The meadowlarks are singing. The robins are chorusing in the morning. My daffies are blooming -- they’re always late because they don’t get enough light under the trees. Dandelions are blooming and the old ladies will be demanding herbicide soon. They learned as children to despise dandelions, dust and chickens as signs of sloth, disorder, and evil. No one said anything about cancer or diabetes.
As I write, it’s barely five AM and the sky is glowing. Squibbie, the tortoiseshell, has been up for an hour, walking around the house -- it’s a square divided into four connected rooms so there are no halls and one can walk in an endless circuit. She's just heavy enough to make the floors creak a little. Crackers doesn’t wake up until I’ve just sat down to write. She’s a kind of automaton who doesn’t think, just reacts to environmental cues. For the first ten years of her life, she never said anything. Now she won’t shut up -- everything is a demand for me to do something until she suddenly shuts down and sleeps the rest of the day, rolled up like a “pill bug.” By that time the Squib, watching from the window alongside me, has been up, out, back, maybe several times. It’s too early for the Smudge, the little gray cat who now has a little gray kitten. She'll be there after second sleep.
I made a grocery run to Cut Bank, hoping to try out a new business that is mainly a quick lube but also is supposed to offer computer diagnoses on vehicles. I didn’t have an address but there are only two significant streets, the main one and the old main one which is now a truck alternative, industrial. The new biz was on the main street and said open, but also had a stickie note saying “back in 15 minutes.” I waited twenty but no one came. One of the developments in small towns is that the men disappear from their businesses for a “coffee break” mid-morning, leaving signs and female clerks to run the business. The men gather in cafes or C-stores to talk and joke. I didn't wait longer.
I think they are reacting to the uncertainty of the times, which they aggravate with a lot of rumors and crackpot theories, all transmitted with great airs of authority that have a strong defensive quality. For a while they were all thinking about the big drilling boom, the Bakken, but those oil rig companies are thirty miles to the north, mostly in Cut Bank. The Valier Good Ol’ Boys were advising everyone to develop housing, even if it were only “man camps” of trailers, and to buy guns for the crime wave that is sure to follow. They were reacting to near-hysterical media fantasy. Of course, now the oil market has collapsed.
The new mayor, a quiet man who respects the local powers, believes in facades: the lawn-mowing has begun. The billboard telling about the sewer project has been edited and the expensive work on the sewage lagoon, which was literally frozen during the winter, is now a bustling construction site again. The idea is to aerate the water like a fish tank and put a floating cover on it, because when it freezes, the “bugs” that digest the sewage don’t work and we begin to fail our e.coli tests. We were already in trouble because the post office cut back so our samples don’t get to the lab dependably, often too late to be tested.
Shelby, the boom town of the Golden Triangle where their mayor is always open to a new profit scheme, is slipping over some kind of line. The hospital/nursing home has been judged in need of improvement -- quite aside from lawsuits. The rumor has gone around that it will be closed down, which they deny. They are operating with a temporary CEO. The big old male elephant doctor, the one who always seems on the verge of going into musth, is in trouble with the state officials, which affects Valier because the Shelby hospital has the contract for the one-day-a-week clinic in Valier. It hasn’t been staffed by docs for months. Instead nurse-practitioners are doing the job.
The mayor of Shelby is far enough out of line -- or his supporters have aged out enough -- that there are investigations, but what will really do him in is that all this boomtown stuff -- private for-profit prison, multi-modal freight exchange center between railroad and semi’s because of being a port of entry into Canada -- has meant an expanding population. Their waste disposal problem has meant more work on the sewer and lagoon, and that has led to a per household hike of more than $80, just about doubling the fee.
Demographics are key to government. Booms are as troublesome as decline that leaves houses empty and not paying taxes. The new expensive expansion of sewage lagoon will have to be constructed because diluted poop doesn’t encourage the bugs. In fact, there is a crunch point in the system because when the original settling ponds were built, there were no storm sewers in the streets to divert sudden waves of rain or snow. As the buildings are added, there need to be storm sewers to keep from diluting the lagoons. That means a lot of digging and inconvenience besides the spike in cost. Our lives are strangely interwoven with e.coli.
One jurisdiction hired a mascot for sewage issues.
Meet Mr. Turd.
In Cut Bank at the Albertson’s I visited with my checker, who happens to also be the “Satisfaction Manager.” He checks groceries when there are a lot of people waiting or someone goes on break. There have been experiments with automatic machinery that will let a person check their own groceries, but they didn’t look as though they got much business. It’s a welcome breather for customers to just stand in line and chat. In fact, one of my students from the Seventies was there and I got a big hug from that intelligent, competent woman I still think of as a bouncy kid. Her grandmother, who dyed her hair bright red, and her mother, were also well-balanced and cheerful all their lives. Must be hereditary.
A crew was working on the little secondary road, filling all the cracks with tar. It’s early in the season for road work so the flaggers were paying close attention and the tar heating machine was roaring. But clusters of guys were talking in groups about something, strategy of some sort. There’s not much traffic on this road but the county is suddenly taking an interest. It's a pleasant drive.
Eurasian collared dove, invasive and noisy.
By the time the sky is rosy in the morning, there are calls from a lot of different birds. I can’t identify them except for the basics. The exogenous Eurasian collared doves, which are not much appreciated (they’re on the old-ranch-lady condemned list along with barking dogs and weedy lawns) made a racket earlier, but now they’re fertilized and sitting quietly on their nests. There are almost no ground squirrels along the roads which means that there are not enough hawks to knock back the pigeons. The remaining hawks now depend on eating cats.
Everything shifts and copes, until they can’t. Then they’re gone. The people are not exempt.I've been struggling with eye allergies for almost a month. Finally going to GF to my eye doc, I was reassured there was no infection, but on this day my eyes were stinging and itching again. I didn't find out until I got back home that the problem was a grass fire in Kalispell. There's no safe place. But at the moment the sun is shining copper through the sunset window that often forms over the mountains. The elevator is tall enough to be bright against a dark purple sky. The eye drops are working.