Mary Scriver feeding chickens
Plainly, getting old is like going back down the steps of growing up. In those days I was constantly discovering new skills, new abilities, new thoughts, new awareness of a widening circle. Now it’s all the opposite. I can’t walk as far, as stumble-free, as quickly as I used to. I can’t open jar lids or even sealed cellophane wrappings, and pulling up the tab on the cat food cans only breaks my fingernails. People talk too quickly and softly about things I care nothing about. I’m more incoherent in my thinking, have to think longer to remember the word I want.
Yet strangely — except not that strange since I spend a good half-day at the keyboard knocking out these posts for my blog and in the process watching specialized vids — I know far more about what goes on in the world than the people around me even know exists even though their TV screens are four times as big as my computer monitor. It puts me more out-of-sync in the eternal tension between the individual and the group than I ever expected to be. In fact, after twenty years in Valier, I’m more different from everyone else here than I was in the beginning, partly because they are so out-of-touch with the larger world that I see on my computer screen. There’s a lot of danger in these boundaries, because there is a lot of fear in them.
On both sides. I become afraid of locals — even the locality. With reason. Small problems, like the fact that the soil under our houses is gumbo, caleche, unstable fine clay formed by the PNW volcano eruptions in the primal times of the continent. This has meant that doors only occasionally fit their doorways when the humidity and temperature matches the conditions when they were installed. The rest of the time they stick, maybe don’t fit at all.
But now it appears that my house has sunk as a whole house, so that the web of plumbing under it is pressing against the floor joists and is deformed to the point of preventing proper drainage. This may cost a couple of thousand dollars, but the alternative is sinks and toilet (only one) that don’t work. At present it all vents through the shower drain instead of out the standing vent pipe that I had considered the problem. I can only pay for the necessary work by borrowing, but if I had to borrow locally, I would not be able to. Luckily, I knew that, so my credit arrangements are back in Portland, except that I had not predicted the Equifax hacking scandal.
Venting the drain system inside the house means that I’m occasionally breathing a miasma of methane, human ick, and — much more than that — possible toxic fumes from illicit meth labs. I’m on the main trunk of the city sewer line, so there’s no way to figure out who’s putting it down the drain. I don’t know what it does to our sewage lagoon digestive microorganisms. The town does notice who suddenly has an unexplained excess of money. Prosperity is something that is closely monitored here but the impulse to flaunt wealth is strong. It’s easier for out-of-town ranchers to show off, though it would be a mistake to think the neighbors don’t notice shiny new machines of great cost.
At the same time that people become more intent on money-as-security, more willing to risk punishment, our town is becoming weaker, less able to self-govern. The county, which is presumably the backup, is also part of this weakening, thinning, dynamic. The state is controlled by continental corporations, mostly resource developers. (It would be cynical to say “exploiters.”) The whole country was treated to an example of our political leadership when Gianforte assaulted a reporter. What they didn’t know, thank goodness, was how many locals saw Gianforte as justified. The only thing worse than being an outsider is inquiring into matters that might be embarrassing. Like health care.
And aging. “Montana’s older population is one of the largest in the country. By 2025 Montana is presumed to rank between third and fifth in the nation in the percent of older adults 65+, which will account for at least 25 percent of the Montana population.” http://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/livable-communities/plan/planning/montana-state-plan-on-aging-2011-2015-aarp.pdf If you’re not from Montana, you might not notice that the counties with low percentages of oldsters are the ones with NA reservations. The Native American population is still young and increasingly better educated than adjoining communities. My sympathies are with them. 30% of Valier is now Native American.
The aging white population is not just a new minority, but --significantly -- born a set of baby boomers. We have been used to the ethos of the WWII veterans: their belief in working together, their care for future generations, their wide world-view from being in other cultures. Now the John McCains are slipping away. It is their children, full of their own entitlement, who are running things.
I’m not quite a baby boomer — some people think I pay too much attention to time-lines, but being born just before WWII puts me in a small category of people who came to consciousness during a period that emphasized heroism and asceticism. Since my paternal side was homesteaders in Dakota with NO consciousness of the indigenous people they pushed out (they didn’t know any of them) and since they had only one short period of prosperity, it makes me nervous to have much.
Publishers Clearing House tells me yet again that I might win $1,000 a day and my main reaction is worry — not about being passed over, but about winning. Of course, to me $1,000 a day sounds like an immense amount of money. But I’m aware that taxes will take at least half, which means $15,000 a month, not enough to buy a really good car. It would be good for my plumbing, however, and that would be a positive development.
If I used my new found wealth to buy an incinerating toilet, which converts poop to ash, I would still need sink drains. If I used it to reinforce this house enough to install a metal roof, a water-accumulating system, and solar panels, the town would sneer. It wouldn't look like prosperity to them. I’d still have the same neighbors, both good and bad, and the same pot-holed streets. It would not affect the feral cat population. Maybe I could fund some kind of program.
If I used the money to upgrade my back workshed, that would be a good thing, if I had the strength to work there. I could also upgrade my so-called bunkhouse to make it mosquito-proof, install real beds, and decorate it "cute". But that would attract visitors and cut back on my writing time.
My real wealth is time to write. If I become unable to write, then I would be impoverished and ready to die.
2nd grade writing -- illustrated