Growing Old in Northwest Montana
My mother always said, “Getting old is not for sissies.” But it beats the alternative! Now that I am the Beatles’ song, and fast approaching that moment when I must accept Medicare, I cannot ignore the fact of aging. Watching my cat Kevin struggle a few weeks ago with something the Vet determined was an idiopathic blockage – meaning he could not pee but it was not because of crystals so common among male cats, and it was treatable and is likely to re-occur – watching that, I realized my mother was so very right. Kevin is 14, not ancient but old for a cat. His struggle mirrors what I might get to expect not too far down the line. And it cost us $500. So I amend my mother’s mantra: getting old is not for sissies, and it gets expensive to boot. At least I have insurance. But until I reach 65, the co-pay can be as catastrophic as the illness.
But if you’re going to get old, Flathead County in northwestern Montana is a pretty good place to do it. The medical facilities up here are Medicare friendly; in fact, many cater to the older crowd. The facilities all are first rate and modern, I feel safe here. Today I saw a report on air quality in the state, and Flathead County received a grade of A – so the air is clean and clear. Also, as a registered Montana vehicle owner, I have free access to every state park anywhere in Montana, anytime. Not only that, because my car is old, too, I am allowed to have a lifetime registration on it now with no annual renewal. Another perk: when I turned 62 I paid $10 for a National Parks card that allows me free access to any and every national park or monument in the United States. I happen to have one in my back yard, Glacier National Park, which is rated as the third best overall park in the country behind Yellowstone (which happens to be eight hours away by car) and Yosemite. And Flathead Lake is just down the hill.
The only drawback is that so many of our friends and family live far, far away, and though we have more time now, we do not always have the means to come to you. So, the pitch continues:
Flathead County has a population of only 87,000, or two-thirds the size of my old haunt, the city of Salinas. Yet we have all the shopping you could ever need from Kehoe’s amazing rock shop to Costco, and we even have our own symphony orchestra and chorale. Canada is just ninety minutes away, Glacier Park an hour. We have our own international airport (a big name for a place with three gates, but it gets us anywhere we want). If you like scones, and especially if you hate scones, Glacier Perks, literally four minutes from our door, is the place to be. They also make the best espresso on two continents. And, of course, Blokker’s bed and breakfast is always open; reservations highly recommended but not required.
April 27, 2014: The Power Elite, the One Percent, and America’s Rank in the World:
No Longer #1
I heard the news today, oh boy. Well, actually, it was yesterday and has been digesting inside me ever since, like a doughnut sitting like a lump in my stomach Once again, statistics make the news yet no one really pays attention. It comes down to this: Americans have an image of themselves and their country that is utterly incorrect, even false. It comes from the idea that we are the richest nation in the world, which is true. But that wealth is not something distributed among all the plebeians who do the work. Again, the specter of The One Percent has loomed, this time on CNN with Warren Buffett commenting, “It is no great hardship being in the one percent.” His point was this: one percent of Americans control 95% of the wealth; the other 99% is left to share the remaining five percent of the wealth. This means that, in the most prosperous country in the world, the gulf between those who have so much and the rest of us keeps growing, and growing. It doesn’t have to be that way, Buffett observed, but usually it is.
Yet: a different statistic was linked to the report. According to the Social Progress Index, a new system that measures social progress on several fronts based less on money spent than on achievements reached, places the United States at sixteenth in the world, behind Ireland (which is still struggling to recover from the EU boom-bust of the past decade). In health and wellness, despite spending the most on healthcare, the US ranks an abysmal 70. On access to information, we rank 23. And in freedom of the press, at the grassroots level we rank 21 in the world, by the new yardsticks this organization is using. It comes down to this: we used to be number one, in many areas, but others have passed us and surpassed us; yet we still think we are number one – and we and those who govern us still tell us we’re number one. Add to that the non-movement of our basic wage index relative to overall growth: American workers get no more of the pie than ever. America may be wealthy, but the wealthy among us are not doing much to help the rest of us. These are the same people who want us to believe they have the best interests of their country at heart. They are the same people who have been fighting against raising the minimum wage (a move Buffett warns, logically, might create more problems than it solves if not balanced by other supportive measures). They are the same people who scream and rant against the Affordable Care Act, which is not only law, it has been upheld by the Supreme Court. Instead of fighting to overturn it, they should be working to improve it and to improve our overall health and welfare standings. If they really cared about the rest of us, apart from what we can do for them, the one percent would act in far-reaching ways that would one, ensure our happiness and productivity; and two, therefore ensure their wealth would continue to grow for their own children and grandchildren. But wealth has made them complacent. Worse, it has left them overly concerned with preserving what they have at whatever cost it takes. They live in a plastic bubble, isolated from the reality around them, and the rest of us seem fairly content with that system, for the present.
Other industrial nations seem to have found a better balance. But Americans are too busy making the tightropes for others to cross. Doubt everything. The Fortune 500, the Power Elite, the One Percent, The Billionaire Club, whatever you chose to call them, are going to lie to you. A lot. Doubt me – and do your homework.
I know it is more fun to read about fun stuff. Duh. And I like writing about fun things, telli9ng funny or sweet stories about my grandson, my marriage, my travels, my Gig Sky; about life and love. But not today.
There is a smell in the air. It is faint, but unmistakable. It is an ancient smell, the smell of a growing fever. It is rising in the Ukraine, but the scent has already reached Montana. A Ukrainian immigrant, who survived the Holocaust and came to the US to seek medical treatment for a son exposed to radiation at Chernobyl, wants to get the rest of his family out, and is worried about the people of Ukraine. I worry, too. Like him, I see parallels to a time long passed that led the dogs of war sniffing at the scent.
Vladimir Putin appears to want to re-establish the Soviet Union. Ukraine has always been a major part of Russia until its independence in 1991, an independence Ukrainians had always wanted and considered their right even under Soviet rule. Ukraine is also the largest country, by territory, to be fully contained within the continent of Europe, and has a population of nearly 45 million human beings. The Crimea, that part of Ukraine that recently declared itself desirous of returning to “Mother Russia,” is the current bone of contention, but the crisis looks, to us in the West, to be Putin’s play to rebuild the old Russia. We cannot know Putin’s mind, but the tension is mounting over possibilities.
What is worrisome is the parallels to 1938. Then, Hitler claimed that the Sudetenland was legally a part of Germany, as it was taken away by the Peace at Versailles. On the heels of absorbing Austria, Hitler took the Sudetenland as well, with Western appeasement raising only a mild protest. But Hitler’s ambitions lay outside his own borders; it remains to be seen where Putin’s ambitions point us. Ukraine is an independent nation that not long ago was included in the much larger Soviet Union – the politics of the current situation, though similar in smell to 1938, are complicated and still unfolding. Western response is cautious, as it should be.
But what of the danger? At this point, I know that the chance of a major war, involving nations instead of bands of terrorists, is small. I don’t see any profit in it for us. But Ukraine stretches from the Black Sea to the western edge of the old Iron Curtain, and strategically lies under the belly of Putin’s Russia. If Putin, as some have speculated, is thinking like a Nineteenth Century monarch, he may be feeling a little paranoid and protective, as well as possessive. Paranoia tends to be self-feeding. And fossil fuel resources abound throughout the region. The scent is there. And if war were to break out between East and West, it would not follow any convention yet known by Man.
Right now, the EU and the US are dancing around the Crimea with Putin. Our government is sending 600 troops to Poland for “maneuvers<’ to show our allies our commitment to protect them. I’m not certain what 600 soldiers are supposed to do to defuse the tensions – they seem more like a match to light them. A silly token match.
Do I think war will happen? No. But war fever is a subtle thing at first, a matter of propaganda and conditioning. The scent is faint at first. Just be aware. Personally, I would rather see Putin and Obama locked in a room together with a chess set, than see one life lost, before the smell and the heat mushroom into something no one can take back.
This one is my own, for what it’s worth. HAPPY EASTER TO ALL, and a reflective one, too.//
FORGIVING THE ROMANS (4-17-14)//
And would you think//
The Christ I know,//
Mounted on his cross,//
His own blood//
At Golgotha -----//
Would you think He//
Would clamor for revenge,//
Like an army sent//
To kill another//
For the sake of those//
Replaced? Not mine://
No God that sweet//
Sought to avenge//
Even as the power lay//
At his hammered feet.//
Yet all those times,//
The fingernails torn//
Across the chalkboard//
With supposed men of God//
Leading the chorus,//
“Gloria, Gloria, March!”//
An incessant sickness//
Corrupting our free will//
As cancer corrupts//
Each cell it enslaves -----//
Even then the Chosen One//
Endured and did not//
I love this poem, and it is perfect for the Easter Remembrance, and well worth reading to the remarkable ending. It is yet another World War One poem, this one by an American writer who survived his wounds.
121. The White Comrade//
By Robert Haven Schauffler
[After W. H. Leatham The Comrade in White]
UNDER our curtain of fire
Over the clotted clods,
We charged, to be withered, to reel
And despairingly wheel
When the bugles bade us retire 5
From the terrible odds.
As we ebbed with the battle-tide,
Fingers of red-hot steel
Suddenly closed on my side.
I fell, and began to pray. 10
I crawled on my hands and lay
Where a shallow crater yawned wide;
When I woke, it was yet day.
Fierce was the pain of my wound, 15
But I saw it was death to stir,
For fifty paces away
Their trenches were.
In torture I prayed for the dark
And the stealthy step of my friend 20
Who, staunch to the very end,
Would creep to the danger zone
And offer his life as a mark
To save my own.
Night fell. I heard his tread, 25
Not stealthy, but firm and serene,
As if my comrade’s head
Were lifted far from that scene
Of passion and pain and dread;
As if my comrade’s heart 30
In carnage took no part;
As if my comrade’s feet
Were set on some radiant street
Such as no darkness might haunt;
As if my comrade’s eyes, 35
No deluge of flame could surprise,
No death and destruction daunt,
No red-beaked bird dismay,
Nor sight of decay.
Then in the bursting shells’ dim light 40
I saw he was clad in white.
For a moment I thought that I saw the smock
Of a shepherd in search of his flock.
Alert were the enemy, too,
And their bullets flew 45
Straight at a mark no bullet could fail;
For the seeker was tall and his robe was bright;
But he did not flee nor quail.
Instead, with unhurrying stride
He came, 50
And gathering my tall frame,
Like a child, in his arms….
Again I swooned,
From a blissful dream 55
In a cave by a stream.
My silent comrade had bound my side.
No pain now was mine, but a wish that I spoke,—
A mastering wish to serve this man
Who had ventured through hell my doom to revoke, 60
As only the truest of comrades can.
I begged him to tell me how best I might aid him,
And urgently prayed him
Never to leave me, whatever betide;
When I saw he was hurt— 65
Shot through the hands that were clasped in prayer!
Then, as the dark drops gathered there
And fell in the dirt,
The wounds of my friend
Seemed to me such as no man might bear. 70
Those bullet-holes in the patient hands
Seemed to transcend
All horrors that ever these war-drenched lands
Had known or would know till the mad world’s end.
Then suddenly I was aware 75
That his feet had been wounded, too;
And, dimming the white of his side,
A dull stain grew.
“You are hurt, White Comrade!” I cried.
His words I already foreknew: 80
“These are old wounds,” said he,
“But of late they have troubled me.”
Catch-up and a Very Good Poem April 17, 2014
I realized last evening that I had not blogged even once during the first trimester of 2014. Part of that was the fact that I was having difficulty with the blog site and my laptop communicating with each other. My system is old and now unsupported and until I can save up my stuivers I cannot get a new laptop. So a writer makes do with what he has. It’s like having a typewriter when everyone around you has voice activated software.
It snowed two days ago, a full inch on the ground. It was a lovely Spring snow. When I woke the outside temperature was 40F. Within half an hour of the snow starting, the thermometer dropped to 33. But by 4pm it was 40 again and most of the snow had melted. That kind of snow is to a Montanan what a drizzle is to a flatlander.
And now for the promised for poem. The blog site has trouble separating lines – or I have trouble getting it to do so. So bear with, or look it up on your own to get the jist. It is a poem by a British soldier named Robert Palmer. Palmer was a good friend of poet Rupert Brooke, one of the biggest names among British poets of the WWI era. Brooke died in 1915. Palmer was wounded and taken prisoner in September 1916, and died of his wounds. He left only this one poem behind.//
How Long, O Lord//
How long, O Lord, how long, before the flood/
Of crimson-welling carnage shall abate?/
From sodden plains in West and East, the blood/
Of kindly men steams up in mists of hate,/
Polluting Thy clean air; and nations great/
In reputation of the arts that bind/
The world with hopes of heaven, sink o the state/
Of brute barbarians, whose ferocious mind/
Gloats o’er the bloody havoc of their kind,/
Not knowing love or mercy. Lord, how long/
Shall Satan in high places lead the blind/
To battle for the passions of the strong?/
Oh, touch Thy children’s hearts, that they may know/
Hate their most hateful, pride their deadliest foe./
FYI: Did you know that you don’t have to have a Kindle to buy Kindle books? There’s an app for that – a free app from Kindle so you can download onto your PC, laptop, iPhone, iPad, whatever you have that you could use to read text. Then you can buy anything at the Amazon Kindle Store, including my books! The best news is that there are literally hundreds of titles available for free, hundreds more – including all four of my poetry volumes – for under a dollar! Kindle is great, KindleFire is wonderful, but you don’t have to have one to open up the Kindle world!
I apologize for my blatant self-promotion. But somebody has to do it!
In that vein, let me offer you my Kindle list:
Amber Waves, a novel, $2.99;
Meeting Ronald Reagan, Poems, 99 cents;
Banned in Boston, Poems, 99 cents;
Thinking About Asphalt, Poems, 99 cents;
Poems, Prayers, Promises and Procrastinations, Poems, 99 cents;
All are great bargain reads! Well written, I promise!
My goal for 2014 was to publish one book a month from all my collected materials. Conventional wisdom states that publishing too much too quickly is not a good idea, but I sort of figured that the more I had out there, the better chance I had that someone would notice. After all, it seems that no one – or very few people besides my family and friends – actually have noticed, and I have been doing this for fifty years. Admittedly, I have not been doing it with the kind of energy I am employing now, so now should be my time.
Therefore, my strategy comes into play. But it took me three months to get organized and get the first volume out. Yesterday Kindle posted my next two volumes as available. With these two, Banned in Boston and Poems, Prayers, Promises and Procrastinations, I achieve my goal, for now, with four volumes in the first four months of Memorial 2014. Part of the problem, and the excitement, has been my distraction with a new project, working title, Charles Sorley’s Ghost. I hope to have that one ready and out by the end of May.
Hard copies of my poetry volumes may be coming down the line, but hard copies cost money to produce and money is always in short supply. Add to that the fact that my antiquated laptop is begging for a fiery funeral and modernized replacement. The great limiters are time and money. At last I seem to have plenty of the former; I’m working on the latter but Life keeps getting in the way.
If I sound like I’m whining, I didn’t mean to – I am having fun. If I publish, they will read – I hope. What I have always wanted to do most in life is write, and I do, every day. It’s not all gold, but silver’s pretty cool.
I was born in Holland in 1950. My parents immigrated to the US when I was two. I have many close friends and family on both continents. My wife Diane and I have been happily married since 1974. I have four children and one grandchild (two more are on the way). I love writing and sharing what I wrote most of all..