Saturday, October 02, 2010


This morning I woke up to the double-boom of double-barreled shotguns. Boom-pause-boom. It’s duck season. Some flew over my house, discussing indignantly where they should hide out. I think there are at least three shooters. I will not go to see, even though I have a pretty clear idea they are shooting along the lakeside close enough to the Lighthouse for access to “fortification.” The Lighthouse is a very hospitable place.

October begins. Our postmaster retired yesterday. My fav metis UPS man retired. His time will be almost totally occupied by the necessity of defending his mother’s land against public condemnation for the purpose of building a high tension electrical transmission line up to Canada, so all these local wind farms can make a profit. (They’re owned by an Irish conglomerate.)

The cats, who are aging (they are eight now, past the average lifespan of a cat at large but surely middle-aged for fat cats overindulged) go to sleep early and rise late, skipping the early AM prowl though I, who am past middle-age, get up to pee at the usual time -- 3AM or so. They open one eye. When I come back to bed, they make barely enough room for me and only because I’m body temperature. I’m stubborn about the windows so they are open. The main bugs are gone but there is a fruit fly or gnat who wants to fly up my nose while I type. I try to smash him in mid-air, but the wind of my hand pushes him to safety. I need a double-barreled something. So far I’ve brought my fleece shirts back inside because I use them for jackets at the beginnings and ends of the day. But I’m still wearing jeans instead of sweatpants. Socks.

The water main replacement has about finished the first phase and they are collecting the yellow by-pass pipes that kept us in water while they changed the original masonry conduits into pretty sky-blue plastic pipes. Now they are replacing the mains that go out to the south edge of town where one of the four wells is located. It’s easy for them because it goes down the alley and there are no houses along most of the way. Either that’s the part of town where one man bought up lots as an investment and then left an estate too complicated to unravel or it’s the part where no septic tanks or hookups can be installed. Anyway, they are working “ten fours” so they can take Fridays off to return to their permanent homes, which means three days with no dawn clanking and grinding. The good weather is a blessing in many ways, not least of which is allowing enough time to get this project finished. In Conrad a few years ago the weather caught them too soon and the by-pass pipes laid out all winter, making all sorts of trouble.

I’m in the middle of the block, but on the corner is the bright blue porta-potty. Yesterday I noticed a couple of parents lingering self-consciously while their small offspring tested it out. It’s not locked but no one has stolen the TP. I looked. It doesn’t smell half-bad, but then it’s pumped out daily. The honey truck’s pump makes a ghastly grinding noise, which by now I recognize, so I’m familiar with their schedule.

That corner, which is by the very neat and well-kept cement block Lutheran church, has been dug up over and over and over since I’ve been here. I have no idea what makes it so problematic except that it is a major T in the system. (T stands for trouble!!) There’s a hydrant that often leaks, which means a puddle in summer and a sheet of ice in winter. I wonder why there isn’t some invention so they can just roll back a lid, but the backhoes are so efficient that the dirt comes up and goes back easily. The street isn't paved anyway. It’s the place where they thought they had nicked a gas main, but now they’re saying that the “sniffer” was mistaken. I’m not sure I believe them. We have a big credibility problem in this town.

I was reading something yesterday that suggested that the main difference between a low-density population (small rural town) and a high-density population is that the latter can work as a political system with parties and interacting forces that are relatively impersonal though individuals may “front” them. In a low density population things work in the old-fashioned way: family knots and tribal histories. This is surely true here. Now that the Internet has us crossing from one context to another, there’s often a dissonance that has to be solved by the UPS and USPO. Solutions originating in high-density places -- corporate headquarters, Washington DC -- have no meaning in low-density places. UPS says deliver only to people with street addresses. USPO says deliver only to people with PO boxes. (We don’t have home delivery.) Christmas catalogs are arriving. Smart people put both street address and PO box on their orders.

I often think of decades ago when I was conducting a survey of animal control practices. From Portland I called Harney County, sagebrush country in SE Oregon. “What do you do with loose dogs?” “If they’re good dogs, we take ’em home. If they’re bad dogs, we shoot ‘em.” “How do you know which is which?” “Hell, lady, I know every dog in this county!” An essayist in New West emag was trying to describe places like Harney County and said it took a hundred acres to support a Holstein. A Holstein cow is a dairy animal that couldn’t live on sagebrush -- the mental image set me laughing.

Sorta like the philosophy professor who wants to genetically alter tigers and lions so they’ll graze like ungulates. Too much grass floating around already, maybe, in the high density populations of campuses. The genetic alteration altercation that really counts right now is the one that caused farmers to switch to Roundup-Ready seeds so they could spray with Roundup instead of harrowing out weeds. Now the herbicide is suspected of being toxic to humans so the law is forbidding the use of the stuff, but there are no “normal” seeds available. And the farmers sold their harrows. At the same time “Roundup-Ready” corn has helpfully sent pollen over to the neighbors who were previously certified as organic and authentic -- there are dueling lawsuits underway: those whose crops are contaminated versus those who sell the patented seeds and accuse the neighbors of stealing.

It’s possible that here in low density country we get along a little better because there are fewer lawyers and more cows (Angus, Charolais). Or maybe it’s because families run things to suit themselves. Or maybe it has something to do with those double-barreled shotguns. Opinions differ.

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