James Russell Lowell wrote:
And what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries earth if it be in tune,
And over it softly her warm ear lays;
Whether we look, or whether we listen,
We hear life murmur, or see it glisten. . .
Well, I beg to differ. Living within the Montana prairie weather patterns, June is often cold and wet or we can almost jump from winter directly into a hot, dry summer. Except for the first month of summer: kids out of school, swimming pool opens, baseball is in full swing — we don’t pay too much attention to the fact that it is June. In other words we don’t have high expectations for the perfect weather as described by Mr. Lowell.
Seasons on the prairie always have a bite to them — a sharp edge. Rarely do the seasons slide gently into each other. Most often they change virtually overnight. You will hear people say, “Just a couple days ago I had the windows open. Today I turned on the heat.”
The season I appreciate most of all in Montana is “Indian Summer”, that time in the fall that comes after a couple of hard frosts. The cold, wet weather we had in September was a disappointment. It seemed winter was already here, but we were saved.
Right now, as I write, the sky is clear blue, the colors are gold or red or even still green in some spots. The air is in the mild 60s and close to 70 — in other words perfection. We appreciate the sun’s warmth when we first go out to start the day. The evenings run into the 30s or less so the early morning we find a chill to the air and a light frost on the grass or at least a dampness before the sun’s rays burn it off.
I mowed my lawn in a t-shirt the other day picking up the leaves that have fallen. If I talk about perfection and weather I am usually thinking about “Indian Summer”. My brother remembers days out hunting with his high school friends and I know most of the men really look forward to the hunting season and being out in the crisp, clarity of the early morning air. My mother was born in October and fall was always her favorite time of year. She loved burying her grandchildren in leaves and the colors of fall were special to her.
As we move into November and if this pristine weather continues, prairie dwellers get a little nervous — it is like waiting for the other shoe to drop. Each beautiful fall day is one less day of winter, but we know that the cold will come. That is what makes these golden days so very precious.
Poet, Helen Hunt Jackson speaks to the glory of October. So I will let the two poets book-end this discussion.
When comrades seek sweet country haunts,
By twos and twos together,
And count like misers, hour by hour,
October's bright blue weather.
O sun and skies and flowers of June,
Count all your boasts together,
Love loveth best of all the year
October's bright blue weather.
Woo hoo! I voted yesterday. Ballot arrived in the mail by the afternoon I had it filled out and dropped off at the Dawson County Court House. I have been taught that voting is a sacred rite as Americans. Grandparents and parents believed voting was something everyone should do. To not vote is almost a sin. So it is done. To people who say, well, my vote doesn't change anything, I say one vote and one vote and one vote makes a huge difference. You can't complain if you do not vote and if we are going to make a difference in our lives in this country we must vote!! What a privilege! I think of how fortunate I am that I can vote and not worry about getting accosted in any way.
The tragedy is that there are places in this country where people are trying to prevent others from voting. I simply cannot believe that we don't want to encourage everyone to vote. It is our right and it is a privilege. Good things happen when we exercise our rights as American citizens.
I have no idea what the mid-terms elections will bring, but I hope it is not open clashes in the streets of our country. We have seen that happen before and it doesn’t solve anything. The reconciliation is not going to come from the White House nor perhaps Congress or the Supreme Court. Those institutions talk about “the mob”. They fan the flames of conflict. I would like to remind them all that “the mob” is in reality “We, the people. . .” Those words, “the people” need to be repeated over and over again until they become the very heartbeat of the nation and sink into the very soil of this country. “We, the people” are every race, and culture and language in the world. “We, the people”, in seeking freedom, integrity, and compassion, have created this country we call home. “We, the people” need to show the politicians what democracy and patriotism really mean. “We, the people.” We are not a “mob”, we are “the people.”
Every now and then I have this urge to prove that “I still have it!” I don’t know what “it” refers to, but it has something to do with courage, ability, zest and just a plain measure of stubbornness. Like right now. I decided yesterday, in the moment, to take a couple of days and just leave town. I like to drive and I like my windshield time and so just going somewhere, anywhere is a treat.
So I decided to drive to Belle Fourche, South Dakota, and spend a couple of nights and just do nothing. My grandparents and an aunt and uncle lived for many years in Spearfish and then my brother and I were born in Deadwood when Dad was teaching in Lead and that was many moons ago. But anyway this area is rather like a roost to which our family likes to return like homing pigeons. I have two cousins who have lived in Chicago for over 60 years and the Black Hills, where they spent many summers with their parents and grandparents is still “home” to them. So, anyway, like the aforementioned homing pigeon I threw some things in a suitcase and left after church this morning.
I had a hint of what was coming when I saw pictures texted to me by family in Cheyenne talking about the approaching storm and another friend who warned me to drive carefully in the storm. To my credit I did pause for a moment but I was ready to go and didn’t want to wait.
The rain started about halfway to Wibaux, Montana and continued until I turned east from Baker, Montana, and then it started turning to snow. I watched the temperature indicator on the car and it hovered right around 31-33 degrees. To my credit I was wary of freezing on the wet highway. South of Buffalo, South Dakota, I ran out of the snow and soon the highway was dry. The clouds were low and dark looking the whole way. Some of the taller buttes in the area were crested with fog and I see patchy fog is expected tomorrow. I am in Belle Fourche and will be here until Tuesday morning when I will drive west to Alzada, Broadus, Miles City and home. My little outing-adventure at an end.
Driving along today I didn’t play the radio. I really had just my thoughts to entertain me and I have to admit a big share of the time I was not thinking of anything in particular. I suppose you could have called my brain “the dead zone”, but it was rather nice not to feel pressured to have to think of anything as mundane as conversation.
The traffic was surprisingly busy on Highway 85 going north. There was a lot of highway work on the shoulders on 85, but being it was Sunday and weather bad, the work was at a standstill for which I was grateful. The Black Hills, which I can usually see miles away, were shrouded in fog.
To my surprise I did see an antelope standing in the middle of the highway. He took off quickly but I don’t know that I have ever seen antelope much just being there. A couple deer ran across the highway and I saw hunters out. One couple had a tripod with the rifle mounted. When I heard the gun's report I was glad they were turned away from the highway! For awhile south of Buffalo I got stuck behind someone hauling a couple rolls of hay. He was stuck behind a slow moving pick-up. The rain made visibility a little difficult, but finally he passed and then I could as well.
The sweep of the prairies all along the way always moves me. I can get quite emotional as I see the land: coulees, creeks, grassland, buttes, bluffs and the fact that you can see forever on a clear day. You can better understand the descriptions of the frontiersmen and homesteaders as they crested butte after butte and saw the huge expanses of land. I am sure they were struck speechless. The prairies are so different from the Yellowstone Valley and while it is still part of the same geographic the emotions they elicit are not the same.
It was a humbling drive today as always and I am touched to the core by how fortunate I am to live where I do. Maybe that is what I mean I ask “do I still got it?” The sense of place and hearing the land speak to me once again.
I have to admit that in these days of Trump I have become something of a news “junkie”. My brother like many others has just walked away from the news almost completely except for a few well chosen op-ed pieces he finds. Part of my addiction, I think, comes from the sense of disbelief that the news of the day brings. I cannot figure out how nearly everything we believed had meaning and purpose in our lives has just plain disappeared. I don’t think, for the most part, it can ever be reclaimed. Integrity, compromise, honesty, compassion, a belief in the greater good are concepts that, if the last few days are any indication, are gone.
Looking back I suppose I have to admit this has been coming on for a long time. Regardless of how it has been portrayed, politics has never been a “gentleman’s game”. I read in a biography of Theodore Roosevelt, when he became police commissioner of New York City, his social class was aghast that he would descend into the corruption and the dirt of machine politics. Roosevelt felt there was a place for an honest man and he believed he could clean-up the crime and the dirty money which was rampant even then.
The fiasco of this last episode, the confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh, have called to mind the need for some men and women in politics who can see beyond the political power struggle and really focus on the needs of the nation.
Rhetoric from both parties has inflamed the American landscape so that we are powerless to see the common good. The ‘tribalism’, the division in every facet of our society really is frightening. Like the Middle East where we see Sunni and Shia and Suffi clash; in African countries where cultures are still fighting tribal battles; in Bosnia, Czechoslovakia and Herzegovina we saw tribes — Serbs and Bosnians reigniting centuries old hatreds and slaughtering each other just because “they were not like me.”
The individual rights we have always held so precious, the rule by law, the importance of being heard, have been washed away in fear mongering and people who attempt to stir up these old hatreds. The marching in Charlottesville goes back to the Civil War. We are seeing those old flames being fanned once again and it is frightening.
I have no idea what the mid-terms elections will bring, but I hope it is not open clashes in the streets of our country. We have seen that happen before and it doesn’t solve anything. The reconciliation is not going to come from the White House nor perhaps Congress or the Supreme Court. Those words, “We, the people. . .” need to be repeated over and over again until they sink into the very soil of this country. “We, the people” are every race, and culture and language in the world. “We, the people”, in seeking freedom, integrity, and compassion, have created this country we call home. “We, the people” need to show the politicians what democracy and patriotism really mean. “We, the people.”