It was a beautiful Sunday morning driving up to First Lutheran Church in Savage, Montana. I follow the Yellowstone River Valley the distance. Once you get to Savage the river doesn’t have far to go until it joins with the ‘mighty’ Missouri. William Clark followed this route on the return trip of the expedition in 1806. Today the road belonged to the trucks loaded with sugar beets heading to a nearby dump.
We are in the midst of our January thaw which we hope will continue. The snow from December has settled and iced over. To look at the distant hills is to see them shining like a skating rink. Folks are out pushing ice around and attempting to clear off some other patches. It is supposed to get cold again, but so far not like December and snow is predicted but amounts are questionable. Winds are in the forecast for this week.
It is always good to get January under our belts -- longer days, shorter month in February, and after stripping the Christmas lights, the bright red and pink of Valentine’s Day is heartening.
This also marks the end of President Trump’s first week in office. I was mildly amused when I heard reported that he had used the Executive Order 14 times in this first week. Perhaps you remember the fuss about the times President Obama used an executive order. I spent time discussing that with someone last year who thought Obama’s record was terrible and he should have to go through Congress. It might be the one thing the two Presidents would agree on. President Obama could not get Congress to work with him. They blocked him on everything he was trying to do. President Trump may realize it is the one way he can get his own way. If he has to take legislation through Congress he will find a much tougher path.
I think we were all stunned by his actions this week: (1) gag the Environmental Protection Agency from sharing scientific data (2) alienate Mexico our third largest trade partner and infuriate farmers across the country whose main trade is with Mexico (3) lay the burden on Americans to pay more for goods from Mexico because, of course, Mexico is not going to pay for the wall. (Do ya’ think.) (4) stop immigration from seven countries in the Middle East. That is not going to stop terrorism. It will only make the situation worse. Those who want to do harm will always find a way. (5) preside over the dismantling of the State Department and many of its career diplomats, those who really know what is going on in the world (6) alienate Great Britain to the point they will now have to discuss President Trump’s visit in parliament -- if they will let him come -- because of the backlash in that country. (7) take us out of trade agreements that were meant to open doors between countries.
Refugees and how a country deals with those people in need are surefire indicators of the philosophical direction a country is headed. Previous to World War II we would not let Jews from Eastern European countries enter the U.S. because there was a strong strain of anti-Semitism here. Also as we were during World War I, there were many isolationists who wanted to stay out of Europe’s troubles. It was a humanitarian issue, but folks were too frightened. It is over 70 years since World War II. Have we still not learned that we cannot isolate ourselves from the world? Long ago a liberal Republican presidential candidate, Wendell Wilkie, talked about the need for one world. His book, One World (published in 1943), is a document of his world travels and meetings with many of the Allies' heads of state as well as ordinary citizens and soldiers in locales such as El Alamein, Russia, and Iran. The main idea of the book is that the world became one small inter-connected unit and Isolationism is no longer possible:
When you fly around the world in 49 days, you learn that the world has become small not only on the map, but also in the minds of men. All around the world, there are some ideas which millions and millions of men hold in common, almost as much as if they lived in the same town.
"There are no distant points in the world any longer." What concerns "myriad millions of human beings" abroad, concerns the Americans. "Our thinking in the future must be world-wide."
If our withdrawal from world affairs after the last war was a contributing factor to the present war and to the economic instability of the past 20 years—and it seems plain that it was—a withdrawal from the problems and responsibilities of the world after this war would be a sheer disaster. Even our relative geographic isolation no longer exists… At the end of the last war, not a single plane had flown across the Atlantic. Today that ocean is a mere ribbon, with airplanes making regular scheduled flights. The Pacific is only a slightly wider ribbon in the ocean of the air, and Europe and Asia are at our very doorstep.
Every nation must make room for others on the world stage and we are no different. The world is not a post World War II world any more. We are in the middle of a technological revolution Wendell Wilkie could not have imagined. It is a revolution that is changing the world and we will never be the same again. As human beings in a new world order we are called to join with others in that journey to the future.
To me, one of the prettiest drives is from Billings east and north along the Yellowstone River to its confluence with the Missouri River on the border with North Dakota. Today I traveled from Glendive to Billings, about 220 miles. Winter had total control today -- there had been a fog earlier so trees and bushes were heavy with frost. In some cases each needle was delineated. The sky was the same color as the snow -- a grey-blue-white, blending into an indistinguishable line between sky and land.
Because Dad was a history teacher, teaching classes in Montana history, we got to know the the river well -- Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea, Fort Manual Lisa, Jim Bridger were all part of the story; the FAR WEST steamer that carried the news and the wounded from the Battle of the Little Big Horn, when the railroad survey crews came to Montana Territory, the steamers from Ft. Abraham Lincoln would carry men and supplies across the river at Glendive and later supplied the crews building the Northern Pacific Railroad. One early Glendive pioneer remembered a buffalo herd holding up the steamer as it took nearly a day for them to cross. The river was an artery of supply and commerce from its earliest days.
Today was a nostalgic drive. The first time I traveled the highway in the early 1950s it was two lane to Billings. Dad and Mom would take us in October to state meetings of the Montana Education Association. I don't think they could always afford it, but they managed and we had a fun couple of days as a family in the 'big city'. I think it was in Billings I first tasted pizza at some pizza place downtown. The passenger trains were also running back and forth in those days and people often traveled by train for shopping or doctoring and then came home in the evening. It was a sad day when that was taken away.
Billings has always been the Mecca for those of us in Eastern Montana. It sits right on the edge of the mountains and the prairie. For most people from Western Montana, Billings is 'east' and Montana beyond Billings really isn't a part of the state. But we go merrily on our way driving to Billings to fly to other places, for doctoring, for shopping, for high school events like the music festivals or athletic events and that has always been the case.
I remember when the highway between Billings and Glendive began construction to interstate 90. It was several years before it was finished. We would be on the interstate and off the interstate and on the interstate again. We truly had to remind ourselves which one we were driving on at the time.
Returning from Billings late one night somewhere east of Hardin a man came out of the ditch alongside the road, hailed our car and told my dad he and his wife had gotten confused as to interstate or non-interstate and had driven off the road. Dad helped him get to a farm house so he could call for help. It really was exciting when the road was all finished.
When we still drove parts of the old highway there were lots of little stops from the early days of driving that are now gone or else hidden because they have been by-passed. The drive from Hysham to Forsyth on the old road is like a trip through the past. The little picnic area with the water fountain just west of Forsyth is a relic of by-gone days.
Whenever we went through Miles City the old highway took us past the Red Rocks' cafe and motel. In its day it was a great place to stay. You could always count on seeing someone from Glendive eating there as well. They had a shopping area with souvenirs which my brother and I always had to check out.
The high school trips on the bus from Glendive to Billings were and still are legion. If you graduated from DCHS you know that highway well. If the Red Devils were playing the Cowboys which ever place the game was, the headlights from the cars of fans stretched for miles in either direction. It was exciting to come into the visitors' gymnasium and hear the Pep Bands playing and look for the Glendive section so you could be sure you were sitting in the right place.
As the years went by the reasons for the trips changed and many of us from Glendive began going to doctors in Billings. We would hear people making multiple trips for surgeries and cancer treatments. I remember when I took the folks to Billings so Mom could see a cancer specialist and she was diagnosed with leukemia. Earlier we had taken Dad for heart bypass surgery. I remember we stopped at the Hysham interchange so he could get out and move around as the doctor ordered. Later my sister--in-law had surgery and my folks went up to stay with my brother's family and help out.
The drive changes with the seasons. Fall along the river is just glorious. The golden cottonwoods snake along the banks and when the sun hits the leaves just right they shimmer. One of my favorite views is just east of Miles City before you descend into the valley closer to Terry. On a hot summer day the distance wavers with heat waves as your eye follows the line of hills that border the river heading east and north.
As you travel along you will see license plate numbers from Sidney and Wolf Point, Circle, Baker, Miles City and Glendive. Minnesota license plates are common during hunting season and when winter hits there are snowmobilers who come from Canada to enjoy their sport.
Interstate 90 is an artery of life flowing up and down the valley. It is etched into my life as firmly as an umbilicord attaches us to the place that gave us birth. The big blue Montana sky, the changing seasons, and the river, flowing freely along the highway, always direct me home.
Well, this week will begin the tale of the Trump White House. I think the whole country is nervous about what lies ahead. As I have observed Mr. Trump he reminds me (1) of a child who has always gotten everything he wanted and had things his own way. He cannot stand to be challenged or corrected. If he has either one he detours around the issue and never makes a decision. (2) What little I have read of his life there seems to be a desire to please his father. Even at 70 years of age that is still a real part of his make up. I don’t think that is particularly unusual. I think most of us think of our parents in some way even as we get older. As we make decisions we hope it would please them and they would be proud of us. But we still have our own identities.
There seems to be no plan or direction for this President except to repeal what previous presidents have done. It will be interesting to watch Congress. I have a sense the Republicans are pleased Trump got them into the White House in such overwhelming numbers, but now will limit the powers of the president as they see fit. The Republican Congress is like a bunch of kids in a candy store and the repealing of the Affordable Care Act is being touted simply because they can do it. The terrible split between the political parties in Washington, D.C., has caused such rancor. It is like two gangs on the Southside of Chicago fighting it out and taking each other’s “turf”. The rest of the country becomes collateral damage.
I don’t say but what history is rife with these moments. My brother was reading an American historian recently who said the political atmosphere these days is very like the Reconstruction period after the Civil War and the terrible retribution that was leveled on the South. Some say it took the South a hundred years to recover from that time period.
Life is never easy and unfortunately our incoming government is rife with plans to make it even worse. When you think of the issues facing the country it really is staggering: the rate of hate crimes have gone much higher in the past few months, there are thousands of women marching to Washington this week to reiterate the vital place of women in our world, Hispanics have no idea where they stand when it comes to this government and what will happen in the months ahead, many immigrant groups who came here, as did the Pilgrims and Puritans, looking for a place of refuge are faced with great uncertainty, the racial divide seems to grow, the voiceless Americans who have no one to speak for them are trembling on the brink of greater poverty, illness, and hopelessness, and the benefits for our senior citizens are always tenuous at best. An article in the New York Times this morning (January 17) said this: The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Tuesday that repealing major provisions of the Affordable Care Act, while leaving other parts in place, would cost 18 million people their insurance in the first year and could increase the number of uninsured Americans by 32 million in 10 years, while causing insurance premiums to double over that time.
No, I am not looking forward to the coming days. As actress Bette Davis said, in one of her movies, “Fasten your seat belts everyone. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”
Cold and lots of snow! Br-r-r! this year we are really having a winter to remember. Heard a report from south of Baker that the road from Alzada to Ekalaka was drifting shut. It hasn't been snowing so much but with all the snow on the ground it doesn't take much to get things going and turn ugly.
Today was my first Sunday serving Savage and Skaar parishes. The folks at Skaar called and said not to come because of driving conditions. Bowing to their long experience in these things, I said, "See you in two weeks!"
Savage First Lutheran was hosting its annual Lutefisk Dinner. So worship was kind of a 'fly by the seat of your pants' affair. Next Sunday will be better. They have a delightful Sunday School. I watched them practice a couple of pieces to sing. They were really looking at me. I was a new and different face from Pastor Nell who had been their pastor since before some of them were born.
Since I missed the Lutefisk Supper at Zion Lutheran in Glendive this year it was great to get in on some of the things I missed -- lefse, lutefisk, meatballs, veg, potatoes. These folks serve their lutefisk with a white sauce and/or mustard if you like. They still had melted butter. I have heard this is the way the Swedes like their food -- with a gravy over the top so I tried it. Probably a recipe from a different part of Norway than where my ancestors came from! It is like different kinds of Chinese food, or Mexican food spiced differently depending on where you come from so how you eat your lutefisk might be a cultural indicator. Huh! Who knew??!!
They also served sud suppe or sweet soup which is a favorite of mine. You can add a heavy cream and many like that. I like mine just plain. So feeling very satisfied I headed home. A new adventure -- new folks, new way of doing things. Important to have an open mind even when eating your lutefisk.