Friday, September 12, 2014


This is sort of like "breakfast for supper" in that I write posts mostly on the day before you see them.  I put them on line at 10PM every day.  They are supposed to be composed essays a little more than a thousand words long and I mostly stick to that.  There are a lot of little rules in this house or I would slump into cartoon old-age ruled by cats and never get anything done.  Bad enough as it is.

But when a major atypical storm comes through, all my rules are off.  I just hunker down and wait.  It's a good time to question what I'm doing anyway.  This morning we're back to more familiar patterns.  The yards are full of snow rubble and fallen branches,  but the limber new growth has sprung back to upright.  They say a lot of the ripe wheat is flattened.

The mother cat returned for breakfast, which pleased Smudge very much.  The little gray rubs back and forth along the sides of her mother but all it gets her is a bop on the head.  At least they are fed.  I have no idea what the fates of the others might be.

A quick circumambulation of the town reveals cats basking in sunshine all over town, but I don't recognize any of them.  The mountains are white again.  All through the storm I could hear the big planes roar above the clouds, I assume making practice runs from Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls.  Today contrails streak the sky.

Not so many limbs came down as might have been expected.  There was no wind -- just slow, heavy snow so what fell was young leafy weighted branches rather than the high bare snags the birds like.

All yesterday morning I spent at a town council meeting where the contract for the winter-proofing plan for the sewage lagoon was being finalized.  It was six pages long with many adjunct forms and agreements for various purposes.  Sub-contractors and a complex of funding, time lines, who does what, access roads, materials storage, and so on.  They exchanged cell phone numbers, vital for men working in outdoors, even though Verizon cells don't work here yet.  ATandT does. They did not exchange email addresses -- too bad there's no directory.  Since access to the lagoon is through the trash roll-off, some new keys will need to be cut .

The project manager is Craig Nowak, a handsome vigorous engineer with a mustache, and the main funding administrator is Rebecca Beard, a slim tall woman with a pale heavy braid, wearing a blue-striped shirt worthy of Glenn Close.  Both from Central Casting for  leaders.  The four other money-minders were small, alert, pretty women with good smiles.  The sub-contractors were big bear-like guys.  Two participants were Skyping through Nowak's laptop so there was no way to tell what they looked like.  

The mayor of Valier and two board members were in attendance, taking careful notes.  During WWI or WWII (I forget which) there was a design problem in one kind of aircraft.  If the plane were shot down, the escape hatch through which the crew were expected to drop with their parachute packs was too small for a man wearing a parachute to squeeze through.  Since the parachutes could not be put on in mid-air, men died.  

We have discovered that the two-foot by two-foot hatch that gives access to the ascending power and water lines for the new water tower is not big enough for a bear-shaped maintenance person to get through conveniently.  Access becomes necessary in winter because the insulation was not adequate so someone has to climb in with a heater.  If that someone were to be shocked or otherwise hurt, getting the person out would be very difficult.

The hatch is close to the ground, which is a mercy, but it is involved in the structural support of the tank so enlarging it is more complex than just making the hole bigger.  The price tag of a fix is $15,000.  The whole approval protocol had been completed -- no one caught it, everyone signed off.  This present expensive lagoon project is also due to the previous work not taking into account the very cold weather typical here.  A high proportion of the cost of these projects is fees for the engineers -- assumed to be experts.  Call the lawyers.

On the national level, all these additional costs count as Gross National Product, as do insurance claims.  According to the crop insurers, the weather changes in the past few years -- no matter whether they count as global warming -- have shifted the hail storms slightly north of Pondera County so that Glacier has been under siege but Pondera -- once it has figured the cost of this snow storm -- seems to have gotten off lightly. Thunderstorms in general haven't hit Valier so often, but neither has there been the stretch of hot weather I was waiting for in order to do some outdoor things.  The potted flowers seem to have survived all around town, maybe because they are up against buildings that hold heat.  Dave's tomatoes and zucchinis were covered, but they're done-for.  The temp was 23º this morning.

Obviously, these stories are all about cycles, including the people.  I've got enough material for my book about Valier.  Here's the tentative outline.  My idea of how to begin at the REAL beginning is to start with tectonic plates.  This means that the basic message of the whole manuscript will be the deep and ancient forces under more superficial recent history, revealed by what happens.

Table of Contents (first cut)

CH. 1:  The formation of North America
CH. 2:   Buffalo people
CH. 3:   Cattle on the prairie: the Conrads
CH. 4:   Belgian grain farmers: Swift Dam, Lake Francis, Pondera Canal Co., Railroad, Ocean ships, world markets
CH. 5:   Cargill
CH. 6:   Small town infrastructure
a.  Piped water
b.  Piped sewer
c.  Electricity, gas, telephone
d.  Electronics
e.  Service area versus city limits
CH. 7:  Social structure
a.  organizations
b.  demographics
CH.8:  Industrialism on the prairie: wind, oil, dams

In the end the message is not necessarily optimistic.  As I write, some grain farmers are spraying their wheat fields with Roundup herbicide in order to force early ripening.  Oil companies are still injecting poisonous water into the underground aquifers.  Chemical fallow fields -- using poison instead of harrowing to get rid of weeds -- are obvious this time of year because the dead fields are gray instead of the burnished gold of wheat stubble.  We may be in a space too small to get out of.

No comments: