Nothing like a chainsaw and a bucket truck to attract attention. This time is was the Baptist church next door to me that had decided the trees next to the building had to go. They were destroying the old siding and interfering with the application of new siding. It took about an hour to knock down these two stalwarts on the south side of the building plus another two who were sentinels at the front door. This guy (one citizen calls him the “tree butcher”) is the same one who took down the trees in front of the Town Hall.
Controversial stuff in this little prairie town. Opinions split out among those who thought a) no tree should ever be cut; b) these trees were too darn old to save; c) trees make mess; d) it will mess up the heat bills; e) those trees should never have been planted so close to the building in the first place -- they are interfering with the foundation; f) why didn’t they take down that big cottonwood at the same time? Cottonwoods only make mess. That cottonwood will fall on the fire hall -- it’s only a matter of time.
So we all had to talk it over a while. This is Tom, my neighbor across the alley behind my house. His mom, Rose, was a good friend of mine and I officiated at the burials of both his parents. I can never remember the names of these hounds, but I rest secure in the knowledge that nothing will ever sneak up on us.
Homer lives across the street from the Baptist Church. I thought he was an old cowboy for a long time, because that’s the image he projects, but in fact it was his dad who was the old cowboy. He told a wonderful romantic story about how his dad was riding way back in the old days and was passing by Gold Butte in the Sweetgrass Hills. Somehow his attention was attracted to something bright in the grass and it turned out to be a big old gold nugget! That’s the way Gold Butte was in the old days. It’s a volcanic cone that extruded precious medals and once was mined but it’s about exhausted now unless you use cyanide heap leach mining. In fact, in the Eighties once a Canadian company had begun digging out and trucking away gold-bearing dirt from the north side. It was a while before they were caught and stopped. But Homer’s dad wasn’t into any of that. He had the nugget melted down and made into a wedding ring for Homer’s mom.
Tom’s stories were about in Illinois where he said he used to bring down trees the old-fashioned way: he just cut the bottom most of the way, hitched a rope to the top and dragged ‘er down with a tractor. Then he was telling about John Deere tractors (Homer called ‘em “Little Johnies.)” and how he had a job in the southwest dragging out sagebrush. He said the two-cycle engine would go “ker-pow, ker-pow. . .ker-pow . . . . ker . . . . ker” and then you had to get it out of gear fast or it would die and the stretched sagebrush would catapult you in the opposite direction.
We were wondering about the Harley motorcycle family up the street. Homer (who gets around and finds out things everywhere. He goes to auctions and talks his way up the street on the way to the post office) says the previous owners sold out -- barely avoiding a loss -- and bought acreage near Bonner’s Ferry far away from anyone. I had some comments about them but they are censored for legal reasons. He said the new owner was a lawyer and I’m quite positive he doesn’t intend to move in. It’s a more humble house than mine, which is pretty humble. There seem to be guys on motorcycles who live there now, but no more pickups parked all over.
The two men had a brisk conversation about John Deere tractors and Harleys and the way their motors sound, which is distinctive enough to recognize anywhere. Somehow that led to the windmills -- the huge wind farm just to our north which covers many acres. Tom and I had the same experience, coming over the horizon just as it got dark and -- without expecting it -- seeing the huge spread of red warning lights on the windmills themselves and the transmission lines leading away. In my case there was also a lurid sunset. We both had the quick thought that this was something like the end of the world or an invasion from Mars.
One of the most dynamic but ancient church members stopped in her car to watch the tree-cutting and to visit with us a bit, but I didn’t take her picture. She’s on oxygen these days but it only slows her down a little bit. She used to be everywhere, serving food or keeping records for the cemetery, or attending town meetings. She urged me to come to church, said I would be welcome, explained that they had a new minister from Choteau. Named Brubaker. Hmmm. I might know this guy. I might attend next Sunday. I explained that I wasn’t Christian, but she thought I COULD be, if I tried. She doesn’t know me.
Tom doesn’t attend church. Homer is a Jehovah’s Witness. He’s getting his RV ready for their migration to Yuma. He doesn’t stay in a park, but right out on the desert where he’s off the grid, on photovoltaic and batteries. Tom and I were VERY interested in that and Homer was happy to describe what’s available and how prices have come down. Big R is a good source, he says.
We also pooled what we knew about the proposed big sports complex that’s surveyed out with stakes at the end of the airport on the west side of town. A well was drilled out there, though it was known that the water in that area was not potable, but it’s very convenient for this complex that wasn’t mentioned at the time. The mayor has already decided that instead of being capped it will be developed for irrigation at city expense and claims it will eliminate summer road dust by sprinkling. Dust is a great buggaboo for the kind of people who hate messy trees. They’ll let their taxes go up if only they don’t have to fight dust. I think it’s genetic. The same people who want to cut down all the trees.