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.