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Reflections ~ Interesting Insights on Years Gone By

There is something about spring that invigorates a person. Or maybe it’s the end of the tax return pile. Whatever the case may be, I have begun to attack the pile of papers in my garage – with a vengeance.

In the interest of time, I have started with my archives of financial records. You do not want to know how far back this stuff goes – really. It can’t just be thrown away, it must be sorted and shredded – everything with a number, name, or address, must be converted into parade confetti. I chose to start with the financial records because, quite frankly, I could quote the record retention rules in my sleep. There are a few extenuating circumstances in my history, but, for the most part, the general rules hold. This means I can whip through these boxes with relative abandon. Unlike my husband’s records, I do not have to spend time deciding if I keep, scan, or convert something to unrecognizable ash. Nor do I have to decide if a pile of documents should be sent off to some company archivist.

There is a point to this meandering and that point has to do with the shredding of a few decades of a person’s life. Watching things disappear into the blades of the shredder can be therapeutic, disheartening, and sometimes sad. Here are some of the things I am remembering/discovering about the person that was, and is, me.

Sometimes arguments cannot be resolved. No matter how hard you try, some people will never understand why you will or will not do or say some particular thing they feel so very important. Newsflash — it isn’t important anymore. Why was there so much hurt wrapped up in the struggle?

I never thought of myself as an activist; I’m discovering that when things touch me in some important way I am very much so, and have been for a long time. Among the debris of so many years was a record of how I responded to one of the worst fire seasons Western Montana has ever suffered. The photo with this post was taken during the August 2000 fire in the Bitterroot National Forest. I honestly don’t recall if that was the same year that so much of the forests in Sanders and Kootenai Counties were in flames. There were three things I undertook to change or to help alleviate the burden our fires imposed.

Bitterroot National Forest, Montana, August 6, 2000. Photo by John McColgan working for the Fairbanks, Alaska division of the Forest Service. The photo is public domain.

Bitterroot National Forest, Montana, August 6, 2000. Photo by John McColgan working for the Fairbanks, Alaska division of the Forest Service. The photo is public domain.

One was to find a way to help those that were accepting animals from areas burned or in danger of going up in flames. I contacted the Purina headquarters and they contacted their area distributors to mount a campaign to help reduce or eliminate the cost of feeding the four-legged refugees. One of the ranches accepting animals from all over the state called me personally to thank me.

Another thing I did was to contact Habitat for Humanity to ask them at the national level to look at the possibility of helping those who had lost their homes to the flames. Most people in Western Montana are pretty independent folks, and if helping someone raise a house or a barn was part of what was needed, then, well, let’s just get it done. I’m not sure if this initiative went very far. I think it was inherent in their policies that the person in need contact them.  They did make sure that the local chapter made their presence known.

Next I see that I wrote a long and impassioned letter to some government official, with FEMA, I believe. The letter was impassioned but it was also thoroughly researched. For whatever reason the federal agencies engaged in fighting the fires had decided that it was an actionable crime to assist in the firefighting unless you were certified and part of their crews. In Western Montana that meant that many logging and ranching families, with the appropriate equipment, and intimate knowledge of the lay of the land, were commanded to stand down. Even if their solution could stop another 1,000 acres or so igniting while they awaited “appropriate response.” This was a fire season so devastating that multiple agencies could provide no more help than 1 person per 100 acres in flames. I personally knew many families who, forced out of the field of battle, drew back, and simply fought for their own homes and acreage. Mandatory evacuation was not an option, it was a battle cry.

There are other bits and pieces. Things I volunteered for, people I contacted in hopes of matching up a need with a solution. For instance, finding a research program for a friend whose child had a rare form of epilepsy. All from my desk on the outskirts of a tiny town in Western Montana. No money, just a phone (on dial-up internet), some skill at putting thoughts together in a logical, impassioned order, and an apparent talent for finding people to talk to.

I guess I haven’t changed all that much. I may have better tools, better resources, a more mature sense of immediacy; but I still see my primary mission in life as finding a solution to problems. It’s not all that hard to give a bit of time here and there. We all have experiences that can help other folks. Very often we know of someone, somewhere who just might know how to fix a particular problem, or knows someone who can. Just make sure you know when to say “no” or nothing gets done. Believe me, I’ve been there, too.

Be a presence in the world that draws those who need you and your unique skills. Be the solution you want to see. Someday as you sit in front of a shredder, such things may give you hope that the fight is worth the effort.

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My Tree of Memories

The season is upon us. All of the celebrations that our species has come up with that center around the return of the sun are swirling around us. A carefully tracked and joyful expectation as the giver of life begins its slow journey back to warmth and longer days. Solstice this year is the 22nd of December, a few brief days before the sun will reach 1 degree along its return path, the mark of the ancient day of Saturnalia.  Many Christians do not realize that this time of year was chosen for the celebration of the birth of Christ because the Roman Saturnalia was an excellent cover for gift exchanges, celebration of the renewal of light—the return of the Son. It is, however, quite appropriate.

 

It is also a time of reflection. My tree is a tree that hubby and I purchased in Canada. A great deal offered by Canadian Tire that served us well for a number of years. This is number seven, I believe. There were years when all he really wanted was the small white lights that glowed in our darkened living room; and years when he wanted us to hang everything we could load onto the poor thing. It is a tree of memories.

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Hanging from its branches this year is a hodgepodge of years past. There is even an angel from my very first Christmas, handmade ornaments, gifts from friends, bits from office parties, ornaments that I don’t even remember where they came from – souvenirs from sharing. That, I think, is what Christmas trees are all about. The excitement of Christmas mornings, the quiet of warm evenings with hot tea or cocoa and music—memories captured in the glow of Christmas lights.

This will be the last year for this tree. Somewhere along the line this year I made a non-decision to avoid additions. This is a year for memory. A year that has gone relatively well, all things considered, even though I still step on landmines; and find myself somewhere else, somewhen else.

I have learned, in this journey, that there are friends you never realized were there. There are families made of caring people who suddenly, without prompting, check to see how your day is going. There are people that smile at you for no particular reason. I try very hard to be one of those people. I know how much it means.

This is a time a year that I find both joyful, and sad. This part is nothing new. While we all run around and try to ensure that our version of the season is first and foremost in everyone’s mind, we need to remember that there are those that really don’t care what you call it; their days are the same, lost, hungry, cold, or afraid. On that scale, I am a very, very lucky lady.

So, I must ask my friends, my readers, to take this time of year to seek the magic moment, the moment of sharing. It doesn’t have to be much – it just needs to be human. When asked how to tell a child who God was I suggested this. When you see someone reaching out to help someone in need – when you see a smile that draws a smile from someone else – when you touch a heart that is aching – in that moment – when you see the connection – that is the face of God. (and not that breakfast sausage guy) Be a spark that creates that moment.

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Reflections ~ Holiday Haunts

I am always conflicted when it comes to holidays.  It may be in part due to the historian in me.  I’m always poking into closets and behind the curtains to see what there is to know about origins and metamorphosis.  Consequently, I often find the unpleasant aspects of things we have learned to cherish.  A few examples might be appropriate.

Turkey

Courtesy of WANA Commons & Patti O’Shea

Christmas is not about the birth of Christ.  The celebrations that the human species have established during the winter solstice are varied and have changed and morphed throughout the millennia.  These celebrations usually centered on the return of longer days, the change in seasons.  December 25th (or so) is the date that the sun has returned a full degree into the sky and all the priests knew it was “coming back,” although a long winter may still be in the offing.  Christians used a time of celebrations and gift giving to allow the open celebration of the coming of Christ.  Jesus, you see, was actually born in the spring.

Easter.  I think my awakening on this account came the year I realized I was celebrating a risen Savior nearly a full month before the Passover.  Ummm, wait a minute.  Isn’t it supposed to be, Last Supper, Night of Passing the Buck, Crucifixion, burial, missing body.  How could the calendar get so jumbled up this was all in reverse mode?  That would be because Easter, as it is celebrated in the Western World, has little to do with Passover.  It is celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox. It is the ancient fertility festival of planting, new life and the hearts of young men and women. Oh, and ham would have been the LAST thing on the mind of a cook for a Passover meal.

I try to ignore Columbus Day as much as I can, usually referring to it as Yellow-Fever Day.  Sorry, but Columbus did not discover America (lots of people were here already and Europeans and Asians had been making the trip for centuries).  His arrival was, however, the spark that led to centuries of slavery and systematic eradication of native culture and history.  And natives.

So, full circle and here we are at Thanksgiving.  Pilgrims and “Indians,” lots of food and wonderful harvest and all that.  Except that it wasn’t.  The very first Thanksgiving was the celebration of a massacre sparked by the death of one individual.  It’s not terribly clear what he died of.  In many ways the holiday is quite offensive to Native Americans.  By some twist of strange psychology I know this and accept this but still see great value in the focus of the holiday.  Perhaps it’s because for me the origins provide an even deeper reason to stop, contemplate and share.

The holidays are a very stressful season and usually open wide familial wounds and conflicts.  It is evidently not true that suicides and depression increase during this time of year, (NYU Langone Medical) If there are any issues it is with the “Winter Blues.” But there is still stress. I have, in years past, found my own way of seeking peace on this day of reflection. Perhaps, in part, because I know that good fortune is sometimes at the cost of another’s loss.

Some years ago I was one of the founders and operators of a private retreat property in Montana.  It was our practice to open our doors on major holidays to anyone and everyone that would come.  It was not necessary to bring anything, just come.  I would cook for 2, sometimes 3 days to prepare for the event and we would end up borrowing dishes and utensils from all over the place. I remember one Thanksgiving when we managed to convince a Viet Nam veteran to visit.  He braved the encounter and by the end of the day he was the favorite uncle of all the younger children.  A substitute family, but one that brought him joy.  You see, that is what Thanksgiving means to me.

Visit a neighbor, a friend, a family member.  Avoid the stores at all costs.  If you eat out think of some way to thank those who gave up their holiday to serve you.  Find a way to support those in America with far less.  Maybe add to a local food bank as millions of Americans see a cut in their food stamp support.  Smile, hug, hold a door open.  Stop, for just one day and appreciate what you have and seek ways to share it. There is always someone else with less, someone who paid for your bounty.

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Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, Personal Journeys