Is It Time for a Train Trip?

Newsflash:  Boise, Idaho has the worst rush hour in the nation and the fifth worst in the world according to an analysis conducted by Fleet Logging, a trucking industry website.  I find this hard to believe considering I spent a day trying to get around Boston on Interstate 495 last year. It wasn’t a very “wicked smaaht” idea to drive in Boston. We crawled and creeped past Beantown.  And don’t even get me started on the parking lot known as Highway 101 in Los Angeles. So, I’m all for President Biden’s infrastructure bill, especially whatever money can be thrown at Amtrak Rail service.

For the uninitiated, train travel is wonderful.

I began traveling by train years ago because I was afraid to fly. And, though my home is in the West, much of my extended family live in the East. If I wanted to see them, I needed to find a mode of transportation that didn’t require vodka martinis or Xanax pills. I was excited when I discovered the Zephyr train line goes back and forth between San Francisco and Chicago. Best of all, I could pick up the train in Elko, Nevada, just a few hours south of where I live. If you decide to use the Elko station though, don’t expect an airport lounge with cushy seats and Starbucks coffee. It’s an open-air, plastic shelter planted in a sagebrush patch south of town. Oh, and the return train stops in the middle of the night at 3:03 a.m.—that is, if it’s on time.

Despite those few downsides, I got hooked on train travel. When I was much younger I had to have a surgical procedure that left me feeling unwell and depressed for weeks. My husband finally suggested I get away for a while and take a train trip back east to visit family members.

I remember how restful and soothing the trip was for me.

Time seemed suspended the three days and nights I was on the train. I was so relaxed the rocking of the train kept lulling me to sleep. I tried to stay awake to see the beauty of Colorado’s Ruby Canyon whizzing past, or the mythic Mississippi River as we crossed over at the Iowa/Illinois state line. When I could keep my eyes open I read and knitted and chatted with other passengers. Every morning I woke up to the smell of fresh coffee coming from a coffee station in our car, and the rustle of a newspaper being slid under my sleeper door. Such luxury.

I’m not the only person with train on the brain. Two of the richest men in America, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, believe in trains and train travel. Warren Buffet’s company owns the largest railroad in North America, BNSF, and Bill Gates is the biggest shareholder in Canadian National, the second largest railway. Many in the business community, as well as regular commuters, are hopeful that a high speed rail line can soon be built in the U. S.  I rode a Bullet train myself, in France.

“Sir,” I asked the conductor. “Are we going more than 100 miles per hour?”

“Oui!” he said looking surprised. “We are going 320 kilometers!  In America that’s about (he paused, thinking) 200 miles per hour.”

If trains are the future, they also have a colorful past. At the peak of rail service during World War II the snappy song “Chattanooga Choo Choo” became iconic for its description of train travel:

You leave the Pennsylvania Station ‘bout a quarter to four,
Read a magazine and then you’re in Baltimore,
Dinner in the diner, nothing could be finer,
Than to have your ham and eggs in Carolina…

President Biden “Amtrak Joe” didn’t leave a Pennsylvania Station but a Delaware one for over thirty years in his commute to Washington D. C.  Biden makes a good case that train travel doesn’t just ease traffic congestion, it’s also good for the environment. According to Treehugger.com, a full train beats planes and cars for lower carbon emissions—hands-down.  So train travel?  Nothing could be finer.

Image Credit:  The California ZephyThe Dome Car    Chattanooga Choo Choo

Fowl play: Judging Meghan and Woody

The thing about chickens is, they have both good and bad character.  When I open the coop door and allow our chickens to roam the yard, they lurch along from leg to leg crowding and nudging me, wanting the bag of table scraps I have in my hand. They’re annoying and don’t know how to share with each other. They like to hoard, and they can be vicious and nasty in a fight. Still, chickens are generally good mothers, protective of their nest and amazingly, they turn all our leftovers: sour milk, brown lettuce leaves, and old cereal, into rich, yellow-yoked eggs.

Humans have a lot in common with chickens, including an unreliable character. Even Shakespeare had something to say about our shared shortcoming: “…tis but a base, ignoble mind that mounts no higher than a bird…”

Maybe it’s because of our fickle characters that we like to lionize or villainize others, placing people in categories of good and evil.

We easily and readily judge, anointing saint and sinner.  Look at the response to the recent televised dramas about the problems between Meghan Markle and Britain’s royal family, or, the Woody Allen-Mia Farrow abuse saga. Serious allegations have been made in these situations, but that’s not my point. What I find interesting is how much we enjoy passing judgement.  It’s the same with chickens. There’s always an effort underway in the coop to ferret out a bird that will become the sacrifice for everyone’s sins. She’s the chicken that gets pecked at. And once this happens, predictably, all the other chickens pile on until there’s nothing left of her but dried blood and tail feathers.

Certainly, justice is important. People do bad or criminal things and should be held accountable. But why do we relish the role of judge so much? The desire to impugn someone’s character and place blame is such a strong impulse (in both chickens and humans) that even friendships become susceptible.

People can’t deal with each other’s failings so they go to counseling to learn how to cope with “toxic” relationships.

My therapist daughter tells me Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) helps clients view themselves and others through a more multi-colored lens, rather than black and white. One aspect of DBT is to recognize there are different truths about us all, and we are complex. History is full of flawed characters. Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence with both eloquence and inspiration, yet he kept a slave mistress and died in debt.  Aviator Charles Lindberg exhibited great skill and courage in 1927 with his nonstop, solo flight across the Atlantic. Yet, Lindberg also was a racist, and widely reported to be a Nazis sympathizer.

I just read Kristen Hannah’s latest novel, The Four Winds, and marveled at what a compelling story she told of a family surviving the dust bowl and migrant labor camps in the 1930’s. Good literature usually moves you emotionally, and this book did that for me.  Even given this, I was acutely aware that Hannah’s book was historical fiction. The characters weren’t real. They were not rounded. They were one-dimensional, either good or bad. The protagonist mother was a long-suffering angel, and her boss at the migrant camp was unscrupulous and greedy (the MO, by the way, of several “tough” business leaders today).

Lately, there’s been a lot of discussion in the media about the “cancel culture,” a social phenomenon involving judging and shunning. 

It’s not only a problem across the political spectrum (for both conservatives and liberals), but also in our communities and family systems where estrangements can occur.  It’s one response to people in our lives that we find intolerable.  Another might be, understanding. We may not be able to accept everything about another person, but pecking them to death is not a solution either.

Blog posts at: http://www.dianahooley.net, image credits: Diana Hooley, Meghan and Harry Interview, The Four Winds

 

 

 

Getting to Know Each Other Again After Covid

Some people thrived this past year during the pandemic, barely noticing the lock-downs, shut-downs, and shout-downs between the maskers and anti-maskers. Others were just “doing time” in their own home, a house arrest. And then there were the social butterflies forced to live less colorful more grey lives, pinned by a pandemic.

I spent this Covid year largely at my computer in my favorite outfit: yoga pants and a T-shirt.

Dressing up is now something from my distant past. I’m also less talkative. I grunt more. Movie star Sylvester Stallone said he preferred grunting as opposed to speaking in his portrayal of Rambo, an ex-military vigilante.  Stallone said the less dialogue the better—and that much can be communicated through grunts. So, I defer to Rambo’s wisdom.

Now though, with increasing Covid vaccinations and infection rates dropping precipitously, life as we once knew it may be returning. We’ll soon be able to eat at restaurants and see grandma face-to-face again. I have a friend who lives in British Columbia but her elderly mother is in a nursing home just across the border in the United States.  It’s been a year since she’s seen her mom. First the nursing home said no visitors, and then the Canadian border closed. I’ve wondered, after Covid will my friend and her mother have a happy reunion? Or will her eighty-eight year-old mother have grown too frail for a hug?

For some of us, a year is a long time.

Covid has changed us in many ways, including how we live and work.  It also may have altered the way we relate to each other. I took a walk with a neighbor this morning who told me that she suddenly felt like she’d become an introvert.

“I don’t know,” she said, “I just don’t have a longing to join in with my old groups anymore.  I’m a little lonely, but I don’t have the energy for socializing.”

Our social and emotional lives can experience Covid damage. Sciencemag.org (online, 3/16/2020) says chronic social isolation increases mortality by as much as 29%.  Apparently, just being social makes a big difference on our stress levels. The institutions and activities that bind us, churches, community organizations, and sporting events for example, bring us both pleasure and comfort.  Such activities connect us.  I haven’t sat next to someone in a movie theater or at my granddaughter’s piano concert in over a year. Superficially, I haven’t missed the togetherness, but Harvard sociologist Mario Small says being with others can give us a reassuring sense, “… that (we’re all part of) something larger…”

Now thinking ahead to post-pandemic, I’m wondering if we can pick up where we left off relationship-wise.  Last March I sat at a dinner table with my book club friends talking and laughing through the night.

Zoom meetings have replaced those relaxed, fun times, but tech can only go so far in giving us a sense of community.

I politely declined when my sister-in-law recently asked me to Zoom together with other family members. I’m all zoomed out. You can’t read body language on Zoom, and that affects the flow of conversation. Either you’re talking over someone else—or you sit there silent, smiling dumbly into the computer screen.

A good analogy for our year-long Covid withdrawal is the story of Sleeping Beauty. When we wake up will all our castles be overgrown with vines, as neglected as our social lives?

My best hope is to smoothly transition back into former relationships.

The military has a protocol for service members returning home after an extended deployment. They advise them to take it slow “reintegrating” with family and friends. Military.com (online) says, “That first kiss back can be an amazing one, but it can also be awkward (nine months or a year of no kissing can do that).”

So, to all my affectionate family and friends that I haven’t seen in a year, I’m as ready as you are to get back together.  But just so you know, a simple grunt “hello” is the only greeting I need.

 

Blog post at http://www.dianahooley.net.  Image credit: Rambo, and Friends,

 

A Valentine to My Old Baptist Church

I grew up in a Baptist church and the people in the church became my friends and my community.  Brother Griggs, our minister, gave the same message nearly every Sunday, pacing back and forth on the stage of the sanctuary and wiping his sweaty brow with a handkerchief. He was passionate about saving sinners.

Even as a young girl I recognized Brother Griggs was trying to help his congregation find meaning in this life, and hope for a heavenly afterlife.

That was the theme of a hymn we often sang in my church, a 19th century melody by Eliza Hewitt called, “When We All Get to Heaven.”

I didn’t go to many town or school events because my church had its own social calendar. Besides regular church services, every Sunday evening was Young People’s meeting. I sat in a pew with my girlfriends, Sandy and Rita, chewing double-mint gum while we passed notes about cute boys in our youth group. We sometimes played a game called “Swords Up” where we held our Bible (our sword) with two hands in front of our chest until our youth leader gave us a Bible verse to find.  Then we’d race each other to see who could flip through their Bible the fastest and locate the verse. On holidays our church celebrations were different too. For example, on New Year’s Eve while the “secular” world was drinking champagne, our church had a Night Watch service.

The women in the church brought in casseroles and chocolate sheet cakes, and we ate, sang, and prayed our way through midnight into the New Year.

Once a month we had Wednesday communion and foot-washing service. The communion was a solemn affair, but the foot-washing part was pure fun.  Long before spa pedicures the people of my Baptist church laughed and splashed washing each other’s feet. We were following the model of humility Christ presented in the New Testament when he humbly washed his disciples’ feet.

I no longer attend a Baptist church, but have many, many good memories. Some of my friends however, are less than happy with their evangelical upbringing. A woman friend said she was frustrated with the patriarchal teachings of her church and found it demeaning to women. Another man told me he could no longer see the relevancy of what he was taught in Sunday school. One complaint I never hear from my age group is how the church “politically” misled us. In the 1960’s and 70’s there was a distinct line separating our church and the rest of the world. We believed and followed Christ’s words in the book of Mark: “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and God’s the things that are God’s.”  The church’s mission was spiritual, not political. Our eyes were to be set on Christ’s kingdom, not a temporal government or that government’s agenda.

Interestingly, the Southern Baptist church, the largest protestant denomination in America, has experienced a significant drop in membership the last 13 years (Associated Press, 6/2020).

Apparently, young people are moving away from Baptist churches. Newsweek reported (12/13/18) that a 29-year-old Connecticut man, Alex Carmire, left his church shortly before his pastor announced from the pulpit that the presidential election of Donald Trump was ‘a miracle of the Lord.’ Just a few weeks ago a Baptist minister in Texas tweeted to his congregation that our new black, female vice-president, was a “Jezebel.” Maybe in recognition of this growing trend toward politicization, Southern Baptist leader Ronnie Floyd recently said, “It is clear that change is imperative…We have to prioritize reaching every person with the Gospel of Jesus Christ…” (Associated Press).

Floyd makes a good point. The first line of “When We All Get to Heaven” reads: “Sing the wondrous love of Jesus…”  These words are far more potent and beautiful than any political philosophy or slogan. If the Baptist church wants to retain its influence, perhaps it should consider going back to the basics.

That message of love spoke to me as a child. It still speaks to me today.

 

Blog Post at http://www.dianahooley.net and images: Church and Politics

What We Don’t Know About Our Friends and Neighbors

I was visiting with my neighbor Bea in her home when she suddenly turned toward a table in the corner and said, “I want to show you something.”

Bea walked over to the table and picked up two large, clear plastic bags each containing a colorful quilt in them.  “Look what I’ve been doing this winter!” she said, pulling the quilts out of the plastic and proudly draping them over her arm.

I was amazed at Bea’s quilts, their beauty, their crisp seams, and the colorful designs.

She told me one quilt was called “The Disappearing Four Patch.”  She’d seen the pattern on a quilting TV program: “Fons and Porter’s Love of Quilting.”  The other quilt was a collage of antique pink and yellow-themed blocks, and was sewn in a garden star pattern.

I marveled at Bea’s craftsmanship especially since I’m not a quilter myself, and left Bea’s house thinking about a book I read once, The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham.  The book was about a man who searched the world for the meaning of life. He eventually found his answer in India where he watched a woman weave a blanket. He thought this was our purpose: we’re each a colorful strand of thread making a contribution to some universal pattern. I was disappointed in the book’s conclusion.  The book was a bear to read, and I was looking for something a bit more mystical.

Bea is not the type of person I see quilting.  My image for that comes from my mother-in-law who was an excellent homemaker and spent years cooking and sewing for her family.  Bea’s been a homemaker among other roles, but to me she’s never looked or acted like one.  For example, I’ve never seen Bea wear a dress much less an apron. She seems most comfortable in an old T-shirt and jeans.  Often I’ll see her in a pair of muck boots working in her half-acre yard moving irrigation pipes or firing up her tractor mower. She has short hair and brown, leathery skin, and she spent years weighing potato and grain trucks at a local farm scale house.  Bea’s always been so practical, I just never knew she harbored so much creativity.

Who we are inside, our talents and thoughts, can be a big secret to the world.

We can be like Russian nesting dolls.  Layers need to be uncovered before you actually find the core of us, and it’s only in how we express ourselves, what we make, do, or say that you catch a glimpse of our inner life.  Sometimes that core can be surprising—and sometimes disappointing, even shocking.  For example, Abraham Lincoln was described by opposition newspapers as “…the leanest, lankest, most ungainly mass of legs, arms and hatchet-face ever strung upon a single frame…”  Furthermore, these newspapers said Lincoln’s speeches were “illiterate compositions…interlarded with coarse and clumsy jokes…” (medium.com). On the other hand, Ted Bundy, the serial killer, was characterized as “… young, handsome, and well-dressed in a preppy kind of way (Quora.com).”

Appearances aren’t the only possible deception in the package of who we are.

I was struck by this fact watching the fall-out from the riot last week in Washington on television.  NBC news reported that many of the participants were simply regular people, teachers and truck drivers, some even held jobs that contributed to public safety, like firemen and former police. The old axiom that you can never judge a book by its cover is amplified here. You can’t even judge a book by its plot or characters. You have to go deep to the theme, what animates the person.  For my neighbor Bea, surprisingly, it’s quilts.  For others, apparently, it’s something far more dark and angry.

Blog post at http://www.dianahooley.net and credits:  garden star pattern    The Razors Edge    Capitol riot

 

I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t wanna die…

Erin, my daughter’s friend, is in the first wave to get the Pfizer Covid vaccine here in Idaho.

She’s on the front lines working as a nurse practitioner in the cardiology unit at our local hospital.  I like her attitude. After getting the vaccine she laughed and offered to roll all over her friends to help them with herd immunity.  Lucky Erin. This vaccine can’t come quick enough, not only to stave off further infections, but many people are experiencing the very real problem of Covid fatigue. They’re sick of dealing with the virus and either actively defying health restrictions or passively ignoring them.

“Oh Covid’s everywhere,” a woman told me matter-of-factly this past week. “My daughter and her husband had it. My grandson had a fever for a couple of days.  It was no big deal.  They all survived.” This woman is planning a large family gathering at Christmas.

That’s the thing about Covid: for most people it is no big deal.  Some people are even asymptomatic, something that presented a problem in a school district near my home.  National Public Radio reported that asymptomatic carriers in the Bruneau-Grandview school district in Idaho may have fostered community spread of Covid.  Mask wearing is not popular among students, parents, or staff in this district, said NPR, and, “…there’s also this sense of, well, this is just how it is going to be.”

But the sense of inevitability, that we’re all going to get Covid, is not supported by the facts. After eight months of dealing with this pandemic, and probably largely due to preventative measures, only 5% of people in the U.S. have been infected according to statistica.com.  So why are people being so fatalistic?

Throwing your hands in the air and giving up is one response to ambiguity, or as the Bruneau-Grandview Superintendent noted, the unpredictability of the Covid situation.

Here’s a virus that’s known to be deadly for the elderly, but occasionally kills young people.  It’s often little more than a bad cold, but can send some people to the hospital fighting for their lives. There was no question in the Middle Ages if you became infected with the plague. Those infections resulted in fatality.

The maddeningly, arbitrary nature of the virus is at least partly responsible for our mixed responses to it.  The reluctance to take Covid more seriously has been blamed on either lack of leadership from the White House, or the moral failings of people more concerned with their personal rights than their community responsibilities.  But it’s difficult to bring out the Big Guns and always stand at the ready for months on end when the enemy is as unreliable as Covid.

When I taught school I had a front row seat watching human behavior, what motivated students and what did not.  Also, what made students give up and quit trying.  Later, in my role as an educational researcher I investigated reinforcement schedules, how to time rewards to keep students working and trying.  Too much uncertainty in a situation or outcome, and students lost interest.  It’s no different with this pandemic.

Finally, for some people the rewards for wearing a mask and social distancing has been too long in coming.  They’re just tired of it all.

So am I.  I’m tired of Covid too.  I miss our movie group party this holiday season, and hugging my dear, elderly mother.  I’d like my daughter to spend Christmas Eve night with us, but I’m not sure who she’s been around at work, and whether she’s been exposed.  I thought about the situation we’re in the other day listening to some alternative rock music on the radio.  The lyrics of one song said it all as far as I was concerned.  The ironically named group, Vampire Weekend, sang: “I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t wanna die…”

 

Blog posts and photos: Bruneau-Grandview, Rimrock High School     Vampire Weekend

at http://www.dianahooley.net

 

 

Feeling Good this Christmas

“Do you know what’s in plum pudding?”  Andrea, my daughter-in-law, asked me as she read the recipe from her cell phone.

“Just a wild guess, plums?”

“Half a pound of kidney fat, and get this, you have to cure the pudding for a year before you eat it.”

“Yummy. Kidney fat is one of my favorite things.”

Andrea’s planning a Charles Dicken’s Christmas feast, but I have my doubts about a 150-year-old meal.  Lots of people are going “retro” this Christmas and looking to the past for holiday inspiration.  For example, I’ve read there’s been a run on live, fresh Christmas trees.  Apparently, plastic trees have lost their appeal despite the fact you can shake them open like an umbrella.  Another sign of Christmas retro: the 1946 movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, is currently in the top ten list of most-watched movies.  As I write this, the sixth most-streamed song this week (according to Rolling Stone magazine) is Dean Martin’s 1959 hit, Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow.

One oft-cited theory about our fascination with Christmases of the past is that we all long for a “simpler” time.  Not everyone agrees with this thinking though. I knew a man once who grumbled about fireplaces and wood stoves, the old-fashioned way to heat homes at Christmas.

“Why would anyone want to chop wood when we’ve got central heating?” he asked me.

Every time I’ve watched It’s a Wonderful Life I want to live in that quaint,1940’s town of Bedford Falls where everyone knows everyone else, and predictably, there’s a good guy, George Bailey, and a bad guy, the deceitful banker, Mr. Potter.  Though people and life are much more complex than that, at Christmas especially, we still look for a hero, someone as pure and good as a babe in a manger. We want to BELIEVE. We don’t want to deal with ambiguous leaders who lie worse than Mr. Potter.

Christmases of the past have a certain aura. They always seem so gilded with joy. Maybe because the ones we remember the best, are those of our childhood.  My mother tells the story in the 1930’s of wishing for a doll she saw advertised on a can of Clabber Girl baking powder. With enough Clabber Girl coupons, the doll was free. Mom told me she was thrilled when she discovered the Clabber Girl doll under the Christmas tree.  I remember being five-years-old and excited for Christmas.  I lay on my top bunk straining to hear Santa’s sleigh bells. One of my husband’s fondest memories is the Christmas he got an erector set. Happiness is such a bright, twinkling star. We want to follow that star no matter how distant and unreachable.

Our nostalgia this Christmas probably has a lot to do with the current pandemic.  We relate to Dean Martin crooning: “Oh, the weather outside is frightful…” –because with Covid, the weather’s not the only frightful thing. The pandemic has left many of us craving a safer, more comforting past.  But, that’s our fantasy.  Charles Dickens lived before antibiotics when a simple cold could mean death.  It’s a Wonderful Life was made during WWII.  And, Dean Martin was popular when Russia threatened the U.S. with nuclear attacks.  Even that first Christmas was not safe.  Mary and Joseph, like all Jews, lived under Roman oppression.

No matter what happens in the world, it’s good to remember that Christmas really happens inside of us, in our heart and our head.  For some, it only takes a old movie or a song to get into the Christmas spirit.  For others, it’s a kidney-fat pudding from the 19th century–and to the pudding crowd I say, “Bon appetit!”

Image Credit:  It’s a Wonderful Life  Image credit: Christmas Past      Image credit:  Plum Pudding

Bad Times and Hard Luck

Winter is coming and many of us are stuck indoors dodging the coronavirus. Sounds like a good time for an inside joke. Isolating is causing me to stress-eat so much my shirt buttons are social distancing.  And, speaking of eating, how are we going to have holiday gatherings during Covid?  Treat everyone like turkeys and avoid from them all instead of just Uncle Cranky?  I might as well mention the job losses caused by Covid.  I’d make a joke about unemployment—but none of them work.

Though my attempt at humor may be fairly lame, the tough times coming this winter are no laughing matter.

The pandemic has already caused a great deal of suffering–but is this really the worst, hard time?

I was ruminating about our pandemic problem when I recently visited a rancher who lives in cowboy country just south of our farm.  Dave wanted to tell me some stories about his ancestors settling the west in the 1800’s, and the kind of winters his family endured in the early days.

“We don’t understand bad times,” Dave said shaking his head. “Winter was a real trial back then. Oh, we get bad winters now. In 1990 we had a cold snap.  Forty below in some places.  I remember I had to bring the cows in to feed. And, 2017 we got dumped on (with several feet of snow).  But my great-grandpa’s family—they couldn’t jump in a warm pickup and haul hay to their cows. At least we’ve got good transportation now.”

Dave showed me a book his Uncle Chet wrote about his ancestors.  His great-grandfather was a teacher from Delaware who came west to stake a land claim.  I leafed through the book and read about the first rock house his great-grandfather built in the high desert near Grasmere, Idaho.

The roof was made of willows, hay, and mud.

Inside the home, coarse muslin cloth was tacked to the ceiling to prevent dirt from drifting down on people’s heads.  Lacking trees in the desert, his great-grandparents burned sagebrush and manure in the fireplace.  Town was forty miles away.

“Life wasn’t easy, but they were young and had dreams,” Dave looked thoughtful. “If you live off the land though, you can’t ever forget that Mother Nature’s the boss.”

Dave said his ancestors learned to expect the unexpected. In the winter of 1919 a mangy coyote wandered into Dave’s grandparent’s yard and fought the family dog in the snow, spewing blood everywhere. Dave’s father, Billy, was just a little boy and loved their cow dog:  Doggone.

Doggone earned his name because anytime there was a mess or something was missing that “doggone dog” was involved.

Dave’s grandmother tried to shoo away the coyote and separate the two animals, but to no avail.  When his grandfather came home, he told Billy they might have to shoot Doggone because the coyote likely was rabid.  Then they learned Doggone had nipped both Billy and several cows in the pasture after his coyote battle. The doctor in Bruneau had to send away to San Francisco for rabies vaccine, and though Billy survived, Doggone and all the cows that were bit, went mad and died.

“That happened—but that wasn’t the worst winter,” Dave said.  The worst winter, Dave told me, was in the 1930’s during the Depression when his Great-Uncle Arthur, who ranched at Wickahoney, Idaho, had no money to buy feed for his cows. He finally went to the Bruneau bank to borrow money, but the bank refused him a loan. Banks were struggling as much as everyone else during the Depression. Not willing to stand by and watch his cows starve, the next day, Dave’s great-uncle hung himself.

“But my dad’s cousin, Rosella, Arthur’s daughter, she survived.  I think those hard times toughened her up, because she lived a good long life after that, well into her 80’s I believe.”

When my visit with Dave ended, I went in my house and walked around marveling at the comfortable and safe environment I live in. The family room felt a little chilly so I turned up the wall thermostat. Then, with a flick of a switch, I brewed some coffee.  As I sipped my coffee I thought about my particular story of oppression: the 2020 Covid Pandemic.  We may not be living in the best of times, but we’re certainly not living in the worst–not even close.

 

 

Image Credit:  Cowboy in snow.    Image Credit: Dave’s ancestral home 1900’s (courtesy Tindall family).  Image Credit:  Amos the cowdog (courtesy Christine Collett).  Image Credit: Cattle in winter (courtesy Christine Collett).

I’m Afraid of the Air…

Outside the sun is rising, a burnt orange ball on the horizon, ominously beautiful. I watch it from the safety of my bunker, formerly known as my home. Like some apocalyptic, dystopian novel, I have become afraid of the air we breathe. It’s an alien invasion of either forest fire particulates or Covid virus. A mask seems like such a flimsy defense against our marauding atmosphere here in the west. Several people, including myself, have wondered, “When will our air be breathable again? When can we give up our suffocating masks and be normal?”

Covid, according to the latest from the scientific community, won’t die down until next year some time. The summer wildfires in our droughty western climate are an entirely different matter altogether. Out of control forest and range fires will continue, says reporting in the New York Times (9/11/2020), until humans change our behaviors.

“What percent of the wildfires this summer do you think are human caused?” I looked at my husband over the rim of my coffee cup this morning.

I’d been doing some research on the subject, and I was curious what he thought. I know my husband to be a well-read man, and as a farmer, an astute observer of the natural world, the weather, and the climate.

“Low, I think human caused, that percent must be low,” he said. “There was that lightning storm earlier this month. I think that’s what ignited the northern California fires.”

I was surprised by his response because he was uncharacteristically, dead wrong. According to my research, 80% of wild fires are started by humans. The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions says the biggest issue is that towns and cities are allowing land to be developed for homes in wild and forested areas susceptible to fire. It’s called a “wildland-urban interface.”

As I look out my patio window at the smoky blanket overlaying the landscape, I’m reminded of a Cormac McCarthy book I read several years ago called The Road.

The book was about a man and his son seeking to escape the effects of a nuclear holocaust.

The world was devastated and food was scare because the earth was coated with dark clouds of ash and debris. The earth had plunged into a cold, perpetual twilight affecting all living things, including our food source: plants and animals. Again, the root cause of such a horrific scenario was human behavior.

Can we change our behaviors? How much? Sometimes I wonder. Our basic needs are for air, water, food, and security. What if these needs come in conflict? Our need for clean air battles with our need to feel secure. We want to feel safe living in a natural setting like the forests far away from city crime and ironically, city smog.

Fortunately, Forbes Magazine (5/24/2019) reported on the path to behavior change and two of the three steps are already happening.

More and more people are recognizing that western wild fires are the new normal and need to be addressed.

Secondly, solutions are being developed, cities are starting to zone more cautiously, and homes are beginning to be built with the environment in mind. The third step is harder: making behavior change desirable. To that end we’re all looking to the future, which doesn’t have to be doom and gloom, but can be exciting and new. Though climate change, the problem behind western wild fires, is ongoing, we’re slowly innovating our way to a carbon-free future. My husband, maybe in an effort to redeem his reputation, offered this comment: “You know Tesla? Their electric car division is now worth four times the stock value of gas-powered vehicles. Imagine that?”

 

Image Credit: Dale Hooley, wearing his respirator      Image Credit: The Road

The Old South Can’t Solve the New Covid

Recently, both the University of Georgia and the University of Alabama, unlike other colleges who’ve gone online, are dealing with Covid-19 outbreaks. It’s not surprising considering the South had the highest number of Covid infections this summer. Sadly, many southerners can’t afford to go to the doctor or hospital either. Nine of the ten poorest states are in the South. And, if these southerners are looking for federal help to cover their medical expenses, they probably won’t find it in their home state. Of the twelve states still holding out on Medicare expansion, eight of them are in the South. What’s going on Down South anyways?

There’s a lot to love about the South. I know because both my parents were born and raised there in Kentucky and West Virginia. It wasn’t until after they married that they moved north looking for work other than coal mining. I have such deep southern roots my great-grandfather’s name was Stonewall Jackson Lankford, named after the confederate general of Civil War fame. My grandmother was such a hillbilly she chewed tobacco, played the banjo, and regularly exclaimed, “Lord have mercy!”

I’m not sure when or why the South lost ground, economically and in other ways. When my mother went to Beaver High School in Bluefield, West Virginia, one of her older classmates was John Nash, the subject of the movie, A Beautiful Mind. Nash went on to eventually win the Nobel Prize in economics. My dad never graduated from high school, but his school was Big Creek High School. Big Creek was also the alma mater of Homer Hickam, the former NASA engineer who trained the first astronauts, and gained fame as the leader of the “Rocket Boys.” These southerners were not just open to new ideas, they were the ones instigating them.

When I taught history I told my students about the differences between the North and the South before the Civil War. The North was founded by religious separatists like the Puritans who worked hard to build a life in the New World. The South was largely colonized by British nobles seeking to extract tobacco wealth from the land. Georgia actually began as a penal colony. One part of the country industrialized, and the other part was more agrarian and wedded to a medieval economic system based on slavery. This history set the stage for the humiliating defeat the South suffered at the end of the Civil War. Parts of the South still seem in retreat.

I recently gave my mother a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird, that wonderful classic by Alabama author, Harper Lee. I didn’t know if mom had read it before, she reads so voraciously, but, she seemed delighted with my gift. This week I visited her again, and asked how she liked the book.

“Oh, I loved it! I read it all in one day! I couldn’t put it down. She (Harper Lee) really got the way things were back then, the way I grew up (in the South),” mom told me.

Of course mom enjoyed this book: history and tradition are important to her. Lots of southern music is about tradition and the old ways: fishing in the creek and driving a beat-up pickup with a dog in the back. There’s nothing wrong with this, except sometimes the answers we need now, for example how to deal with this pandemic, can’t be found in the past. Country music star Eric Church gets this. I listened to a song of his the other day on my car radio:

“…Jails are full, factories empty,

Momma’s crying, young boys dying

Under that red, white, and blue still flying…

Stick that in your Country song…”

 

Image Credit:  Stonewall Jackson         Image Credit:   Eric Church