Thursday, April 24, 2014


This woman is claimed to be 125 years old.

Aging’s most daunting aspect, to my mind, is the changing of everything around one, so I looked for a place that wouldn't change much.  Though I’ve personally changed quite a bit over the decades, sometimes on purpose and sometimes in spite of myself and even unconsciously, none of it is as startling and sometimes inconvenient as the cultural shifts, people who suddenly die, and changing material culture both built and natural.  

When I moved into this little house, I had a list of desiderata with about seventy-five items on it, like kitchen with east windows, trees on the south side, within a couple of blocks of the post office -- so, indeed, none of that has changed nor is likely to, though the Post Office occasionally changes its hours and occasionally threatens to close altogether.  Only one of my trees has had to be removed, but the Baptists sawed off some major branches on another.  We’re down to one grocery store, there’s no laundromat and the best mechanic has major health issues.

But now the house is sinking under me.  I have so many books and files that the floor has subsided by a half-inch and the roof is cupping as the center of the house sinks.  Part of the reason the foundation is sinking is that 18-wheel and big farm trucks use this street for access to the Valier water supply which they load from a hydrant south a few blocks.  These vibrations are steady, not because of shipping, but because this is dry-farming country where some people have no wells -- ironic in a place founded on an irrigation system for water in the fields.  The trucks are mostly getting household water which is treated by Valier and stored in cisterns back on their homesteads, but also water for commercial uses like mixing with herbicides and pesticides.  I never thought of putting that on my list.

Crop spraying

A welcome change is that the crop-sprayer who put in the hydrant and used to live beside it has moved his operation out of town so the huge containers of poison are no longer uphill of me and the rest of the town.  I suppose he'll own some drones soon and it seems good to keep a pilot out of the poison.

Missile silo pad

Another welcome change is that the nuclear missile silo that was only a couple of miles to the east is on the closed list, though I don’t think it has been filled in yet.  

Wind farm

A strange change that everyone ignores is the wind-farm within eyeshot to the north.  It’s like a white forest of branchless trees.  You need keen eyesight to see it in daytime, but at night it’s lit with red -- I suppose to warn airplanes -- and the first time I came back to Valier in the dark, came over the last ridge and saw the huge blood red splotch, I got a major adrenaline surge.  It was unearthly, like a landing field for flying saucers.

Wind farm at night -- actually much redder than this.

Forced changes coming from state and federal regulations and law have been more uncomfortable to long-time residents than they are to me.  I feel it mostly in the constantly rising fees and the social conflict.  Most of it is about upgrades to the infrastructure, including the second water tower with its modern bubble design.  The new well that helps to fill it has brought an unwelcome change to the mineral content.  If I ever have money lying around, I’ll send some for analysis but it passes the state standards -- just stains fixtures.  On the other hand even our wells respond to drought or high run-off, so it’s much softer right now than it will be in August.

Demographic turnover is pretty quick in a town with so many older folks and one misses the staunch old retired farmers.  Rising costs and diminishing supply means that professional ministry is missing now -- none live in town.  The Sunday supply clergy are people with three and four charges.  The working men who built and now service the wind farm, who built the second water tower, who are driving to the oil wells along the High Line and on the reservation, who work on the highways and bridges, keep a pretty low profile.  The man-camps that have sprung up in other places did not appear.  There are no real taverns in Valier.  
Valier library

Another subtle change is computer access and use.  This is one force revitalizing the library where the kids practice what they have learned in school, the Hutterites come to look for bargains, and older solitaries get an infusion of social life.  I don’t have a feel for how much the kids are picking up gross decadence and full frontal obscenity or how much they have migrated away from television access to the same thing.  The impression I have is that they sweep through the social networking in great waves, then settle into little dyads and rings of friends.  The grip of the black ghetto that is apparent in Browning, doesn't seem to appear here.

Bob Miller, the new Mayor of Valier

Town Council struggles are quiet at the moment but they’ll be back.  There’s no solution for the power distribution, which is the “ring of power” in the service area (mostly ranchers) who can’t vote in the boundary-based town elections and who don’t always want the same goals.  No one wants the thankless job of governing split constituencies for no pay, esp. since making a living now is a full time job for every adult in the house.  This is a problem not on my list but it is not just local -- it’s not even national.  It’s a phenomenon of our times.


The Crip, Ming the Tom, Mom cat drinking.

Cats.  As I write, Casper, the big white bully from across the street, just chased up a yard tree the outsider tortoiseshell that’s always ruining Squibbie’s reputation.  The whole town is saturated with cats, though changes in habitat have thinned the niches.  My indoor cats, which were on the list, are over ten years old -- meaning about halfway through their lifespan -- and were the products of an old queen plus some misadventures.    They sleep mostly.  I call them “the marmots,” which are a kind of hibernating woodchuck that lives in rocky alpine places.  But the outdoor ferals, which were not on the list, are exceedingly healthy and vigorous cats, even the gray striped runt I call “the tiny mite” and the little female with a broken shoulder.  Well, maybe not her, but she has healed in her crippled way.  Ming, the slant-eyed white cat with caramel splotches, is already sexual and willing to pick fights.


Cats' Barn

Circling back to the beginning, my two out-buildings, temporary structures trucked in from use when Swift Dam was rebuilt after the 1964 flood, were never on the list and have remained an unfulfilled opportunity.  I’ve thought of a wood yard in the larger one: buy lodgepole pine, sell it cut.  Or maybe a cement stepping stone factory -- write poems on the stones.  Imprint them with leaves or footprints.  The smaller structure was once my “bunkhouse” meant to compensate for making the back bedroom into an office, but it was not what my middle-class relatives and friends expected in the way of accommodation.  Anyway, like me, they all have to pee in the middle of the night and that means staggering into the house over rough terrain.  So -- not on the list and therefore requiring more thought.

Not on the list because it was far bigger than the list, bigger than anything else, the motivation for it all is writing.  I am writing.  I did not expect the collapse of publishing and it ripped one leg off my planning stool.  I don't need it.

Of course, if you know what a milking stool looks like -- a sort of unipod like one of those English sticks that has a little sling at the top to rest a lower cheek on, but much more rustic and improvised -- then writing is the one last vital leg.  Maybe not.  When that’s gone, I’ll shift to reading.  The Great Cow of Thought that sustains me appears to be inexhaustible.  It jumps over the moon and supplies the Milky Way.  I can see the Milky Way from my backyard, you know, in spite of all the night lights and street lights.  They were not on my list.  I would put the lack of them on a new list.

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