Tuesday, July 29, 2008


In my on-going curiosity about why people don’t read, I’m beginning to think more and more about the management of consciousness, because so many people say, “Oh, I have to be in the mood” or “most of the time I don’t feel like it,” as though it were playing tennis. So far, these are my provisional theories.

1. People are not used to doing solitary things. As a culture we tend to discourage “being alone” as symptomatic of a failure to get along with others or an interest in things that need to be hidden. (The privacy of reading is one of its major appeals, I think.) It’s suggested that maybe readers are depressed, or obsessive. A little vague guilt attaches to “going off to read.”

Lately reading has been attached to “book groups” where people don’t seem to pay much attention to books, even to the point of reading the books assigned, but enjoy the socializing and evidently use the suggested book as a way of gathering congenial people of the right sort. People who actually READ THE BOOK are out of step.

Unless one is good at concentrating, it’s hard to find a quiet place for reading. Houses are designed for everyone to be together in one big room, even the cook. Computers, video games, ordinary TV and radio, pets, and kids keep up the commotion. If a person goes off alone, everyone else wants to know why they’re missing -- aren’t we loved anymore?

3. The teaching of reading is in disrepair, in spite of “no child left behind.” We seem to think that people will spontaneously begin to read the way children spontaneously begin to talk. This was true for me, but clearly not true for everyone. The brain expands according to what it’s used for: if you read, it becomes easier; if you don’t, it gets harder. In an atmosphere where learning is defined as “sucking up”, it’s hard for a kid to even try.

4. What books?
The most common reaction to my own library is that the books should be gotten rid of, unless I haven’t read them yet or have already read them. Reading is a means to an end, and the end is entertainment. Many people can’t think of any other end BUT entertainment, so once a person knows the plot, there’s no use in keeping the book. Books about ideas, books that require analysis, books for research, books that are beloved, books read for appreciation of the style, etc. are not frowned on -- it’s just that they are unknown, unperceived.

5. Books and magazines are too expensive.
Boy, I agree with this one! But the judicious use of the used book websites (Alibris.com, Abebooks.com, and Powells.com) can provide some great reading for almost nothing. I find books I really want for $1 each. Of course, it’s a little tricky if they have to be shipped a long ways. My collection of Durrell paperbacks (the equivalent of $1 each) cost me $50 in shipping! There's always the library.

6. The only time for reading might be while traveling, either commuting daily or on long flights, and then books on tape work better. Well, that’s okay. I guess I’d count that as reading. And earphones discourage chatty seatmates better than holding a book, which might invite inquiries and unwelcome opinions.

7. Reading is seen as escapism.
It’s a way of running away from problems by living fantasy lives instead of facing the real problems of being a human these days. But mightn’t books offer ideas for coping? Doesn’t Harry Potter encourage us all to be part of a community? Doesn’t Lord of the Rings teach us all to persist, to forgive, to believe in the truth?

8. None of the stuff in print now is about people like me.
The publishers seem to value nutcases, felons and foreigners. Why should anyone care about all those people? Doesn’t anyone write about people like us? Where do we find such writing? There are no bookstores for people like us. What do we Google?

9. But doubling back to the management of consciousness, so much of people’s lives seems to be in reaction rather than proactive and internally felt in macro-shifts rather than fine-tuning. We calm ourselves, not with “a nice cup of tea,” (which many people wouldn’t be able to tell was “nice” anyway -- just that it was tea) but by slugging back Big Gulps or tall cans of beer. Childhood, school and jobs are all focused on demands from others or from a schedule or from practical needs. No one demands that we need to read and, once out of school, we feel as though it’s an unjust demand anyway. Isn’t reading optional once you’ve graduated?

10. Yesterday a letter came that put reading in a harsh light. It was from my Oregon Public Employers Retirement System and was telling me the results from a court case between Strunk and Eugene about the management of the funds and the formula for disbursing payments. At first reading it appeared to tell me that my monthly pension was about to be reduced from more than two hundred dollars to three dollars. At second reading it appeared to say that my share of the lawyers’ costs (which were $763,367) would be $3.50. Third reading hinted that my monthly pension was getting a COLA increase of $3.70. Fourth reading suggested that since the COLA had been frozen since 2004, I might be getting a check for all the back due increases: let’s see, 3.70 for twelve months for four years is... YOWZER!! I might be able to afford to keep warm this winter! My mood was going all over the place: terror, hope, excitement, elation, suspicion...

The problem was not really a superficial “reading” skills problem. The problem was that I don’t have the context of the daily newspaper stories on this issue, since I’m in a different state, and also I don’t understand the implications of the terms they use, since it is a rather specialized vocabulary. Of course, they give me a number to call so I can ask questions, but I’m embarrassed by the necessity. They’ll think I can’t read. So I’ll just wait and see what my next payment reveals on the evidence, as it were.

But that points to something else that underlies the aversion to reading: first that it requires thinking and second that it is often so jargon-concept based that one needs a dictionary -- both energy-demanding. And if there is any political content, surely there will have been an effort to find terms that are misleading. A time-line becomes a horizon becomes a desired outcome. Sigh. But here’s a mood shifter: it’s only a hundred days to the election. I think I’ll do a lot of reading in the interval, but maybe cancel the newspaper.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


Photo courtesy of Laurel Scriver. Bob's name and dates are not as worn as the light makes it seem.

Not long ago Bob Scriver’s niece stopped by the cemetery in Cut Bank. She got a surprise. During WWII Thad Scriver, her grandfather, bought four graves which was how he thought of his family: mom, pop, two sons. No provision for daughters-in-law or descendants. This made more sense when both sons were in the army and men from Browning were being killed. The graves were in Cut Bank because that was the “white town.” Of course, now that has less meaning that it did then.

By the time Bob Scriver died, his mom, pop, brother and sister-in-law were occupying the original four graves, so two more were bought, head-to-head with the four originals. The four graves had been marked with modest flat stones for ease when mowing. When Thad died, his wife (Bob’s mom) installed a “family stone,” which simply had “Scriver” on it, at the head of the four graves. While nice enough, it is hardly elaborate.

Bob Scriver’s wish was that he be buried next to his beloved horse out at the Doane ranch and he’d made Boyd Evans promise to come back with his backhoe to bury Bob there. Bob’s fourth wife, Lorraine, would have none of that! (I was the third wife. Lorraine was a common-law wife as nearly as I can tell, if that makes any difference. She was with him longer that any of us.) Lorraine, having had a dubious and outlier background, was determined to capture respectability and inclusion, so she insisted on the Cut Bank cemetery.

The only other people involved in the decision were Bob’s remaining three grandchildren by his daughter, who had died much earlier. She is buried in Anacortes, Washington, where she died, and her mother, Bob’s first wife, is interred in the same grave. There are two headstones on that grave, one for each woman. The only time the grandchildren saw their mother’s casket was when the grave was opened to bury their grandmother. Bob’s two granddaughters by his son don’t appear to have been consulted. Bob’s contemporaries, his cousins, were not even told he had died until I contacted them in the course of writing his biography.

The grandkid’s and Lorraine’s solution to the problem of markers was to cut Bob’s name in the Scriver family stone and add a “foot stone,” though Lorraine in particular had visions of a statue. One thing they never thought of was noting that Bob was a WWII veteran, since that was long before they were born. The consequence of that oversight is that every Memorial Day when the Veterans of Foreign Wars mark every veteran’s grave with a small United States flag, they put one on Harold’s grave according to the information of his service on his stone, but never put one on Bob’s grave. For a few years I drove out early on Memorial Day and reminded them. I threatened to tape a photocopy of his portrait in uniform onto the headstone.

When Bob died, I decided not to come to the funeral or be involved. The grandkids plainly wanted me excluded and, as for Lorraine, need you ask? In Spring I came to find his grave and though “Crown Hill Cemetery” is small, I stopped at Bob’s lawyer’s to see where I should look. The lawyer was clearly not happy to see me -- had rather forgotten that I existed -- and went into a long explanation of how Bob had chosen to be buried near the lawyer’s family plot because his family and the Scrivers had been such wonderful friends. News to me.

Within a year a second lawyer had captured the attention of Lorraine, eliminated the first one, and was re-arranging things to suit himself and his bank account. He paid no attention to Bob’s grave. The family stone is at the head of both Bob’s grave and the space next to it, which is empty. It’s unclear who has ownership of it. (The niece believes she does.)

My idea was that when they cleaned out the taxidermy walk-in freezer under the Scriver Museum of Montana Wildlife, which contained the bodies of more than a few of Bob’s beloved pet animals so that “someday” he could make their portraits in bronze, they ought to bury the pets in the grave next to him. Since he couldn’t be next to his horse, maybe he could be next to his springer spaniel, his bobcats, his fox, his badger, and his ground squirrel. One of my friends advised me that he thought others would consider this blasphemy, since cemeteries are hallowed ground. He was rather confusing a cemetery, which is simply a burial ground, with a graveyard, which is part of church property.

The surprise Bob’s niece got was that Lorraine’s name had suddenly appeared on the gravestone. She died in 2002 in Vancouver, B.C., where she was born (she was always a Canadian citizen as was her first husband), was cremated and cast into the Pacific Ocean. (So was Bob’s second wife. An interesting fantasy about what the two sets of ashes might say if they met.) Maybe her family sent or brought some of her ashes to be buried here, but they never came to visit while she was alive so I don’t know why they could come five years after her death. I suspect this was the work of the lawyer attempting to strengthen his ties to the estate. Bob paid him in bronze castings and he rents a room at the Russell Auction every year to try to sell them. So the memorial for a common-law wife is an empty grave. Maybe the lawyer dances on it -- I don’t.

The symbolism of grave locations and styles is still strong among us in theory, but not always well thought-out in fact, not least because when people have just died, the survivors are stunned. No one can enforce their wishes beyond the grave. Multiple marriages make it even more problematic. Bob’s first wife’s parents are buried in Conrad, where the cemetery is in a cool forest of evergreens (shelter belt trees, really) watered by a special ditch. Her brother is also buried there as well as his two wives. As far as I know, no family members go to visit.

When my own mother was close to death, we asked her what she wanted. She had buried my father’s ashes in the grave of his parents in Portland, Oregon. We knew her own father was buried in one of a double plot in Roseburg, OR, bumped out of the marital double plot by his daughter who was killed in a car crash as a teenager. The other grave is empty, and we asked if she would like to be there. “NO!” she said with some vehemence. “Just put me somewhere that there’s an evergreen tree and a lot of daffodils!” In the end her ashes were interred next to my father’s and both their names were added to the grandparents' headstone. Later I went to visit the graves in Roseburg and saw that her father’s grave is near an evergreen tree and daffodils bloomed nearby.

In the end graves are not for the dead but for the living: avaricious, yearning, indignant, or whatever else they might be. Unless it’s wartime, the symbolism of graves fades for most people. Everyone moves all the time now and many families have totally lost track of where graves might be.

My own instructions are cremation and dispersal without interment -- just let the wind take me wherever it goes. I find that a comforting idea. But I do occasionally go by the Scriver graves -- in fact, as far as I know, no one else did until that niece paid her recent visit. Not even the Montana Historical Society who grabbed Bob’s estate and has kept it warehoused ever since, a kind of interment. And I suspect that lawyer doesn’t put flowers on either Bob’s grave or the empty grave.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


It appears to me that our discussions about Valier always fall into the same trap, which is describing what we want the town to look like and what kind of people we want to move here, instead of looking at the real economic base for growth. So what IS the economic base of Valier?

Of course, the keystone business is the Pondera Canal company and the irrigation it makes possible. They are low-key and we forget.


Of the two basic kinds, livestock and grain growing, we seem to have slightly more grain growing, which is of two kinds: irrigated and dry-land. Primary crops are wheat and barley, with activity in the breeding of new kinds. I’m not aware of organic grain farmers in the immediate vicinity. Alternative crops include canola, flax, pulse, and alfalfa.

Profit making pluses include ag chemical businesses. Chemical fallowing fields increase business, but the high cost of petroleum-derived chemicals are a detriment. (I’m nervous about consequences for human physiology.) CRP is good for individuals since they don’t have the cost of farming their land, but now the value of ethanol-producing crops is very high and there is talk of returning land to production. Since those on CRP sold their machinery, if there’s a return, dealers should be looking at good business. I do not know which ethanol crops will grow here. Switch grass? Not corn. Custom cutters are seasonal and transient.
When the newly negotiated Blackfeet water rights kick in five years from now, they represent a 30% loss of water. If this combines with drought, some folks will be out of business.

The elevator and railroad spur are dependent on grain production. They seem to be doing fine but how does the town relate to them? Could a small passenger vehicle on the tracks, possibly electrical, shuttle us to Great Falls?

Livestock is mostly cattle with a sub-theme of sheep, hogs, and chickens. Derived businesses are feed companies, veterinarians, meat-cutters, and labor for daily care, birthing, vaccination, AI, and so on. Transporting animals is done with trucks. At least one trucking business here is local.

So far as I know there is not much local truck gardening except for the Hutterites. There seems to be potential in hydroponics and greenhouses since transportation and the potential for contamination in distant foods are high. Would our successful greenhouse (a relatively new business) consider renting greenhouse space in winter for individuals to grow, say, lettuce?


A local grocery store is increasingly vital as it becomes more expensive to drive to the larger towns, but monopolies are never good and a small store can’t stock the broad range of foods some people are used to. Food distributors find Valier in an awkward spot off the Interstate.

The newspaper has been moved to the equivalent of “off-shore” ownership so there is only a reporter in town instead of owners. The Great Falls Tribune talks quietly of discontinuing a paper version, which represents a possible job loss. If they did that, only people with computers would have access. The Trib rarely sends their reporters here, picking up our news through indivduals or local newspapers. We don’t seem to get the Conrad paper in Valier.

We’re down to one commercial service station combined with liquor store, video rental, and quickstop food. Netflix is probably hurting the video rentals. The laundromat is gone. This is the location of the only ATM in town. But there are card gas services at Hank Taylor. We have a couple (three?) mechanics, one of them (Fitz) with as much or more business as he can handle, partly because of quality work and partly because he specializes in engine rebuilding.

The library is going strong, moving into serving groups such as kids’ educational programs and offering readings. They hope to expand. The mayor claims they have more money than the town. Certainly everyone admires the architect designed building and the pleasant fireplace.

The motel is completely renewed. It’s biggest problem now is heat in winter.
Eating and drinking establishments seem to be thriving. The Panther is redecorated and busy, the Lighthouse draws people from a hundred miles away, and Froggies is booming.

The post office seems to be stable and efficient. UPS and FedX the same.
Valier clinic is newly rebuilt with community help. This building also shelters chiropractic service. Professional counseling is only a few doors away.
In the past there were bakeries, but none now unless one counts Hutterites or unless someone has a home business. There is no community commercial “food business incubator,” like a certified kitchen people could use for a business based on canning or baking. Squiers have a home-based baking and preserves business connected to their berry and potato fields.

The lunch program for seniors just bought new stoves. The “Senior Surrey” looks to be revived. I don’t know about outreach such as visiting nurses or social services.
I don’t know about you, but I find Wells Fargo too big, arbitrary and profit-oriented to be worth bothering with.


Emergency services: fire, police and EMT
Town streets, water and sewer
Natural gas line
No wood yard
Garbage pickup and roll-off.
The airport
Cell phone service is inadequate.
The cable television service seems ended by satellite television.
Through-the-air television broadcast is not maintained and will be transformed with the switch to digital. It is county rather than town. There is no town radio or television.
Internet-based streaming technology is growing so quickly that both telephone and satellite access need to be pretty capacious.

Niche businesses, brick-and-mortar or online

Fabric-based businesses, like the custom embroidery and clothing shop and the quilt shop, seem to do well. Heart Butte once had a sewing co-op that completed contracts for custom sewing (through a job broker back east) -- things like filters for the air system in tanks. It failed because the workers couldn’t cope with the fluctuations in the size of the contracts, but maybe Valier could.

The flower nursery is a success and relatively new.

The Gallery/website business of Jack Smith has developed well, but arts in general as business is undeveloped. (Small inexpensive houses invite artists.) The connection with Ivan Doig has never been exploited by identifying this town as one of his sources and the location of his high school education.

The eBay-dependent antiques business did well until the owner became ill. Rumor has it that eBay may change drastically in the next few years, which might help or hinder.
I’m not aware of a bookkeeping business. Likewise insurance. Other clerical services such as transcription (medical or otherwise), printing, database maintenance, indexing are not present. I’m told there’s a woman who proofs textbooks and I myself write. Others write grants. I reflect about a custom bookbinding but so far don't know enough.

The several “beauty parlors” have absorbed the male barber business. One value-added business offers massage.

Prairie Star, reborn as Trader’s Dispatch, has been steady and strong.
The real estate business is subject to the larger economy, which is rough right now, but recently there was a bit of a boom which was much facilitated by online entrepreneurs who find Valier and see it as good place for “flipping.”

Kenny, our long-time grass cutter, is aging out, but Joe has moved to town and begun a service.

Rick the handyman has moved on. In general, it’s hard to find people to do small technical tasks like rewiring a switch or repairing a leak.

A new AC company has moved to town.

John Padgett does house painting.

Swank/DeVoe is the premier model for a business that has over the years grown from a little hardware store to a major contractor.

There is no computer or tech support person in town.


Employees for homeland security, the prison, the border, the sheriff like to live in Valier as a quiet environment for their families.

Transient labor for big projects like the wind farm, the high transmission line, pipelines and so on, seek apartments or small houses here.

There is one low-cost apartment housing unit built and the Section 8 program is active. People at the growth meeting indicated a need for something that would sustain older people so they don’t have to move to Conrad.

A storage facility has just expanded.

Housing supplies seem to include a range: small, old houses that invite low income people; modern and roomy homes suitable for families with children and income; a few unique homes designed specifically for individuals; modular homes built and moved in to permanent foundations; trailers of various sorts. Many houses stand empty a lot because they are vacation residences. Lately there have been quite a few totally new houses. Some properties become legally frozen for a while because the owners are in institutions or deceased or ownership is somehow disputed. They tend to deteriorate.
One individual, Bowman, has remodeled a number of houses to the point of totally renewing them, moving a few into town from the country. This includes the Stone School House. He has moved away and is selling the last of his properties. He has in the past been active as “Bootlegger Realty,” dealing in more modest properties. The present real estate person does not live in the town.
The park on the main street is a major improvement but the old bank/post office is still a blot, as is the potentially cute little house that once housed a tourist business. I’m told that one person owns these two buildings plus a substantial but deserted house away from the highway. Do we know what goes on with this property owner? Are the contingencies his or ours?


Highway 44 is known as the “cut-across” and was once promoted as the fastest and safest route to Great Falls from Browning, where Marias Pass and Canadian traffic enter the area. The signs put up then are pretty shabby now, though 89 is still a twisty, narrow road most of the way. Part of the success of the Panther is that it was halfway along 44, well-placed for taking a coffee break in rough weather. When 44 was being rebuilt, people got out of the habit of traveling it. We need to encourage return to the route now that competing highway 2 to Cut Bank is much improved and also a cut-across to the Interstate.

The irrigation impoundment fondly known as Lake Francis is the key to a campground, ice fishing in winter and small boat fishing in summer, and wind-related activities like wind-surfing. It also provides a nesting island in wet years. There is no exclusively fishing supply shop. The fish organizations contribute such amenities as the fish-cleaning station.

The Firemen’s Pavilion is a good facility for large group events and might be developed further.

Stone School Bed and Breakfast appears to be a viable business but doesn’t interact with the community so much as it did.

What seems clear is that many successful businesses come from the vision or aptitude of individuals who see a “niche” and develop it. Also, there are two competing currents: those who would like to see the town become much bigger and those who would like to see the town stay small but more orderly and prosperous. Little attention is given to world or regional influences.

Valier is too nervous about the relationship with the reservation to talk about it.

Only a few people are participating in the discussion of the future.

Quite a bit of growth has been happening in the past few years, enough to make the infrastructure groan a bit.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Last night was a town meeting meant to satisfy a state requirement that Pondera County have a growth plan based on smaller growth plans designed by the several communities in the county. This has put all the enthusiastic spot zoning schemes of those in control on hold: forbidden by the state without a series of town meetings. Few citizens came to this one.

One man came only to tell us that his friend from Butte (who made a lot of money and therefore was to be respected) had commented that Valier would never attract a decent business base unless they learned how to park properly. This man proposed that on the main streets we should paint stripes so people would park “right.” Because it seemed self-evident to himself and others that business thrives when a town looks good -- not that it was possible that towns look good BECAUSE the businesses are thriving. He thought that his idea might anger some people so he left as soon as he expressed it. I was laughing too hard to be angry.

My own realization -- growing for months now -- is that we are in the long-predicted “end times” when the oil runs out (or becomes so expensive that it’s the same effect). That will close some marginal businesses. Also, the supply of irrigation water will take a 30% hit in five years when the Blackfeet tribe claims its share. (It’s not that they aren’t entitled -- it’s that the non-rez people have been taking their water since the beginning.) At that point, some of the areas ag businesses (both ranches and ag supply dealers) will end. These are Third World kinds of problems. We haven’t really faced what it means to have possible bank failures or to have our basic infrastructure (like pipelines) owned by foreign countries. Spoiling the scenery by erecting wind-farms seems necessary with oil and natural gas so high, but the wind electricity will also be foreign-owned.

There are people in this town living on $500 a month or less, which is only possible with government help, but this country shows increasing unwillingness to help the poor, the elderly, the disabled, the children. There are ranchers who make it only because the government subsidizes them. One of the complaints last night was that certain streets were unpleasant because of the boat traffic headed over to the lake, but it may not be long before people park their boats under tarps in the backyard because there’s no gas for them. No one is counting them nor are they paying any fees for the dock.

There were few or no poor people at this meeting. Nor were there any identified Indians. Nor were there any of the truly prosperous people in town nor any of the owners of jewel-in-the-crown businesses like the DeVoe-Swank construction complex or the fine restaurant called “The Lighthouse” that attracts people celebrating special events from a hundred miles away. The real estate company is owned by ranchers who live in the country and dabble in state politics. They were not present.

No one was prepared to deal with the complexities of property that looks bad because ownership is in doubt, like the Willette trailer with only a feral dog in residence behind me. Owners are in nursing homes with liens on their dwellings, unpaid taxes, and -- come to that -- defaulted purchase loans. Their heirs take no interest. A new law restricting the demolition of houses until there is asbestos testing will make it even more expensive to remove old buildings.

Before the meeting I was interested to see across from the town hall a drilling rig and trotted over to ask what they were up to. Might we strike oil in the middle of town? Solve some problems, that would! But they were there on behalf of the DEQ, which has ordered monitoring stations and a test well on a highway property that formerly was occupied by a service station. The underground tanks leaked and after thirty years or so the ground contamination remains. The mayor denied that they were finding anything, but the crew said they were surprised by how high the readings were. That property is also tied up in issues of responsibility because the original owners are deceased and any inheritors have distanced themselves. Some in the room shrugged off the problem of ground contamination so I brought up the gas vapors from the old demolished service station that blew up inside the Scriver Museum of Montana Wildlife in the Seventies. No one on the town council had been born yet.

No one addressed the business issues we used to consider in the Sixties: how many people actually drive past, what percentage of them will stop, of the people who stop and come in, how many will buy something and how many will return? Highway 44 has been completely rebuilt, which is wonderful, but no traffic studies have been made to see whether drivers have returned to using it. The sign on 89 that used to direct traffic through to Valier is old and uninviting. No one addressed on-line businesses like the eBay antiques business that did rather well for a while (the owner developed cancer) and no one was aware of the issues if the Internet becomes pay-per-message. When I suggested that the town become a wi-fi hotspot, no one knew what that was except for the local businesses that had in-house wi-fi. We seem to have lost expertise both on the hoary old practices of post-WWII and the shiny new practices of the tech universe.

Most people seem to understand rather well that our water and sewer infrastructure is barely adequate for our present size and could not sustain much development. It came to light that one big section of unbuilt lots sits there because a sewer in that low area couldn’t be built without expensive “lift stations” and pumps. The few houses in those blocks are on septic systems. We also have a once-projected “subdivision” just across the highway and railroad that has been dropped out of subdivision status. They are on septic systems. There are two ranching operations there with concentrations of animals in corrals or feedlots for part of the year.

Growth, like shrinking, means change. There’s no such thing as standing still. Maybe the hardest kind of growth is the kind that fluctuates with construction like the new wind farm and the big international high-tension electrical line, which will bring in workers (though not in anything like the numbers of those who once came to build Swift Dam at the head of our irrigation system, because now so much is done by machinery) and then send them on their way again. The phrase “trailer court” came up just once. Border law enforcement, homeland security agents, and guards from the contract prison in Shelby like to live in Valier, but if gas continues to rise, it’s an expensive commute -- an hour’s drive.

Part of what prevents a realistic grip on problems is the sheer overwhelmingness of them, another part is people trying hard to deflect attention away from their own small iffy operations, and a third part is the sheer head-flattening terror of facing impossible fuel bills this winter when it goes to forty below, to say nothing of the burden of gasoline prices in a place where other towns are at least thirty miles away. No wonder the fantasy of straight parking as a cure-all is appealing. At least that’s something that a person could do.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


This snapshot was taken at Meadville/Lombard, the seminary where I earned my M. Div. in 2004. Yesterday, as sometimes happens, I got a phone call from someone wrestling with the whole problem of ministry in the UUA because they had Googled and came up with my blog. Maybe I can use this photo to reflect on the UU ministry in a personal and rather off-hand way.

First of all, in the background is the Curtiss Room, the reception and “relief” space (the morning room, as it were) of the building, which is paneled, hung with imposing portraits of older white men, and furnished with, well, serviceable furniture. I’d call this a rather English model. We were just starting out together in 1978. The gleeful fellow in the middle is Peter Luton, then the youngest of us and now the Senior Minister of the Eastshore UU Church in Bellevue, WA, one of the “tall-masted” big ships of the congregational fleet. His path has been quite classical. With undergrad degrees from Princeton, he’s on the conservative side, but has a lovable sense of humor that is an antidote to stuffiness. However, he’s a team player. We used to tease him that his thesis had more footnotes than content: he rarely stepped over the lines.

On the left is Gary Gallun and his wife, Paula, but their son is not shown. He was just an energetic little kid but an enlivening force and a full participant in the class of six. Six. This is half the class. Gary came out of the Jewish tradition and many of us participated in our first Passover with his family. He was warm, intelligent, inclusive, and was diagnosed with MS while he was there, which explained a certain lassitude. The Galluns had sold their house to pay for seminary and it was Paula who finally figured out the cost of a year: $11,000 in 1978, which is chicken feed now but shocking then. The denomination helped through various means, which they represented as generosity and investment in our student careers, though it was really to keep the seminary from going bankrupt. Religion needs the appearance of success and permanence.

So the Galluns lost their house and shortly after seminary lost the marriage, but raised the kid well. Gary has remarried. As far as I can tell, he hasn’t settled permanently in any congregation but moves around for interims, consultancies, and so on. Paula remarried another classmate but that marriage ended, too. That classmate never entered ministry. I don’t know where Paula is. If I were a guy, I’d propose immediately. She is a woman of warmth, good sense, and strength and I profoundly hope she’s found someone who deserves her.

Then over on the right is myself, all frisky and confident. I was one of the first “older women” (barely forty), my first “charge” was four Montana fellowships which I served as a circuit-rider for three years while living in a van. By 1999 -- then in Saskatchewan -- I was broke, heart-sick, disgusted, fighting chronic bronchitis and holes in my retinas. As soon as it was decently possible, I just went back “home” to Browning, Montana. My CPE had been destructive, my internship had been miserable, my graduation had been compromised (I gave up the D.Min. and settled for an M.Div. which is the normative degree anyway.) and my role models had turned out to have very clay feet. I accepted the idea that I was just not meant to be a minister. I hated the politics, the moving, never having enough, the pretending, and having to constantly break off relationships.

I’ve changed quite a lot since then. Mostly because of aging, but also out of a struggle to come to terms with disappointment per se, which is also why that person called me to talk about ministry. A part of the denomination intended to weigh ministry carefully and wisely had instead made this person a target of sneering and goofy politics. Happens all the time. This person’s older and wiser minister friends said, “Gee, I can’t believe you were so idealistic in the first place. Haven’t you ever heard of protective cynicism?” Or maybe that’s just another name for corruption and compromise. One of my changes is that I refuse to eat shit anymore.

My “life problem” has been faithfulness: how to maintain commitment when the person or institution to which one has pledged devotion turns out to be faulty and/or rejecting. Meadville has changed more than any of the beginners in this photo. For one thing, they are about to move out of their dignified, classical, history-soaked building into a modernist steel-and-glass space the U of Chicago encouraged them to accept. It’s more than symbolic -- the reality of a different space will make a plate tectonic difference. For another, they’ve dropped the high scholastic standards that attracted me in the first place -- a sort of PhD model -- and gone to a far more sale-able sort of counselor model. As nearly as I can tell, they still pretend that management issues are beneath ministers.

The truth is that humans and institutions are processes rather than permanent objects. If they try to stay the same and if the circumstances change sufficiently, they will disappear. It’s an ecological model: everything is connected, everything is changing, so the way to survive is to either refit yourself to the niche or find another niche. But then what happens to a person deeply in love (attachment, guidance, contributing) with a niche/a person/an institution that is nourishing and supportive but slowly erodes into a kind of ice cave where no one could live?

The two other women in my seminary class complained about the cold even as we went through the first year. One left. The other struggled with depression while soldiering on. One man went psychotic. I survived by running an air hose out to Richard Stern’s classes and by raging through a page of writing every week. (The Scriver Seminary Saga!) One man counted on his friend Mary Jane. I also signed up for a ministers’ therapeutic “sharing group,” innocently assuming it was a safe and confidential environment. I took a few unrelated hits like the death of Bob’s granddaughter (I had bullied her through her last year of high school and three broken pregnancies.) and the exploding of Mt. St. Helens. (Geology is as close to Theology as Cleanliness is close to Godliness.) And I built up a reservoir of rage.

So this reservation is a good place for me: I fit in. A good niche right at the edge once I got back to it. And the most surprising part is that the ministry continues. I blog instead of preaching, which saves on gas. I still end up at community meetings, trying to understand what to do. I still end up trying to comfort others (though I resist). I still find money grabbing energy. But as far as the denomination and the seminary are concerned, I simply don’t exist. Shrug. Their loss. Their niche. I watch as their ice cave melts.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

YVES ST. LAURENT: a review

My family has a conflicted view of wealth -- beyond ambiguous and verging on oxymoronic. I mean, most people think of wealth as both a function of status (important people get wealthy) and of merit (smart, hard-working people get wealthy) and as a means of getting status (wealth makes you important) and getting merit (wealth buys you a decent education and good contacts). But somehow my family on both sides (Oregon trail on one side and Dakota homestead on the other) has the idea that wealth comes from wickedness (both sinful pursuits and cheating) and that wealth makes you fat and stupid, which are signs of low status. This puts us in a double bind.

Art is one way out of the bind: if you succeed, it’s pure chance and the money will soon be exhausted. And oddly, at least in my case, luxury has been an escape, not necessarily direct luxury from wealth but the luxury of senses focused on pleasure. Not a great deal of money is necessary so long as one can find a library, pick fresh raspberries, sit in the sun, take a bath with good soap, stretch out for a nap or afford Netflix. Which explains why I so enjoy my latest disc, ordered on the advice of my California cousin and containing two movies about Yves St. Laurent, who notes that he began life in the great environmental luxury of Algiers and then moved to the cultural luxury of Paris. The two movies are “His Life and Times,” and “5th Avenue Marceau 75116 Paris.”

I suppose everyone knows that Yves is gay, but most people are not careful enough about distinguishing different kinds and styles of gayness. This man is androgynous, almost pre-pubescent, the deviser of “le smoking” and pantsuits for women. His ideal is the luxurious ease of fine fabrics, beautifully cut and constructed, for bodies that are tall and slender. He insists that he pushed men’s suits over into femininity. Looking at the results is entirely persuasive. His model was Chanel, a rather tough dame who managed to look sexy rather than butch by wearing simple suits with attitude. (Hilary’s pantsuits and short hair “read” more as efficient and business-like. Color is as key to her look as black was for Chanel.)

Aside from the suits, which he likes to send out accessorized with shoulder bags that invite women to sway as they walk, much of his success has come from his other role model, Balenciaga. The fabulous ball gown, often rather simple in concept, but crafted with incredible detail and precision, and sometimes inspired -- like the knockout Russian collection -- by peasant costumes, is something few of us will ever buy or even try on, but it is a glorious thing to contemplate when Yves creates it.

The gowns begin as drawings, mere sketches, and continue their development on models, often -- as illustrated here -- women who are genetically Watusi or Somali: extremely dark, tall and thin with breasts that point up at the tip and hip movement that suggests they are carrying a jug of water on their heads. Their hair is cropped, nearly shaved, but their eyes are enormous with makeup. They wear nothing but black pantyhose and VERY high heels. In the workshop, which is mostly a huge table that almost fills a room, each sketch is assigned to a specific woman or occasionally a man who translates the lines into actual pattern pieces and assembles them with basting and pins. (“You might be pricked!” they warn the models and indeed they are.) I wish I knew what material they were using to cut from: it is white, looking almost like paper, but it drapes and holds a crease.

Probably in the early days Yves did this himself, but in the film he sits endlessly smoking with Lulu de la Falaise and other faithful attendants, reviewing the clothing while the model walks, turns, walks, turns, seemingly tireless and stoic. Hems, of course, are of concern: “up a centimeter or maybe a centimeter and a half?” Then in the afternoon the same hem -- like that infamous comma put in and taken out by a meticulous writer -- is returned to where it was. “Try a Mao collar,” suggests Yves and a man with fabric clipped to his side takes a sheet and cuts a perfect collar which is laid against the model’s neck. “No. That’s not it. Try a ...” The team has names for collars that the rest of us don’t know, references to earlier creations that have become classics. Much of the work is attempting to recreate the in-house classics with a bit of difference.

“So light!” “Ravishing!” “Very pretty!” Most of the time this is Yves’ constant commentary. They are creating summer clothes of organza, organdy, chiffon, very fine wool -- fabrics that float and bell out over the slender long legs of the models. When the garment seems to be perfected, the realizer of it steps to this man grown thick and exhausted, kisses him on both cheeks and thanks him for creating something so wonderful. In turn, he thanks the fabricator. There are no temper tantrums. Lulu quietly accessorizes: broad-brimmed hats, dripping diamond earrings, a quick ruffled-up flower of net.

In my time and neighborhood, mothers sewed one’s clothes and one took 4-H sewing classes from Mrs. McPherson, whose clever hands had thumbs nearly bent back into a C which seemed to be an advantage. Among my theatre courses was costuming and I spent a summer as a costumer for a summer repertory company, though it was more assembling than designing. The point is that when I see Yves and his crew basting and stitching and pressing, it’s as much a vicarious pleasure, as much a sense memory, as the finished clothing. To be able to turn a clever seam, to coax a drape, to make a lining that is imperceptible but vital to the surface -- these are as much artistic skills as managing a brush loaded with oil paint or creating a beautiful curved line in clay or developing a fine patina on bronze.

The community around St. Laurent is rather like a company of theatre people, which includes the backstage people as much as the actors. I was fascinated by Loulou, and by Pierre Berge, and the synergy they are able to provide. There was an older woman, unidentified to me, who sat watching everything, murmuring, remembering, guiding, soothing, rebuking. For long periods she hardly moved except for her eyes, but she provided a kind of spine and motivation for an essentially wearisome task. (One of the few reliefs was a tubby French bulldog which demolished every stuffed animal it was given.) Catharine Deneuve, an exemplar so important to a couturier, is here quite different from her image, very human. After those charcoal stroke models, she seems pale, slightly stout, and grimacing. Trying on a safari jacket variation, she tells a friend how a fox killed all her chickens, even her “turkey Americaine” but she managed to save her rooster. One has a sudden vision of her aiming a shotgun, trying to see around the hank of hair hanging over her eyes. Yet all the glamour and sexiness is still there.

Yves St. Laurent had much pain and sickness in his life. He was, Berge explains, “very conventional” and wanted predictability and normality in spite of his sometimes louche pursuits. Berge himself, he says, is “unconventional” and willing to take risks but provided lifelong the stability that Yves needed. Maybe the reason it’s such a temptation to call this fabulous couturier “Yves” is that he somehow remains a child. And perhaps that is the secret to both art and luxury -- not growing old -- jaded -- cynical. Child-like-ness has little to do with wealth, though wealth can both result from it and destroy it. Status is totally irrelevant.

Christmas, 1965. I'm hemming the dresses I made to give Michelle and Charmaine, Bob's granddaughters. The pink Chanel suit I'm wearing I made to wear to New York City when Bob was on "To Tell the Truth." I'm at Bob's mother's house.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


After the Saturday Open House celebrating the premier of the movie called “Summer Sun, Winter Moon,” which explains the genesis of the symphony of the same name, the producer and an education consultant plus Roberta Kipp, Anne DeRosier Grant, and myself met on Sunday morning to think about how to find pathways “in” for teachers to use this movie. We did not exactly stay “on task” and I’m sure Cynthia Newton, the producer, had to use a lot of patience to deal with us.

The day before I’d just made a speech to Leland about how difficult it is for outsiders to “interface” with rez people, esp. Indians. Both Roberta and Anne are low quantum NA’s with MUCH education and experience in the larger world -- though they work with Blackfeet kids all day every day during the school year. (I’ll just note in passing that they’re both beautiful and married to powerful men. Roberta’s rez family connections are through Kipp and Anne’s are through her birth family, DeRosier.) There’s something about our experiences here that puts us out of sync with people who are not from here.

Since I’m reading “The Blank Slate” by Steven Pinker, the chapters about hot button issues, I was watching for clues. At the same time I’ve been watching BBC generational movies for months now and thinking about their obsession with the two World Wars and the Highland Clearances not unlike the American obsession with the Civil War and the prairie clearances that began with Lewis & Clark.

So, from p.308, here’s Pinker’s quote illustrating the point of view of the left, exemplified by Cynthia and PBS (to say nothing of NPR). “We know what causes violence in our society: poverty, discriminaton, the failure of our educational system. It’s not the genes that cause violence in our society. It’s our social system.”... and then: “We need better education, nutrition, and intervention in dysfunctional homes and in the lives of abused children, perhaps to the point of removing them from the control of their incompetent parents.” At which point the rez folks go “aaaaiiieee!”

Much of BBC movie-making is about class in the sense of money and access to education. But also, and this is different from modern urban America, there is a huge preoccupation with family. Here’s where Pinker’s thinking becomes relevant and nonprofit liberals become irrelevant. What rez people wrestle with constantly is Pinker’s list of genetically connected resistances to fair and rational government. (P. 294) I’m truncating them:
1. The primacy of family in all human societies and the subsequence appeal of nepostism and inheritance.
2. The limited scope of communal sharing in human groups, the more common ethos of reciprocity.
3. The universality of dominance and violence across human societies [Pinker disbelieves the idea of the Noble Savage.]
4. The partial heritability of intelligence, conscientiousness, and antisocial tendencies.
5. The prevalence of defense mechanisms [such as denial], self-serving biases and cognitive dissonance reduction [through suppression].
6. The biases of the human moral sense, including a preference for kin and friends, a susceptibility to a taboo mentality, and a tendency to confuse morality with conformity, rank, cleanliness and beauty.

What we three were talking about, even when we tried not to, were intra-rez problems, which have nothing at all to do with educational media or classical orchestras. The assumption of the urban liberal media person is that “high” art like Kapilow’s symphony would “uplift” the Noble Savages. What we were trying to say was more like, “look, this is a real dog fight here -- so for us, waving around high art in some mystical way has really limited usefulness. What people out there in some unknown place think is nothing to us. But if it means we’re important, we’re in favor.

And I was REALLY in a minority when I tried to suggest that high classical music has ALWAYS gone back to the countryside to see what the simple people were singing and using their dances etc. to reinvigorate their complex court performances. None of us had classical music backgrounds. (Except I listen to NPR all day: “From the Top,” “Performance Today” -- on which Kapilow occasionally appears -- and “Piano Puzzler.” Not that I absorb a whole lot, but a little. And I DO read some of the arts critics who write on music. I was raised in a house where classical music played constantly as a marker of education, but I couldn't tell you the names of more than a few compositions.)

But Roberta, in particular, through her birth family, was extremely sensitive to the prestige, the aura of authority and top-class that permeates the classical music world -- to such an extent that Cynthia said the hardest entity to bring on board was the St. Louis Symphony that had originally commissioned the symphony! No doubt thinking it would be about white domination through superiority and class inheritance from Europe. She said they worried about snippets of their performance being in a movie, for fear it would diminish their importance, their charisma. (If only they could have seen the arrows through the pompous top hat! But then they would REALLY have worried!)

When the performance of the symphony was done in Helena, few local people went-- probably because they didn’t understand the prestige of it all. “This is a marker of being superior? Then why weren’t we there?” They thought it had nothing to do with them. But when I brought out photos of Bob’s Browning High School orchestras, which he always insisted were capable of playing the very most challenging classical music and DID, it was the outsiders who doubted it. Indian kids from this little trashy town? Snicker.

The rez is VERY much like the small ethnic towns across the High-Line of Montana -- the same huge valuing of family connections, the same hoarding of resources, the same resort to violence to maintain “respect,” the same temptation to reach for power in the form of ghetto models or Scientology or movie stars, the same denial and forgetting and blanking out whatever is inconvenient.

The real fight on the rez isn’t even between the tribe and the BIA, which is the Leviathan that keeps order -- sorta. The real struggle is between the high status and the low status tribal members. That’s part of the reason that the definition of what an Indian “is” slips around so much. When high blood quantum is a value, it is the low status people who usually have it and try to defend it. When education is a value, it is the low blood quantum people who have it. One of Darrell’s big strategic advantages is that he’s both. High quantum, high education, high valuing of the old ways including the language. When only the high quantum people spoke the language, they got pushed aside as low status. Speaking Blackfeet was OUT. You were a “blanket-ass.” Then it became a political advantage to speak the language and the low quantum people came grinning to learn some words.

Darrell’s high-quantum/high-education double whammy really works on outsiders like nonprofit arts media people. They put Noble Savage on top of that and then -- well, then they come to Roberta’s house (that’s what Darrell calls it) and walk into elegant, immaculate, cool rooms with fine art that could have come out of Big Sky Journal, even though the house is the standard Tribal housing split-level, and they are convinced they have struck gold. Oh, the prestige of it all! Get the checkbook!

It’s Capilow and Hugo Perez who are impressed by something else: ideas, images, and the power of the arts to reach into hearts, if you can stand that rhyme. The actual symphony does that. This secondary movie and whatever develops from it, is only elaboration after all. Educational materials are tertiary. I really itch for that original CD of the symphony! I want to play it as loudly as I can, over and over until I’ve learned Darrell’s libretto by heart. Then I'll think some more about who's saving whom here.

Trailer at: www.vimeo.com/1305072

Sunday, July 13, 2008

SUMMER SUN, WINTER MOON by Rob Kapilow and Darrell Kipp

It’s North American Indian Days in Browning and stuff is happening all over the place. They tell me the parade had fewer horses but the campground had more lodges. At Cuts Wood School, the Piegan Institute was celebrating the premier of a video/DVD about the creation of a symphony and libretto relating to Lewis & Clark. It was an open house event with local and out-of-town people wandering around eating Indian tacos and fresh strawberries. It was low-key but not a minor event.

I figure it all started with the high school English teachers: Darrell’s English teacher in Browning, Mrs. Holloway, had to leave and to lighten the moving load gave a box of classics from her personal library to Darrell. Already a leader among his classmates because of high energy and a kind of inner authenticity, Darrell sat down that summer and read all the books. Somehow he felt he was entitled to their world. Later at Harvard in a sociology program for Indians, he had a black professor who was a profound influence. The man said to go ahead and deal with white people, but to set his own terms of engagement, right down to the placement of the chairs in the room. If they put him in an uncomfortable chair with the light in his eyes, he should not make a fuss, but simply stand up, claim a better chair and move it where it ought to be. Eventually, when Darrell was asked to teach at a local college that was not keeping up with its own agenda, he was assigned a classroom full of broken desks. He simply carried them to the nearest exit and threw them out of the building.

At Goddard College they taught him that poetry was what he said it was and that language was precious because that’s where one’s world really lives. When Piegan Institute started a Blackfeet Immersion School (now doing business as “Cuts Wood” -- a reference to an old story about a “least-of-these” boy with a secret helper he had acquired through kindness), these things came together. When Darrell was asked to participate in the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial -- after raising hell about Indians being left out -- he did it on his own terms: a play presented by Cuts Wood Blackfeet kids in their own language about Lewis & Co. shooting Blackfeet kids in a dawn scramble over weapons -- the only Indians killed on the expedition.

Rob Kapilow comes from the opposite end of the spectrum: the rarefied levels of symphonic composers on the East Coast: Jewish, super-gifted, part of the tradition of sticking up for underdogs, and well-subsidized. Part of his gift is a constantly seeking curiosity, so when he was commissioned to write a symphony about L&C, he went looking for a “way in” that wouldn’t be like all the other buckskin and black powder cliches. He was in Missoula for the L&C commotion, attended the Cuts Wood School production, and knew he had his pigeon. His only problem was convincing Darrell he, Kapilow, really COULD compose a symphony if Darrell would write the libretto.

From Darrell’s end, people from back East or even Europe are constantly visiting Browning, fawning on the beautiful kids, insisting on how much they LOOOOOve Blackfeet, and declaring they will drop by to learn to speak Blackfeet themselves some afternoon when it’s convenient. They are tolerated because many of them are rich and smart enough to write checks. Anyway, Kapilow swept all that aside and simply arrived and talked and bombarded Darrell with ideas and lived at his house and ate all the cold breakfast cereal in the middle of the night for energy while he continued to develop the music. Pretty soon Darrell caught fire.

The massive Blackfeet and the compact composer found their common ground in stories: if something interesting happens, says Kapilow, no matter how slight, three days later Darrell would have embroidered it into a meaningful tale full of jokes and drama. And Kapilow is also just like that. Hugo Perez, a Cuban who lives in Brooklyn, adds his own droll sense of irony in this movie about the creation of a symphony, exploding all the pomposity about Indians and L&C with goofy old movie gags. Like, a greenhorn standing in a clearing wearing a tall silk opera hat which Indians are using as a target, solemnly removes one arrow after another, wondering where they’re coming from. When Darrell says he refuses to write “Tonto-speak”, we get a clip of corny sign language from an Italian Hollywood Indian and then a Kapilow-type orchestra playing the William Tell Overture.

The symphony originally premiered in St. Louis, anchor-point for the L&C festivities, and -- as Darrell was quick to note -- he was probably the only Indian there, as either musician or audience. At a second event in Helena, at least the audience included lots of Indians. Maybe someday there will be an NA classical symphony and choir to present this performance. (The Browning school orchestra was once QUITE capable of presenting such music.)

Yesterday was cool, breezy, and bright. A changing crew of kids moved the furniture, set the tables, signed in late-comers, pointed out the restrooms and kept them supplied. Bill Grant, architect, beamed as his building embraced everyone in just the way he designed it to do. Sun shone through the “dream moth” window on the west side of the big room that often hosts Blackfeet ceremonies. And here we all sat, Kipp and Kapilow, Perez and his crew, little kids and big kids, grannies and professors, renegades and chiefs, on the other side of town from the Pow-Wow, talking about the dark side of L&C -- turning it inside out. No longer men going into the unknown. Now “men are coming, men are coming” into a known and beloved world about to be destroyed by that discovering team. Every hardship Jefferson’s party endured was a step closer to confinement on reservations for the Indians.

But this premiere was not a grim event. Larry Reevis came rushing through in pursuit of his latest brainstorm: a map of the traditional camping spots in the Great Circle over at the Pow-wow, which he was handing out on paper as well as selling t-shirts with the map on the back. (“I’m lookin’ for the Makes Cold Weather family! Lemme check yer t-shirt!”) A puppy invited himself in to survey the floor for scraps. A Canadian old-timer, named Heavy Head and wearing rancher’s garb, sang “The Lord’s Prayer” in Blackfeet while accompanying himself on the drum. (He got the idea from a Navajo.) Cyn Kipp, who has been fighting for good health, came in an eye-dazzling Kee-pi-tah-ki outfit with rhinestone bracelets and cinched her bright red calico Mother Hubbard with the traditional wide leather belt.

I have no idea what the Easterners thought. But the locals thought it was a good feed and an impressive movie about something they didn’t quite understand, not being really “up” on classical symphony. But that’s kind of how it usually is. Anyway, this is only a beginning. The movie will be on PBS in the fall, then on DVD. The CD of the symphony will soon be on the market. In the meantime -- Google around and see what you can find. You might be surprised. Kapilow is drawn to every computer keyboard he passes. The tall aristocratic woman who is the producer of all this carries her own elegant white MAC laptop. (Cuts Wood is a wireless hotspot.) Perez and his photographers, inconspicuous alert young men with pockets full of tiny communication devices, were living parallel lives, partly with us and partly with the huge electronic, satellite-supported, webwork around the planet. A solid Southerner from North Carolina, a school principal, took careful notes. I think he understood that we were going back to the future.

Browning Public School band about 1930.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


The first time I read any Robbe-Grillet was, like many other firsts, in Richard Stern’s writing class at the University of Chicago. This was a blessedly small class in which I was twice the age of the other students. The bit of R-G was simply a description of a room in Paris but so menacing that one expected a gunshot or blood seeping under the door at any moment. Nothing happened. Somehow the accumulation of small signs (a crack in the glass, the image of a staring owl, a slanted shadow, etc.) was scarier than if something HAD happened.

Now I’m reading Stephen Pinker’s “The Blank Slate” about how human minds (which seem to include more than just brains) work to make us feel we have identity, community, and the ability to sort out what’s happening. This research is too recent for Robbe-Grillet to have read it, but it confirms the idea that we pick up a lot of small clues, interpret them according to our experience (which creates templates and “story-lines”), and -- if we can’t figure out what’s happening, usually project something from our psychological makeup onto the incomplete facts.

Yesterday I watched “In the Winter Dark,” an Aussie film that capitalizes on all this. A series of livestock deaths in a rural place kicks off paranoia in four people, two men and two women, and pushes up to the surface their guilts and preoccupations, ending in an “accidental” death -- a woman, of course. Australia is already a little weird when seen with Euro eyes: primeval geology, fire-ecology vegetation, peculiarly evolved animals. Add to that displacements of urban to rural, hippie to country, educated to ignorant, and one has a fertile situation for misunderstanding, near-psychosis, drunkenness, and accidental death.

For a week or so I’ve been feeling sad, anxious, displaced, and trying to find a cause -- physical? My mother always thought such moods meant one was catching a bug or cycling through hormones. But today’s horoscope had a different suggestion: “After a major project you should be idle for a while.” Let the dust settle, so to speak. Forget the small oversights and betrayals and thoughts of what “could have been.”

We are in an historical time when one hardly dares let dust settle! I wrote a letter to the editor yesterday challenging predatory energy costs -- need I even point out that the shadowy causes of these practices go right to the top of the nation, of the global governments? At the town council meeting last night we were told that the disaster debriefing of the propane truck accident that caused Valier to be evacuated (and ONLY that, rather than an explosion) was due to economizing on the edge of the highway pavement so that there is a dropped edge that grabs wheels. Corky Evans, who was present at both the council meeting and at the accident -- nearly being hit by the rolling truck -- and who broke out the truck window and pulled out the driver, was not noted. All attention went to the wickedness of the highway department. How we love to blame authorities. How reluctant we are to thank those who take action.

The majority of the time at the meeting was devoted to figuring out the problem of a woman who wants to build a house on an empty lot up the street from me. A $750 survey finds that her neighbor’s shed is half on her property. This means she cannot “drive through” her lot to the alley unless she has a very skinny house. Is the survey wrong? Should her neighbor be compelled to pull down the shed? Are all the lots on the block displaced? Is the street too wide? (125 feet in the “business district” dwindling to 80 feet when the street is “residential.”) Who made these decisions? Where are the original surveying pins? Where is the key monument from which all the other measurements are derived? And one colorful character insisted that it all went back to the original system of claiming land by driving four stakes into the open prairie (“one over there by that dead cow”) and patenting it to establish its measurements. Ownership demands boundaries as the condition of possession. We impose our arbitrary measurements on grasslands that were once the bottom of a sea, were once scraped by glaciers, were once roamed by bison, and hope the markers last long enough for us to see out our lifetimes. Or at least our financial interest in the place.

We know more small bits of information than we ever have before. In fact, “The Edge” -- an ongoing and online discussion about the “boundary” which is really an interaction between science and humanities -- has been talking about a new book, Chris Anderson’s “The End of Theory,” which joins books like “The Long Tail” or “The Black Swan” that reflect on ways of knowing and how they mislead us. Anderson’s idea is that computers give us huge hoards of data which we cannot understand but from which we can derive algorhythms that make us able to predict stuff like the effects of medicine, or weather, or economic phenomena. The effect is a strange knowing-too-much while knowing-too little. So my cousin’s husband is undergoing arduous and unpleasant chemotherapy for cancer without knowing whether it will cure him, because statistically the procedure is associated with cures -- mostly. And I insist on writing though the statistical likelihood of making money is dim to none.

Is faith only the ability to withstand ambiguity without becoming paranoid? Well, then I am of little faith. Or is faith the ability to confront ambiguity without trying to impose control and order -- ANY order -- instead of just waiting for more information, for the situation to unfold? If so, then I’m pretty faithful, though it’s an effort. I do best if there’s a promise in the future: the national elections, another good book idea, the prospect of my new niece coming to visit.

Sometimes one just cannot wait. Then strategies vary according to experience and biology: some roll up like armadillos, armored and withdrawn. Others strike out or take some other action -- maybe jump and run like rabbits -- in the combat belief that doing something is better than just sitting there like a duck. Hard to know what will work until interpreting in retrospect. Of course, if you didn’t survive, that’s not an option.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


Whether it’s the realization that I’m going to have to get a job in order to pay for heat this winter, or the growing realization that Valier is entering upon a) some nasty political struggles and b) increasing stress from ag chemicals (there are no flies, bees, hornets, or even many skeeters this summer -- but growing rates of diabetes 2 and cancer), or economic news, or just too much coffee, I’ve been alternating between jumpy and sad for a week. So when the fire siren went off -- which it rarely does anymore because the firemen carry pagers -- and just kept wailing, I reacted by going out to the front yard, craning my neck to see which way the fire truck would go.

Instead an intense young man in a private car whirled up and shouted out the window, “Quick, get out of town! A gas tanker has overturned and they expect it to explode! Go to the fire pavilion by the lake!” The tanker had entered town too fast and didn’t make the double kink in front of the library where the highway bends to join main street. There’s already a white cross signifying a death there. I was in the library when a young woman rolled her Tahoe on the same spot. The EMT (the athletic coach from the school) helped her crawl out her upsidedown window and seemed to think something was wrong with her chest.

Visions of the huge crater left by the Roseburg explosion -- a truckload of fertilizer -- entered my head. In Valier? How many articles have I read about dangerous truckloads? But I’d never thought about evacuation. Cats? All I had to do was pull their carry cage out and they’d be gone for hours. If they escaped by the lake, I'd never see them again. l can’t lock the back door right now -- the frame is out of alignment. Why take my wallet when it only contained a few bucks -- might do better to take my jar of laundry quarters. A few moments of dithering and I just left. The pavilion is at the campground between the airport and the lake, with long dirt roads snaking around the airport. Soon lines of cars filled the way.

There wasn’t much of a party feel to the crowd: pets in the cars, little kids fussing, young women looking worried -- they’d just been cooking supper. Had they turned the stove off? Frail old ladies sat primly in front seats and huge teen boys shambled among cars. Some had brought things to eat. The widow of the long-time-ago well-liked sheriff and her daughter, Miss Nancy, who had a military career, were parked away from the crowd. I went over to visit with them.

Blanche was remembering the last explosion in town, also a propane accident in maybe the Fifties when oil field workers were filling their trailer tanks not far from a flaming burn barrel. Half a dozen killed. From there we went to deaths in general. Just down the street from me a grandmother had been knifed to death and her grandchild smothered to death because she tried to protect it with her body. The child’s father, who had been high on drugs for days and could remember nothing, went to the police and said he thought he might have had something to do with it. He was convicted but no one believes he was the killer. He had no blood on him.

Up the street from me a man, angry at his wife, punished her by shooting their toddler and then himself. We’ve just passed Homesteader Days and Blanche remembered how rowdy they used to be, with visiting softball teams leaving windrows of beer cans in the streets. The same with Whoop-Up Days which happened in Conrad but caused wild times when the Heart Butte celebrants returned through Valier, stopping for gas and more beer. The impulse lingered among the young denizens of a few cars who shouted, “Hey, let’s go out to the Lighthouse and get drunk!” They peeled out in a cloud of dust.

The Sheriff’s Department and Fire Department performed smoothly, pulling on day-glo red coveralls and vests. We could see them across the air field, marching from door to door, making sure all was clear. Darrell and Roberta Kipp, driving back from Great Falls, were diverted onto gravel grid roads around the town. A catastrophe in Valier? Impossible!

Small biting flies began to pester. I moved off farther from the others. It had been a cool day with a haze almost like smoke. The Rockies were obscured. Seagulls, realizing there were people with food, came circling barely high enough to clear the ridgepole of the pavilion building, yelping and twisting their heads to see what was in our hands. A cock pheasant on the airfield ratcheted his cry and the meadowlarks resumed their cascades of song. Horses in an adjoining field whipped their own sides with their tails. The lake is as full as it’s been for a decade. Volunteer cottonwoods that had grown out onto the mud flats are submerged except for their very tips and the bones of the old trees killed by drought are now bushy with skirts of new growth. Back awhile someone suggested cutting the dead wood, but a man said carelessly, “Oh, they’ll fall over eventually. Or the campers will pull them down for their fires.” It was left at that.

In a while I could faintly hear the propane truck -- half a mile away -- bouncing and jolting back onto its wheels. It’s a distinctive sound. Then traffic began on the highway. I snuck back towards town and before I was halfway there, the siren sounded again to signal all clear. Somehow my neighbors were home before I was. The house was fine, undisturbed, the cats wanting to know where their cat food was. While waiting I had produced a list of things I should take along for the next evacuation: flashlight, battery radio (I don’t have a radio in my pickiup), bedding, coat, water bottle, wristwatch, book, and -- oh, yes -- wallet because of the ID.

It’s a bit of an irony that my task today is to apply for a half-time job in Shelby as an emergency planning assistant. Now there’s a town BOUND to have emergencies: a transportation hub, an oil field town, a contract prison, a major port of entry. But Valier? Nothing ever happens in Valier.

Sunday, July 06, 2008


I’ve been known to refer to the Industrial Cowboy Art Cartel, by which I mean the loose network of galleries, institutions, dealers, slick magazines, auctions and, of course, actual cowboy artists who turn out an avalanche of work, not always about cowboys but always in the West. Landscape art, Native American art, coastal art (both California and Pacific Northwest) tend to separate themselves out. But cowboy and Indian artifacts are often associated, if only because the artists themselves buy them to use in paintings. The other thing the artists buy, without talking about it, is old-time glass negatives of authentic scenes in the West taken by roving photographers with dark rooms in converted wagons. Often these early photos are copied exactly, but not attributed.

What makes dealers in Western art a “cartel”? This is from Wikipedia: A cartel is a formal (explicit) agreement among firms. Cartels usually occur in an oligopolistic industry, where there are a small number of sellers and usually involve homogeneous products. Cartel members may agree on such matters as price fixing, total industry output, market shares, allocation of customers, allocation of territories, bid rigging, establishment of common sales agencies, and the division of profits or combination of these. The aim of such collusion is to increase individual member's profits by reducing competition. Competition laws forbid cartels. Identifying and breaking up cartels is an important part of the competition policy in most countries, although proving the existence of a cartel is rarely easy, as firms are usually not so careless as to put agreements to collude on paper.

It seems easy to understand that even so innocent an organization as the Cowboy Artists of America is a kind of cartel -- an ARTel, if you like. People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices. Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 1776. By grouping themselves, and particularly by affiliating with the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, an affiliation that broke when Dean Krakel began to try to direct the group, the CAA became a strong advantage. Belonging to this group gave a cowboy artist assurance of first class exhibits, friendships with people who had been in the business a long time, access to the A-list of customers and a certain floor on their prices. The original purpose was friendship and support, but those original founders are all dead now.

Historical museums, which often include art and paraphenalia collections, also form a loose network of professionals who guide their boards to decisions about acquisition and de-accessing -- that is, the buying and selling of materials. Even art boards are notoriously naive and historical society boards are usually drawn from lay people with no formal background in history. Since professional directors “curate” each other’s collections and write books about them, the circle becomes rather tight, even tighter when they control key publishers. Most ordinary collectors are blithely unaware of such arrangements, though key people are part of the cartel. They cannot be named without tripping a lawsuit.

Outside the official or covert circle (since cartels are not legally any more respectable than predatory money-lending) is another shadow group, MUCH more secretive, not a cartel but in symbiosis with them. At one time they were “boot-leggers,” a term which refers to what is sold out of the “boot” or trunk of a car -- often liquor, but sometimes other illicit or semi-respectable materials: art that MIGHT be by Charlie Russell, Indian artifacts that were PROBABLY acquired by legal means, old-time paraphenalia sucked up from tiny municipal museums or private collections.

In the Sixties they stopped at the Scriver Studio all the time, hoping for a little action. Sometimes Bob traded something -- he was a fur buyer and the whole business of dickering over price appealed to him. He particularly liked to trade sculpture for paraphenalia. Ace Powell always had something to trade. A few of these roving dealers were relatively honest, many were occasionally honest, and some liked making a profit off someone unawares more than anything else. They were usually male, sometimes gay which gave them a motive for staying on the move, and shuttled far and wide around the West. Because there was no Internet yet, they were human eBays, driving on cheap gas and living in cheap hotels. The advantage was that people didn’t find out what they’d really acquired or lost until quite a while later when maybe a more convincing and certified expert stopped through.

In recent years a few of these people have been caught. John Flaherty, who sold Bob the gun collections and antique mountie uniform collection which were included in the so-called “million-dollar Scriver artifact collection”, blundered when he tried to sell Sun Dance Natoas headdresses to the grandsons of the proper owners, who recognized them, and he compounded the error because he had transported a boy across the Canadian border for purposes hard to explain. He was arrested on re-entry to the US and I’m told he died in jail.

This is not unlike the LA gallery that tried to sell a Seltzer painting as a Russell original and was tripped up when Seltzer’s grandson identified it properly, documenting with his archives. Brazenly, they tried to force the grandson, also an artist, to identify the painting incorrectly by suing him for the loss of value. The difference was exactly a zero added to the price -- from $10,000 to $100,000. The painting had been sold and resold several times between unknown parties, one of whom had neatly cut off the bottom of the painting containing Seltzer’s signature.

The most recent coyote is James Lyman Brubaker who has pled guilty in federal court. He is in jail until September 15, when he will be sentenced. His crime was quite literally “cutting edge.” He was razoring historical maps and illustrations out of valuable books in libraries and selling them on eBay, the modern way to bootleg. “BOOKlegging,” you might say. But he is well-known around the Blackfeet as someone to whom one can fence or sell dubiously acquired artifacts, some of which were found in his home in Great Falls.

There are more of these shadow coyotes out there, but they are aging. When the Russell Auction happens in March, another motel sponsors rooms where many of these folks quietly sell both what is spread out on desks and beds and what is perhaps still in a suitcase until the buyer is confirmed as discrete. Many collectors now find it easier to cruise auctions on the Internet through digital catalogues and make their bids via telephone or text messaging. Occasionally, I get requests from purchasers to visit a pre-auction art work and give an opinion about its authenticity, since the actual buyer can’t see the physical object well-enough in the catalogue. Not even the back of a painting, which is often revelatory.

It’s a frontier phenomenon. The West has always been pawnshop heaven, a part of the world where people spend big when they have money, and take a loss when they have to -- which happens rather often in the West. It’s part of the on-going gambling game, the big Stick Game or Hand Game that Native peoples have always played. (Poker was more popular in cowboy saloons.) But librarians don’t like it one bit and historians shouldn’t either.

Saturday, July 05, 2008


On July 21 the town of Valier will be having another meeting to discuss growth. But it’s really about other covert agendas. Anyway, the assumption has been that growth will mean the return of prosperity and the expansion of the kind of population that the “nicer” people want. The forces driving growth have been rather different.

First, the Flathead Valley -- which has slightly milder weather because of the lake down the middle of it and because it is sheltered between mountains -- has seen land values increase so much that many of the people who lived in small corners and undeveloped tracts have been able to sell their little old houses (which will be torn down) to people from California and back East for a great deal of money. Then they’ve come to the shrinking ag towns of the east slope to buy little old houses that have stood empty. Enough money has been left over for them to live on for a few years, but those years are running out now. There are no jobs for these folks and some of them tend to have “lifestyles” that keep the sheriff busy, even felony records elsewhere.

Second, some people have found cheap lots when they came looking in the summer and neglected to really investigate some of the issues of infrastructure and cultural life. Only after they’ve built new houses, investing enough money not to be able to walk off, do they discover that the water system will require major upgradings before it meets fire insurance standards, the idyllic-seeming phenomenon of unmetered household water is not going to last much longer, and the septic system -- when the spring run-off dilutes the lagoon -- fails tests. Our wells are aged and there may be an ag chemical and aviation fuel contamination plume reaching for them. So far we can’t afford an investigation. The weather, when it is extreme, can be quite shocking.

Third, the Heart Butte schools are troubling enough that Blackfeet families move to Valier for the sake of the schools here. Though the Valier schools and the Heart Butte schools are both part of the Pondera County school system, the county takes a laissez faire attitude towards Heart Butte as they do towards all county services on the rez. Anyway, the Valier schools need the student numbers and the athletic achievements of the Blackfeet kids. Heart Butte families do not necessarily hold lawns in high regard. Wink,wink. One Blackfeet member has discovered that because of a Dawes Act anomaly some of the town lots are technically part part of the reservation. The implications are unexplored: a gambling casino in town, maybe? Or is it simply trading stock? Is it subject to state taxes and regulations?

Fourth, even with high gas prices we are a reasonable commute for the increased border population: homeland security, immigration, border patrol and so on. Some of these people are family men but others are “special agents” hired on a more temporary basis. The families tend to build houses or move in pre-built houses. The single older men are more inclined to rent.

Fifth, two major electricity projects are being built nearby over the next few years. One is a wind farm, quite large, and the other is a power transmission line between Great Falls and Lethbridge. Labor for these jobs means floaters coming in from parts of the country where jobs are short. Usually younger single men, they enjoy party-hearty weekends and fist-fights at Froggies. We have a shortage of bars in this town so the highway patrol may have more business than usual. The men will be making good money and investing much of it in vehicles. There are certain places where rental turnover is high because roommates don’t get along. At the moment, ten AM on the Saturday after the Fourth of July, around the rental apartment on the corner of this block are more than a half-dozen big pickups, mostly new. If the party continues until Sunday night, that will be a dangerous time because drugs -- including alcohol -- will be wearing off.

Before the housing bubble burst, real estate “flipping” had just reached Valier through the Internet. For instance, Michel -- who is French but had been dealing real estate in Florida and California-- bought two tiny abandoned houses which he improved for resale. One was finished before the bubble burst and is operating as a rental. The other is still empty. Our local real estate business is a sideline operated by a local wealthy rancher who has no concern for town quality.

Some folks are considering selling out. Every year a small but constant number become too aged to maintain here any longer. One person built a rather fancy house and garden combination without considering weather carefully and is surprised that methods and plants appropriate to the Pacific NW simply don’t work here. He’s not the first. One of the few newer businesses in town has gotten an offer of financial help if it will relocate to a bigger town with a broad tourist base. High gas prices have reduced tourist traffic here, even boats. The Panther Cafe has been listed for sale for quite a while. In the meantime, Birch Creek water rights will sharply diminish in a few years, ending some grain operations.

A small speculative development has been proposed on empty lots without water. When approached, the state authority advised that the procedures are so complex that the best thing to do is just to build the first one, pay for the water connection, then extend the other waterlines off that first one -- sort it out later. “Don’t let anyone know you contacted us,” he said. There are already many puzzles of this type complicating our infrastructure: backyard mother-in-law houses and the like. But those who believe that over-regulation by bigger governmental units are stifling our small town are in favor of “just doing it.”

Our town council is conscientious and hard-working, but young. Our mayor is now recovering from congestive heart failure. Our clerk is highly trained, a ranch wife. The two town employees are so harshly criticized that they’re beginning to be resentful. Citizens of the town are reluctant to face what will be emotional problems to work out. This is not a town that likes to quarrel.

Odd that probably the best advice comes from a Bette Davis character: "Buckle your seatbelts-- we're in for a bumpy ride."

Friday, July 04, 2008



The point of the blog is that the context changes, but quite a bit in terms of genetics and family "styles" persist.

Thursday, July 03, 2008


Part of my self-conceived goal in blogging from Valier is to keep a kind of record of what it’s like to live here that’s a bit more realistic than the slick magazine stories aimed at the wealthy. In this time of $4 gas, Montana’s distances become ever more controlling of decisions. Once a month, when my Social Security hits my credit union account in Portland, I spend a couple of days on the month’s errands in one of the adjacent county seats (each about thirty miles away) or in the closest US big city. (Lethbridge in Canada is much bigger but I’d have to struggle through customs.) So yesterday I went to Shelby, a town whose rotund optometrist mayor has made sure economics have taken priority over quality of life. The place literally stinks of diesel and sour gas, but businesses (like a contract jail and a railroad hub) locate there.

I was delighted that it was a grey day, damp and cool coastal air blown over the mountains the day before. Starting point was an early mammogram appointment at Marias Medical Clinic which I know entirely too much about because of working there as a ward clerk for five months, an experience rather like watching sausage being made. But to my delight the admitting clerk was a temporary from the billing department who was on her toes and cheerful. The x-ray tech was a young mother, also intelligent, polite about private parts (she warmed the squeezing plates with a heating pad), informed, and local. No prairie princess, she!

In fact, we were very much on the same page about a lot of things. I gave her my opinion that “breast cancer” has been commodified into an issue that hooks peoples’ feelings about sex, appearance, and feminism so intensely that we’ve entirely lost sight of the fact that cancer is a disfunction of CELLS. Normally corruptions in the DNA code are countered by scavenger cells that mop up mutations, so that any outside force on a molecular level that tends to cause DNA distortion or to weaken those clean-up systems, will cause what we call “cancer.” Cancer is a generic portmanteau term without any reference to the differences between breast duct cells gone wild and connective tissue cells that over-replicate. The former is frighteningly fast and hard to control because duct cells by nature “bloom” for pregnancy while connective tissue is slow and dense. The public, esp. women, are considered too stupid to grasp these basics and too vain to stop risking their health with implants.

When she was taking the family medical history, she saw it includes breast cancer on my mother’s side, but the causes of death for my two aunts was not cancer: it was dementia. I attribute this to ag chemicals. (They were rural.) Then we talked about Diabetes II, which is not diabetes. Diabetes is a lack of insulin. Diabetes II is metabolic dysfunction on a cell-by-cell basis: cells fail to take in and use the insulin that is available. It makes you fat. (Fat doesn’t CAUSE this, it is the RESULT.) And we agreed that the excessive and rising rate of cancer and Diabetes II in this part of Montana is probably due to ag chemicals. In her home town, very much like Valier, the town tap water cannot be drunk or used for cooking but is used for bathing, which means it is absorbed through the skin and inhaled in the shower. It won’t be long until life spans here, like those in Russia today, will be shorter and shorter. It’s sobering when a medical professional thinks this and ever more so when one considers that she feels utterly powerless to change it. For instance, there was a dish of candy in the x-ray room -- maintained by a little association of women fighting “breast cancer” who provide crucial money for the equipment and programs. A big poster of a pink ribbon loop was on the wall. They think of the candy as helping people feel better.

It will take weeks to get my old x-rays from Portland and then almost a month to send the two sets to the expert somewhere else who makes the comparison and gives a verdict.

Next I went to the laundromat to wash kitchen rugs in the Big Boy machine. One machine worked, the other one refused to end the cycle. Finally, desperate to get my rug back, I recklessly opened the front-loading door, releasing a tsunami on the floor. Judging from the floor, it wasn’t the first time. The sopping rugs are now drying out on my driveway. Probably be there a day or so. The bedding in the other machine finished cycling and I split it between two dryers. One had heat and dried, one did not. Those comforters are out on the clothesline where the sun is sterilizing them. The owners of the laundromat are hoping to sell out so they are not maintaining. (It’s called “running to failure,” a common practice on the High Line.) The building will probably be used for something other than a laundromat. People think laundromats are too much work. Then they say they are desperate for jobs.

Next stop was Pamida to get my prescriptions filled. Janet, the excellent pharmacist, was overrun with work but marched through the tasks in order without panicking. She estimated an hour’s wait so I went to the pickiup and read a book to keep from buying junk. I’m a sucker for bright plastic buckets or cat toys that they never play with. In a while I went back just in time to answer a lot of questions. Humana had been my drug provider but I never came close to meeting their deductible, so I canceled them. The government, ever resourceful, simply assigned me another, to take effect July 1. But they hadn’t changed over the mysterious database that controls all drugs. Janet got the message: “Not covered” for every strategy she tried and she is VERY resourceful.

After three calls to a help number which is always overloaded, she contacted a person who straightened it out. I only paid $3.32, but she couldn’t tell me the actual cost of the drug (metformin for Diabetes II) or what my new deductible would be, etc. We have no idea what algorythyms are being used, what secret contracts have been arranged, or who’s getting kickbacks. At least I’ve stopped getting an endless flow of fat glossy magazines from Humana, all depicting giddy seniors who have no more disease because they exercise, take drugs, and signed up for high end insurance.

Fourth stop was Albertson’s for my major medical strategy: lots of green stuff. (I mean veggies, not money.) Just emerging was Lloyd, who sold his father’s old plaster Scriver tourist trinket -- bookends showing the little Russell/Clarke/calendar-for-hunters joke about a man who has shot something from a distance and arrives to find his trophy claimed by a grizzly -- man on one bookend, dead animal and griz on the other. Lloyd sold this to an avaricious gallery for $17,000. They cast it in bronze, patined it in a hokey way (red for the shirt, blue for his pants, brown for the bear, etc.), tried to pre-sell a few castings (I doubt they had much success with anyone who knew Bob Scriver’s work since it was what he himself would call “modeling” from early in his career), and then gave the original (which was one of maybe hundreds) to the Montana Historical Society where it disappeared into their quicksand. At least the gallery managed a big fat tax credit for their donation.

Inside Albertson’s the young man who runs the dairy section was defending his work to some big store honchos from headquarters. I advised them to stock more string cheese. They wrote it down. At the checkout was a handsome man in a very white shirt with a very white t-shirt under it, vaguely military. He was a man of color, though latte rather than espresso. His nameplate was a little fancier than others, so I asked him if he were the manager. Yes. I asked if the star meant he was an exceptionally GOOD manager. This tickled him so much that he gave me a coupon good for $1 off my next batch of groceries. It wasn’t until I looked at it closely after I got home that I saw it had expired in 2007.

I got home mid-afternoon and -- as soon as I got all perishables into the refrigerator -- collapsed into a nap. This morning I discovered that I’d left the pickiup open all night with all the canned goods sitting in plain sight. No one had disturbed anything. So that’s the way it goes. Ups and downs and surprises, some of them people.