tI was looking through my photo stock today trying to find a picture more appropriate to our winter, 2020. This is as close as I could get -- an open river. The Yellowstone has not frozen over yet this year, although there was a minor ice jam earlier when the Civil Defense director was watching the level of the water. It was close to flood stage, but not enough to evacuate. She was surprised to have the problem in January.
Discounting a few frigid days around Thanksgiving and then for about a week in January, the winter has been incredibly mild. People keep waiting for the "other shoe to fall", i.e. February and March lie ahead, but as most people agree, every day with temps in the upper 40s is one day closer to Spring. A friend in southeast Wyoming says they are concerned about drought and of course, unless we get later rains, a winter without snow is not good. My cousin in Sioux Falls says their concern is flooding in the Spring. I think the Mid-west has piles of snow. My brother in Las Vegas talks about chilly low temperatures and once this year the temp in Vegas and in Glendive were the same -- go figure!!
In the rural areas of the world the big topic is always weather -- we live by the weather report and every conversation eventually comes around to that topic. Tuesday of this past week it rained so of course we had lots of ice -- not pleasant at any time.
I had another visit with a friend today which wove its way around the subject of Tim Babcock, governor of Montana at one time and a home-town boy here in Glendive. My friend and I were discussing the fact he was governor because of the death in a plane crash of the former governor although Tim was later elected in his own right. We also had a governor, Ted Schwinden who was from Wolf Point, but elected politicians from the eastern rural areas are hard to find. Babcock was a Republican which was also surprising as Montana frequently elects governors who are Democrats and who get elected because the western part of the State is more Democrat.
The public school administration is attempting to build a new elementary school. Two buildings need to be torn down due to aging infrastructure. The two buildings will be replaced with one as the school age population has also dropped. The mill levy is a tough sell for the community. The question is how much can you do to bandaid a school together? And yet the taxpayers have a say in all of it as well. This year I think more than ever I am hearing of institutions that are struggling. Medical facilities are in a world of hurt, churches of all denominations struggle to keep pastors and pay the bills and of course business and economic development groups all over work so hard to bring money into our small towns.
The political situation does not inspire confidence and with an election year looming before us everything promises to become more contentious.
So out here on the prairies we will enjoy the Spring-like weather while it lasts. I don't think many of us would trade places with the bigger cities so we continue our co-existence with the land and our love affair with this time and this place.
One of the sorrows of this past week was the deaths of 176 people in the Ukrainian airplane hit by the missile in Baghdad. In military parlance I am sure it is called “collateral damage” and “the cost of war”. In political rhetoric it is “justifiable.” There is always an expected body count in any military encounter. The millions of victims of national pride, the “Innocents” and their survivors rise up from history with their cries of despair that echoed in those last moments of their lives.
Neither should this incident be a finger-pointing moment unless all the governments of the world take responsibility for those moments when the bigger picture of national pride got in the way of the “little guy, the child, the man or woman” who is simply going on with their everyday lives. We cannot ever overlook human life. Governments are very good at making excuses for their behavior, but the end result is what counts and there should be world wide mourning each time another life is caught in the cross hairs of a military exercise.
I remember reading about a decision that had to be made about bombing a target some years ago. The president of our country had to make the final decision. One thing he weighed was how many civilians would be in harm’s way when the bombs were dropped. They finally decided on late night when only the cleaning crew would be in the building and they tried to pick a time when they were on break. Now granted, every decision cannot be weighed with such precision, but I still cannot help but think of the young and old killed this week when governments thought they could take life and death decisions into their own hands and play their own games. And at what cost?
In reading the history of the Middle East, it is interesting to note it has always been an area of commerce and was vital to any movement from Africa into Europe in ancient times. But it was of very little interest to the Western nations until the Suez Canal became a route that bypassed the southern trip of Africa and shortened the distance between India and the rest of the world. Very soon the discovery of oil in Saudi Arabia presaged the growth of the oil companies that now rule the governments of the world. Great Britain, France, Germany and the United States have all had their fingers dipped in Middle Eastern oil since World War I. The oil oligarchs dictate not only in the board rooms, but also to the governments of the countries where the oil lies. Oil interests equal power and great wealth as the oil states have come to recognize. But the desire for wealth throws them into the mainstream of political balancing acts, trying to keep everyone happy in the midst of cultural and religious differences.
We have seen too many times when the justifiable death of Qassem Soleimani and the subsequent justifiable retaliation by Iran are part and parcel of the same dark dance between the nations. It is always “the innocent” who pay the piper. It is not a matter of politics, but rather one of common humanity. Watching this play out day by day I somehow have a sense the little people of the world (meaning us) have reached a point where we will no longer tolerate being moved like pieces of a game board at the whim of petty leaders or multi-national corporations. Maybe, just maybe we are ready to say, “No more.”
It is 7 a.m. and I have been up since 6 which is unusual for me. I think my hip surgery, medications and a slower pace in my lifestyle have left me with readjusted sleep patterns. For years my friends who are early risers have told me the morning is the best time. While I see you can get more things done, I will say, "Mornings, not so much!" But will try to adjust to whatever hand I am dealt.
As I was laying in bed doing my exercises this morning I was thinking about rural medical care. For many years every little town had a doctor who birthed babies, did emergency surgeries, took care of sick people by making house calls, but those days are done. In most cases small towns are served by a P.A., physician's assistant, who handles all the emergencies and gets people to the towns with more medical facilities when needed. Here in Glendive we head to Bismarck or Billings and from there they send you on to other places such as Denver. Some people head immediately for the Mayo Clinic but whatever you decide it means hours of driving or airplane flights. It is not fun having to make those decisions.
Our community is fortunate that one of our young local women, now an orthopedic surgeon, married a local man and has returned to town part time. She has a solid practice in Cheyenne, Wyoming, so commutes back and forth every month. It is a 600 mile trip for her over some pretty rugged Wyoming country. But having her here has been a boon for us all.
Her mother said her daughter, the surgeon, was surprised at how many cases of old injuries she was seeing. But that is typical of frontier living. If you are a rancher, farmer, small business man or woman you don't have time for long trips to the doctor and several months of not being able to get to your work. You work through the pain and stiffness and keep going. Having a surgeon here means that at least you can have local care, local hospital and not feel so removed from what is familiar.
It is amazing to watch the rural medical system at work. It is a real struggle to provide local care in areas where the population is wide spread and minimal. Numbers of patients do matter. This is especially true in our nursing homes. More and more people are trying to stay in their homes longer, but getting home health care is another issue as well.
Those of us who live in the rural areas are very cognizant of the limitations and the needs and it can be scary sometimes, but neighbor helping neighbor is what makes the difference. We are very grateful to doctors who come from outside and stay so we can build up a relationship with them. Local nursing staff is another issue. When I was in the hospital in November it was fun to be cared for by young women I knew -- that I had had in school or as in two cases in confirmation classes at church.
I have also had lots of physical therapy the past year. Our hospital has a unit but there is also a privately owned place in town. It is well and professionally staffed. Both work hard to get locals back on their feet after surgery. It is another dimension of long-term medical care that is so important.
We watch the papers carefully when it comes to funding rural medical care. We know what it means to be without and no one wants to go that route.
There is something to be said for having a local hospital where you can be visited by friends and family and be close to home. Even when the end of life is near, there are familiar people walking with you on the journey. Medical care is not just in the numbers and the dollars. It is why we fight so hard to at least keep what we have.