporters have to play catch up, and they really want to know- who is our new president? Some are truly scared. But President Bush is relieved. He gets to hand over his wars to Obama. He had a thousand staffers out on the White House lawn yesterday, emotionally instructing them to do all possible to make this transition as easy as possible. It's the first time in decades that a president has been able to just hand over his wars and walk away from all the stress. Yes, I would say Bush is relieved.

And I am relieved. Jim and I had our passports out, and have been considering Canada, Costa Rica and Mexico as our country slowly tricked away from us through the Bush years. Now, the audicity of hope is upon us, and we're staying put.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

November is novel writing month

For all of you who have "write a novel" on your bucket list, here's your challenge. No more excuses. Right now, you are going to DO IT! November is national novel writing month, and there is an entire structure waiting to support you. Go here: and check it out. You just might get your first draft of a 50,000 word novel done by December 1!

Thousands of people are signed up and will start sending in their words on November 1, when the word counter will keep track of how you are doing. There are "regions" all over the world, and you can hook up with buddies and writing partners, on line, through forums or in person. The NW Montana writers are planning a coffee date on November 1. I see Cape Cod has quite a few signed up as well.

So try it. What have you got to lose? It's a gas, and there is nothing like a deadline. Don't worry, just write write write. I have just finished the eighth version of my very first novel, and it has taken me more than three years. So I am dying to unload all the other ideas that have been piling up in my brain into a totally different book, and get the first try done in one month. What a time saver. What an opportunity. I will rise at four, drink coffee, and write till six, feed the horses, work, and then do it again in lieu of the boob tube at night. I will. I am willing. Are you?

They abandon horses, don't they?

This horse is a lucky horse. I call her the Ornamental Horse, because she looks so good out there on the property, but she's darned hard to ride. But she is well fed and loved.

When you fly over Montana and look down, there is so much land. It just goes on and on, and you wonder how people ever got out here in covered wagons. A lot of the land is yours and mine: federal land. Lately there's a problem of horse abandonment.
This is all kind of unbelievable to someone hailing from an area where there is not enough open land left, and if there was a loose horse running around, five police cruisers would be on it in ten minutes. But let me tell you, my animal loving friends, it is happening.
Horses in Montana can be anything from rodeo queen horses to pampered show horses to working ranch horses to 4-H projects to hunting trail horses to one of many in a herd that does not get ridden or handled by humans. The equine population in the US has risen dramatically in these last dozen years, almost doubling in size from 5 Million in 1999 to 9 Million in 2007. On Cape Cod, we worried about neutering cats and dogs, as the animal shelters were overburdened. Here, you can expand that concept out to include the horse.

There are simply not enough horse rescue operations to take unwanted or now unaffordable horses. One source notes that a third of the horses in this country are owned by households that annually earn less than $50,000. I have a down and out friend that recently asked if I could take his two Highlander horses. I can't; I already have five critters on three acres, and they are stressed with the overcrowding already. So I started calling the Kalispell area listed rescue operations: three of them. One was shutting down for the winter. One was shutting down permanently. And one was overfull. The reason: a drying up of funds to help support these places. Read: no more donations, no more hay and grain.
Some humane activists are now realizing that this situation is an unintended consequence of their victory in shutting down the three horse slaughter houses that existed in the US. Canned horse meat was sent to the countries where it is considered tasty. (Don't gasp at this, if you go to India, don't expect to be eating a hamburger or a beef steak. ) Herd thinning auctions always brought cash one way or another: either the horse was sound and trained and someone bought it to ride it, or the horse had great confirmation and potential, and someone bought it to train it, or the horse was bought up by the meat packers if no one else wanted it. It was a viable end of life choice. Not enough people donate to the rescue ranches that take abandoned horses, and they are overwhelmed with costs and horse population.
As hay and grain prices have skyrocketed, horses are underfed on eaten out pastures, or worse, set free on public lands. No alternatives were offered by the law prohibiting the humane US slaughterhouses, and here is our result. There is another bill in Congress right now which would make it illegal to bring horses to Mexico or Canada for slaughter.

In the meantime, the Bureau of Land Management doesn't even know what it is going to do with the 30,000 WILD mustangs it now feeds at the cost of millions. The Mustangs auctioned poorly this summer in the Adopt-a-Mustang program, and euthanasia has been mentioned.
It's a sad thing, but the down turn in the economy has also affected the horse. . . which is the symbol of the West. If it wasn't for the horse, this country would not have been settled or farmed.

And now, we wouldn't have Premarin (produced in Canada but marketed by Wyeth of Philadelphia) for menapausal ladies to take to try to stay young. What do you think Premarin means? It means. . . pregnant mare urine. Yup. Think of how many little foals are born just to keep those mares pregnant just to collect their urine just to make a drug just to keep us young. Now that's something. Check out yams, people, and let the horses be.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Oyster Festival vs. Testicle Festival

Thank God for WOMR, the Provincetown radio station that had the sense to go world wide via the Internet. I am looking out over the Mission Mountains right now, listening the the shucking contest coming to me live from the Wellfleet Oyster Festival. Jim and I sorely miss the festival, Jim spent mornings warming up the crowds with his stories in festivals past, and he and artist Anne Rosen sold plenty of their Christmas children's storybook, "When Santa Clause Met Sandy Claus." But this year, we're listening from Montana. Exciting! I hear the music, I hear Eric Williams announcing, I hear the clicking of the oyster knives!

Well. it's the end of the afternoon, and my granddaughter tore me away from the computer so we could go pumpkin hunting, so I don't know who won. Chopper Young, the world shucking champion at the recent Galway competition (and also the new resident of my old house in Wellfleet) is not in the running, he has gone to compete in Maryland after a hometown celebration on Day One of the fest. . . WISH I had seen that. Coincidences never end, his girlfriend Allison is my niece. I suppose there are no coincidences.
So who was it? Barbara Austin, one of the Morse brothers, Keith Rose, Matt Parent, Paul Suggs, or maybe an out-of-towner, like Anton Christian. All of these contenders were doing pretty well in the preliminaries. The pictures above were taken in '07 at the fest. This year is so different: weather and health and wealth and politics and all of it. But I am imaging every face there, every person I know. All my Paine relatives. Dozens. We like oysters, and our numbers prove it.

OK, so here's the comparison between Cape Cod and Montana.

We don't have an Oyster Festival in Montana, but we do have Prairie Oyster Festival, also known as the Testicle Festival. There is quite a process to producing all those steaks and hamburgers that Americans are addicted to, and one of the processes is to de-bull the bulls, so they won't run around riling the cows in the herd, and fighting each other.
And that means there are lots of left overs from the process, and that would be testicles. In the heat of the summer, people stream from far and wide by bus and bike and RV to partake of the yummy fried prairie oysters. From what I've heard, it's Woodstock on beer and testosterone. Don't believe it? Check it out here on You Tube.

I haven't gotten up the nerve to attend, but maybe next year. I've heard it's not for the squeamish. As a matter of fact, the "testy festy" website is a bit much for me, never mind the actual event. Oysters, yes, bull testicles, no. I'm still a Cape Codder.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Hunting Season

When you live in Montana , you are a lot closer to the food source in many ways. Of course on Cape Cod, there you are, next to the ocean and the (slowly vanishing ) seafood that New England has been famous for. But out here, we're close to the wheat, the hay that feeds the beef, and the beef itself.

There are more cattle in Montana than people, as every citizen here knows. I pass by fields full of black Angus everyday, destined to land on the plates of hungry Americans. Further, hunting as a way to stock the freezer is a tradition seen as a right if not a necessity. Any of the deer that come and eat on my front lawn or back yard could be in someone's freezer tomorrow- it's bow season. And next week, general hunting begins, with guns. Already I hear the target practice happening all around the neighborhood. The boys have just taken their week long safety class at Bigfork High, three hours a night for five nights, culminating in real target practice. The class was packed with dedicated young hunters. Anyone born before 1985 doesn't have to take the class to go hunting. So watch out for the old guys, they've not been thoroughly drilled on all the ways a gun can hurt you when you don't want it to. But my husband Jim, a newcomer and a gun virgin, decided to take the class. He learned a lot about many types of guns, bullets, magazines, and mishaps. And he is in awe of the dedication of these boys to learn so they can hunt.

This is the normal way of life out here. Licensed hunters draw for "tags" to go after so many deer, elk, and antelope. It's very easy to get a tag for a deer, not so easy to get one for elk or antelope. You must pay $5 to get into the Super Tag lottery, where eight lucky hunters will win a license to hunt moose, elk, deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, antelope, bison or mountian lion in any hunting district in Montana. You are seen as a criminal (and you are one) if you shoot these animals without a tag, unless it is in self defense.

Am I hunting yet? No. It is a very expensive, technical and grueling thing to do, and I'm no Sarah Palin. I'd rather buy my venison already steaked out down at the grocery store. But I see the guys getting ready, I see the ads in the newspapers for all manner of hunting stuff. . . not only guns (you don't see many ads for guns in the local papers of Cape Cod, but you sure do here), but special camo clothing, camo four-wheelers with rifle mounts, camo tents, and you can probably get camo ammo. Camo cars and trucks. Camo boats, and camo make-up for your face and hands. As I said, hunting has gotten very expensive.

The game sometimes just walks up to you even if you're not all decked out in camo. I have deer here that get pretty close, and turkeys that preen by looking at themselves in my shiny bumper in the driveway, and rabbits that live in my hay barn. I've come to realize that the supermarket way of hunting for food has really separated us from the work it takes to bring home a meal. My grandmother taught my mother how to cut off a chickens head, pluck it, dress it and cook it. I've never learned that. My grandfather went hunting for deer. My father didn't. I didn't. My grandfather raised a few pigs for pork chops. I never have, although my brother Bud in Wellfleet tried it. His kids got very attached to Miss Piggy, though, and refused to eat her once she ended up in the freezer. It's probably good for me to be here in Montana; I've learned how removed I've been from my food, buying it in chilled plastic. As I said, I have the knowledge, and that's good enough for me. I don't want the real experience of hunting, but I understand it. It is authentic, it is survival for many. A woman who works at the bank tells me she eats no meat bought in the supermarket- she eats elk and deer hunted, dressed and frozen by her husband. "There are no antibiotics in my dinner, I can tell you that," she says.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Slow Down

You can't go to the post office or grocery store in Bigfork right now without seeing someone receiving a multitude of hugs as they try to get their errands done. The hug recipients are family and friends of the very recently deceased. Tragically, Bigfork has lost three young people in the last two weeks on the highway. Two young men in one car, 27 and 26 years of age, and one young lady in another separate accident, 29 years old. No one was wearing a seat belt. All had plans for the future. They won't be experiencing the future. A fisherman , 43, drowned on Monday, the 6th, when the forcasted winds whipped up the water on flathead Lake, and he came off his personal watercraft. A young man who cooks at a Bigfork restaurant for a living confided in me that he had been to three funerals in the past week, and "It hurts. This is just a small town."
It is eerie driving over the spots on the highway that are scarred up with skid marks, knowing that someone just died there during the week. On my way downtown with my granddaughter on board, a girl came driving around a corner towards me on the wrong side of the road phone in hand, texting. I slammed on my brakes, pulled over, and blasted the horn. She looked up, corrected, and passed by me without mishap. But this is happening far too much. On the way home, same trip, I was traveling down the highway when a truck in the distance began swerving right and left on the road. I slowed down. As the truck passed me, I could see the man was trying to reach for something in his back seat that he was having a hard time reaching. Pull over, Dude. Jeez. Collision at the speed limit is rarely survived.

Five days ago, just six miles from Bigfork, another young man, 24 years old, drifted across the highway and into a tractor trailer carrying apples. His obituary says, "His family asks that those who knew him honor his life by not letting a minute slip by without making the absolute most of it." There is a lot of pain when you lose someone in the prime of their life. But how much do we really think we can get out of a minute? Do we have to multi-task all the time? On the same night, NASCar driver wanna be's were racing in Polson at the other end of Flathead Lake, missed the curve near the Kerr Dam (who wouldn't?) and one car ended up in the river. Luckily, no one died there.
The crash stats for Flathead county are grim. On Cape Cod in Barnstable County, with a population of approx. 225,000 people, there are between 20 to 30 traffic related deaths per year. Here in Flathead County, with less than half the people (85,000), there were 27 crash related deaths in 2007, and we are well on our way to that number in 2008.

Maybe we should stop living our lives full speed ahead. Maybe we should not answer the cell phone in the car. Maybe we should not even think about reading a text in a car, never mind while we are in charge of a passenger train. A recent Am Track crash in California caused dozens of deaths, and the engineer had been texting when he missed a red light on his track. Can you imagine? And definitely, we should all wear seatbelts. And definitely, we should not drink and drive. Attention must be paid.

But why are people acting so recklessly? Is the general perception of the population that things are so bad according to Network news that we are now going to be more careless, more blase, more depressed, more fatalistic, and thus, more accident prone? To the great distress of our family and friends?

We must do what the sign says on Route Six in Wellfleet, my home town on Cape Cod, where Zac lost his life. "Live mindfully." We must all live mindfully, know that hard times have come before, and reach out to each other to help, rather than living dangerously and recklessly.
OK, enough on highway escapades. Next time, more on horses. Sorry, but this has been a hard week here in Montana. The only business with no slow down is the undertaker. And that is pretty sad.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Here's the horses

OK, so I have to let you see the horses. I've been told. Here they all are, down under our apple tree, hoping for windfalls. Aren't we all?
One wild burro, two Missouri Fox trotters, one Tennessee Walker, and one Welsh pony. They all get along. Most of the time! Only one is mine, the mare with the lightening flash on her rear. That is Lily, the Tennessee Walker. Great ride for a grandmother, which is what I am.

It's so easy to have horses in Montana, compared to Cape Cod. An average house has five acres of land, unless your fool enough to buy in a subdivision laid out by a Californian with one third acre lots and covenants against clothes lines. Why the hell move to Montana, if that's what you want. Anyway. . .
Hay is much less expensive in Montana than on Cape Cod, to be sure. I can buy a ton of hay for $180. But it has gone up this year considerably, it was closer to $100 a ton last year from the same supplier. The bottom has dropped out of the horse market in Montana. More stories on that soon, but basically, people who could afford ten horses can now only afford five. And so, lots of classified ads as people are "thinning their herds." Auctions of top quality horses freqently attract few buyers, and many horses remain unsold. It's such a growing problem, that there are cases where people have just set their horse free on federal property, causing the horses much danger and stress.
But our horses are all safe and sound, and getting ready for the winter ahead. I'll print an item on each one of them soon. They all deserve some words.

Emotionally numbing

There are plenty of volunteer projects in Montana, just like on Cape Cod. So many things wouldn't happen without volunteers; so much would never be said, would never be shown, would never be understood. This past weekend, the Flathead Valley Business and Professional Women set up an art installation in the Kalispell Mall. First there had to be the approach to the mall, and the education of the mall manager as to what the intent of the display was. That took some time, but we were able to get the OK to set up the Montana Silent Witness display this past weekend in observation of Violence Awareness month. More info:

Since 1990, more than 60 women have been killed in acts of domestic violence in Montana. There are similar movements in every state.

(Massachusetts also has a website dedicated to the goal of zero deaths by domestic violence by 2010. )

Plywood shapes of each victim were erected, with the name and dates on their chests. I can't tell you how sad it is to walk through Kalispell Center Mall and read the details about each Witness. We will be taking the installation down on Tuesday morning so it can go on to another Montana mall, south of here by 100 miles.

This weekend, there was a Jazz Festival in Kalispell, with several events at the mall. Many high school kids, teachers, musicians, shoppers, and festival attendees were able to receive the message of the display: It's time to acknowledge the problem and work on community solutions.

Both my husband Jim and I participated in this project. Just reading the plaques is emotionally exhausting, but these victims beg to not be forgotten. There were at least four children also represented. Please take the time to honor October as violence awareness month. Domestic violence affects all levels of our societies. It's time to teach self-esteem in the school systems to the point where people realize that when they are in an unhealthy situation, they must leave it for their own safety. Such a hard lesson, and here we are- America.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Sharing the Shade

The thing about Montana is that horses are the animals that teach you everything. I am still trying to decide what that animal might be on Cape Cod- maybe dogs, maybe fish, maybe squirrels. Dogs are always looking for fun, fish know when to go south, and squirrels know how to put food by.

Horses know how to share. I whipped my camera out of the glove compartment today and took this shot on the side of the highway of horses sharing the shade. They are herd animals. They want nothing more than to hang out with their buddies. They might carry you around on their backs for awhile, but at the end of the day, it's their horse buddies they want to see, along with their dinner.

As I was driving south on Route 93 today from Kalispell to Bigfork, about the same distance as Hyannis to Eastham, I was noting the differences between Cape Cod and the Flathead Valley. One notable difference is the speed limit. I had to learn how to drive fast again, because the speed limit is 70, and you have to keep up, or get off the road.
Out here, you can see miles ahead of you up the road. Miles and miles over to the mountain ranges. True, you can also see for miles on the Cape when you are at the bay or the ocean. I've always loved those forever views. I didn't know if we could move to Montana, I knew I'd miss the ocean so. And so it was with this in mind that we decided Bigfork was a good location, because of Flathead Lake, which has the reputation of being one of the largest natural lakes west of the Rockies in the Continental U.S. It is long, it is wide. It is as long as Cape Cod Bay. You can see the opposite shores because of the height of the mountains circling the lake. It is beautiful, the water is still clear, so far . I'll talk about the "so far" soon. But for now, lets just say on this last day of September, the weather is fine, the hay is in, the lake is beautiful, and winter is coming. There are two seasons in Montana; eight months of winter, and four months of company. (This is not so different from Cape Cod, in many ways) The last guest has left.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Far far from Wall Street

Some people say that we came out to Montana to escape the stresses of East Coast civilization. Looking at the news today, I don't know what is so civilized about our East Coast. The hornet's nest is buzzing, the headline Dow Takes Record Fall after House Bailout Failure doesn't tell the half of it.

But out here in Montana, my horse- a Tennessee Walker who is the sweetest mare to prance the gravel road I live on- needed some dental attention. Her teeth needed to be "floated." That means filed down so the bit won't bother her by hitting in the wrong spots. The vet came out to the house, and he is one of the finest vets in Montana, I have done my research! His name is John Erfle and he is affiliated with a great equine hospital in Kalispell called the LaSalle Equine Clinic.

I decided to watch the teeth floating procedure, and must say I learned a lot. Dr. Erlfe had a wonderful assistant along with him who knew just what to do, and when. I just stayed out of the way.

Several items are absolutely necessary: a horse sedative, a metal mouth brace to hold the mare's mouth open, a pair of ear protectors to block the noise of the drill, and. . . the drill. Lily was VERY GOOD. She didn't even think about struggling. She was too tired from her sedative. And so, one more piece of absolutely essential equipment is a crutch. Yes, a regular crutch with a cushioned top. The crutch was placed under her chin to help hold up her heavy head as her dental procedure was performed. She came through just fine. A little sleepy and wobbly. But all in all, she did far better than I do at the dentist.

Next, Dr. Erfle administered her various vaccinations and wormers and checked her hoofs for me, and then he gave me the bill, which was less than $200. Much less than an office visit when I show up at my dentist. And Dr. Erfle came to my barn! So, there is still something of good value in this country. You just have to know where to find it. And it's far from Wall Street.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

After the Debate

Time out here. We have to note that the debate between Obama and McCain happened. I have to be clear, even if the country wasn't in a speck of trouble financially or involved in a war that was based on falsehoods, I'd be for Obama. I'm for Obama for reasons they have not even begun to discuss.

As a woman, I am not interested in allowing the US Government be in control of my uterus, or the uterus of any female I know, and McCain seems to be hell bent on making walking incubaters of us. His record of voting against requiring health plans to cover basic birth control and his statements that Roe v. Wade is a flawed decision demonstrate he is totally against reproductive freedom. Apparently, all women should get pregnant as much as is physically possible. Further, he has voted against the Equal Rights Amendment, while Obama is a co-sponsor of the Women's Equality Amendment. Pulling himself off the campaign trail last spring, Obama flew into Washington to vote in favor of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. McCain didn't show up for that vote, but told reporters he would have voted against it.

I have to ask, why does this man McCain insist that women don't have the intelligence to make up their own minds as to whether they should raise families; why does he think women should not be the equal to men, when each man wouldn't be here if he didn't have a mother; and why does he think that women should receive less pay then men (after paying the same college and university tuitions, I don't see any breaks there for being born female)? Unfortunately, the former beauty queen Sarah thinks the same way. Go figure.

OK, that's just part of the reason why I am for Obama. The other parts have to do with intelligence, poise, consideration of all sides of the issues, understanding of the middle class experience, and restraint and cool-headed analysis in times of crisis.

Out here in Bigfork, there is an Obama campaign office. Although most people from Montana would voice the opinion that this is a free country- a democracy, Obama signs are frequently pulled down and destroyed. Or stolen. My bumper sticker has been torn off my car.

Well folks, we can continue to stay at war, we can continue to be a fear driven nation, we can continue to borrow from China to finance the war, we can continue to put the war before the economy, we can continue to dishonor vets by not having enough coverage on the news when one comes home dead after having made the ultimate sacrifice, we can continue to be told that health care should not be socialized while bail-outs to greedy lenders continue, we can continue to be losing our world standing in our education systems, we can continue to run the country on oil rather than develop new jobs and technologies, we can continue to pollute the planet by not enforcing our existing regulations, OR we can get used to the fact that a black man is the best person for the job this time around, and soon, he will be living in the White House with his wife and two daughters. It's time. That's my opinion. And please, leave my bumper stickers alone, they are for your own good.

Oh, one more thing. Montana people are concerned about guns; they need guns. Obama never said he wanted to take guns away from hunters, as the NRA would like to have you think. He would like to take machine guns away from killers in the city, yes. He would like to take guns away from criminals. How can the NRA argue with that? Don't look now, but the Patriot Act, which should have been called the Loss of Freedom Act, has taken away from us far more than what the NRA is worried about. So do your research, and check the voting records, and register to vote NOW (there's still a bit of time), so you can make your mark on election day.

Now, I am done.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

And so, I think I have to go back to 2005, our first trip out here, and explain that not only was the scenery gorgeous, as it still is, but it just sort of reached out and grabbed us.
Here is the hubby enjoying an hour of fly fishing up at one of the lakes in the Jewel Basin. He had to hike there past the huckleberry patch, and no, he wasn't alone. His buddy is taking the picture, and preparing a little cooking fire for the fish that was caught and eaten.
The water was a clear blue, and hopefully not as impacted with acid rain as the clear blue pond water back on Cape Cod. Having lived on the Cape for so long, we had witnessed the slow toxification of the ponds due to the effects of acid rain to the point where it was unhealthy in some cases to eat the fish. Mercury from the sky, carried on the wind from the coal burning plants further west on the Jet Stream. Yes, we thought we had escaped all of that polluting scenario. But maybe not.
Anyway, it was nice to forget (temporarily) about all those issues and just be on vacation, because as intense community activists on the Cape, we were tired. It was time to relax, if we could, with all those animals around. And I don't mean squirrels.
OK, I promised to note differences. Well, one of the differences is that out here, you could say that you actually NEED a gun just to have good manners. Because speaking of squirrels, there are so many deer out here, that they run across the road as frequently as squirrels do back on Cape Cod. No, more frequently. It's rather jolting when you first arrive here to drive down the highway and see dead deer on the right in the ditch, and a few miles down the road, there's another one. A Montana gentleman told us that, well yes, there was a dead deer that had just run out into traffic that morning. Pretty soon now, the authorities would be along to pick it up for the food pantry, if they could get to it soon enough. And if a deer happened to come out of the woods or across the fields and hit us while we were driving, then the best thing to do, and the polite thing to do, was to take your gun out of your glove compartment and shoot the deer and put the thing out of it's misery. If we were still in one piece, that is. Because deer kill far more people every year than the bears do, didn't you know that, pretty lady?
And this is all happening in an area where there is town about the size of Hyannis called Kalispell, with an international airport and everything. Unfortunately, I've had the occasion now to visit a body shop because of a traffic mishap, and there sure are a lot of cars out in the back fenced area that have been totaled due to deer. And so, you know what? People don't drive much at night, comparatively speaking. At dusk, the deer really come out, and you just don't want to be intersecting with one, and taking a gamble on which one of you is going to end up in the ditch. Although there is a lot of gambling going on out here (read: poker is played as a cultural right, openly and legally), you don't want to be gambling on driving with the deer.

A fish out of salt water

I arrived in the Flathead Valley of Montana in 2005 for the first time, in September. My husband and I were tourists, visiting relatives who had recently moved out. We had to come see why. It was beautiful, of course. The hay fields were golden and dotted with round bales of fresh hay, the air was clear, the sky was blue. My husband and I were energized by the craggy mountains surrounding Flathead Valley. We were frightened of the bears, although we didn't see any. We bought bear spray at the drug store.
Now, right away, that was an experience. In Massachusetts, you have to have a license to carry pepper spray. And in Montana, you could buy BEAR pepper spray and carry it around like nobody's business. That felt pretty good, although now I was deathly afraid of the bear SPRAY. What if it was manufactured at the end of a Friday shift, and the lemon of a spray mechanism went off in the car? Could we die of bear pepper spray? Apparently we could.

All this courage was necessary to move about in Montana. Courage to walk up the trail into the Jewel Basin when the grizzlies were collecting huckleberries. No, don't wear bear bells, our hosts said. The bears know that means Knapsack with Food. Well, we didn't know if our hosts were joshing us flat landers or not- we who lived at sea level and fished from Cape Cod Bay. So we didn't wear bells, and we did bring bear spray. Well, my husband did, with our host. I stayed back at the cabin, anxious and worried, and very relieved when my husband came back alive, to relate to me the experience of being snorted at from the bushes, and coming upon steaming bear scat on the trail. And as I was saying, it is necessary to dig out the courage when you move about in Montana.

In June of 2006, we bought a house out here. In June of 2007, we said a tearful good-bye to our Cape Cod relatives, neighbors and friends, and moved on out. Living in Montana had been on my husband's bucket list for years, ever since A River Runs Through it was published.
Yeah, yeah, heard that before, right? And as we arrived, all the astounded people who we had met out here, and who had known us for a short period of time, asked the main question of us: Well, hell yeah, the scenery is outstanding, but you can't eat the scenery! What are you going to DO?

And that's what we Cape Codders have been trying to figure out ever since, along with the rest of the country. In the meantime, there are notable differences between living in the great US of A on Cape Cod, and in the Flathead Valley. And so, that is what I will be noting here for you- the notable differences. And surprising similarities.