Montana Jones

Montana n: A state of the northwest United States bordering on Canada. Admitted as the 41st state in 1889. The fourth largest state in the union, it includes vast prairies and numerous majestic mountain ranges.
Syn: Treasure State, Big Sky Country, Last Best Place.

Jones n: slang. An addiction or very deep craving.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Stupid animal

The deer charged out onto the road at a full sprint and I could tell he was changing his mind before he even reached the double yellow line. We weren't going all that fast, taking a curve at 45 or 50 miles per hour. The brake lights on the big sport utility in front of me flashed and the vehicle narrowly missed colliding with the creature. The animal tried to stop and change direction in the middle of the road but it's own momentum was against it. Somehow it missed the oncoming truck, but was not so lucky with the trailer the truck was hauling. The leading corner of the trailer gouged into the animals' side and threw it down on the road. The deer's head struck first, right on the double yellow line. It had a beautiful rack of antlers that shattered against the asphalt and chips of antler flew in all directions. The collision with the ground was brutal and I'm sure the animal was killed in that instant. The carcass rebounded across the road like a pinball, spinning across the ground and spilling blood, guts and antlers on the road. It just missed colliding with the back end of the sport utility in front of me and skidded into my path. I swerved and slowed as best I could in the narrow road but I did not miss it entirely. I could feel my wheels rumble over the deer legs sticking into my lane.

This has always been my greatest fear while driving the roads of Montana. I am more afraid of animals than I am of drunk drivers, bad weather or icy roads. I am becoming a fan of hunting season because it means fewer deer on our roads. I am curious to take up hunting so I can get the satisfaction of blowing away some of these stupid vermin animals before they step in front of my car. Since moving to Montana I have started thinking of deer as giant fucking rats with long legs, hooves and antlers. This particular deer would have had a better end to its life if a hunter had claimed it instead of the road.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

There are no vegetarians at the food bank

I have been going to the food bank for four or five weeks now. Not because I need food, I am giving them some time. A couple hours a week I do volunteer work there. I do what they call "boxing", taking a shopping list from a person or family in need, prowling around the pantry shelves and putting food into a box for them.

Several things have happened before I ever interact with these people. First and probably most critically they have admitted to themselves or their families that they need help, then they swallowed their pride and went to the food bank to ask for it. There are people that find pride much too bitter of a meal to swallow and they go hungry instead. Those that make it to the food bank get a short interview and then fill out a list of what they need. The list is just a little form where they say how many are in their family and then they circle things on a list like mac & cheese, fruit, veggies, ramen noodles, soup and so on. I take that list and pick things off the shelf for them.

The form they fill out has a spot to indicate dietary restrictions, diabetic needs or vegetarians. I think it is a little odd that vegetarian is even on there. The pantry does have a little corner in the back where we stash some sugar free stuff for the diabetics, but there are no vegetarians at the food bank.

The food bank has no well dressed people. There are no nice cars parked out front. No SUV's in the parking lot. The waiting room is not decorated with tasteful furniture and framed artwork. No one has an iPod. No one gossips about their new plasma teeve. No one has new clothes. There are no activists reminding us to buy locally and eat organic. No one is picky about their coffee. No one ever says "life is too short to drink cheap beer." Pride is in short supply at the food bank. So is confidence. Hope is still there, but for some the food bank is their last.

The idea behind helping families at the food bank is to provide enough food to get through about two or three days; long enough to get to the next paycheck or cut enough slack so they can pay the rent. I follow a list while boxing that tells me how much food to give to various size families. An individual will get one can of soup and one package of ramen and so on. A family of four will get two or three servings of everything and larger quantities. When we have fresh milk, it is usually reserved for families with children.

The stuff on the pantry shelves is a pretty eclectic assortment. The food drives bring in a big variety of stuff for us to give out. Everything from cheap assed cans of generic chili to super expensive gourmet cheeses. It is not unusual to find fresh fruit and veggies there. There are people with apple trees and cherry trees in their yards that will give most of their little harvest to the food bank. Supermarkets will give up bags of salad and produce that is reaching its expiration date. We have instructions to give out the perishable stuff before we give out the canned goods. Sometimes this selection gets a little weird. Big bags of green onions, fresh basil and artichokes.

I take someone's shopping list, follow the rules for how much to give them, prioritize the perishables and make up a box of food. It makes me feel a little sad when I look at this box and realize it has Gouda cheese, artichokes, lima beans, a package of hot dogs, and fruit cocktail. This is supposed to make meals for someone for three days? I am reasonably educated, I have good cooking skills, I have a well equipped kitchen and I have access to recipe searches on the internet. And I would be hard pressed to make a decent meal out of these things. Some of the people getting these boxes don't have cooking skills, or recipes or enough education to gain them. Some of these people only have one pot on a hot plate to cook with. I wonder how many of those artichokes I give out end up in the trash. Or if someone is just desperate enough to eat them raw. How many people eat lima beans right out of the can? Whenever I can I try to fill the box with things that can make a meal. Matching tomato sauce with the spaghetti or slipping someone some taco shells when we have ground beef. Sometimes you can't though. Sometimes all there is to give is lima beans and Gouda cheese.

The food drives help, but they never bring in enough food. The food bank buys most of the food they give out. Manufacturers and wholesalers sell things like mac & cheese or ramen noodles or peanut butter to them in bulk and at a discount. These are staples at the food bank. There is never enough money to buy all the food they need. My pantry shelves are always missing something. Mac & Cheese ran out last week. The week before we had no canned tomatoes. There is always something on someone's list that we can't put in the box.

This brings me to a point, of course. Matt at Left in the West and Craig at MT Politics have initiated the second annual Montana Blogger charity drive for the Montana Food Bank Network. The donation page is here.

Last year Montana Bloggers came up with $1,600 dollars to donate to this group. $1,600 can buy a lot of ramen noodles. The goal this year is to match that, but I think we could do better this year. The Montana blogosphere is a year older, a little wiser, a little bigger. A lot of us got the ball rolling by pitching in a few dollars a year ago; I bet we can do a better job of promoting or shaming more people into making donations this year.

In the past month I watched a young ladies eyes twinkle as I slipped a cake mix into her box. A heavyset man in a sharp clean windbreaker could only look at the floor when he came up for his box. A strong but scruffy man looked me in the eye and said "Thank you, God bless you" as he took his box. We cooed over an adorable baby named Angel while her mother came into the back to pick some formula off the baby food shelf. I presented two heavy boxes to the mother of six children and watched as half the waiting room jumped to their feet to help her carry them out to her car. I filled an order that someone made out for her neighbor. A single father raising four children and not ready to admit that he was having trouble making it to the end of the month. An old lady and her friend came in and got a small box that I learned was to be her 90th birthday dinner.

Everyone at the food bank looks a little different walking out than they did when they walked in. On the way out they carry themselves a little straighter, a little more confident, a little more hope. They step out with dignity because they have a way to feed their children and a way to make it through another day or two in a hard life. Every time I have been to the food bank I hear something I never hear at the fast food drive through. Every single person that has taken my boxes said "thank you" with complete and deep sincerity.

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Saturday, November 10, 2007


You know, I came out there to your place thirty years ago. I was there for a couple days as a boy scout. It made such an impression on me that I have never forgotten it. I remember the waterfalls right there that you could see and the cave in the cliff face. It was so amazing. Well here I am 30 years later and I want to come back. I want to bring my children out there; they are the same age I was. They are not really into the outdoors, but I hope to impress it on them a little. They are more urban than what you offer, they don't know the outdoors, but I need to show it to them. Besides, I need to come back. It's been 30 years and I want to see it again. It made such an impression on me.

I reminisced with him for a few minutes about the scenery and local landmarks and agreed about introducing the next generation to the great outdoors. I thanked him for his business and clicked the phone off. I put the phone on hold so I could take a moment to finish the paperwork and then left the phone off so I could sit there for a few moments longer. I thought about the waterfalls and the view to the west and I thought about what it is that makes people long for a place thirty years after having seen it for only a day. I'm not saying I cried, but maybe I did get a little misty. In front of me the counter on my inbox ticked up over 280 and the phone blinked at me to remind me of the world yelling for me. People with questions and complaints and needs that could only be met if I give them my attention now, now, now. The phone stayed off for a few more minutes so I could daydream about hiking with a family into the wilderness to see someplace different and beautiful. Perhaps whoever replaces me thirty years from now will get a call and hear a story from them. It's these little moments I live for in this job. It reminds me that the work I do is not just answering the phone and dealing with daily crap. The work I do creates memories that last thirty years and influence children that have not been born yet. I love this job. I'm not saying that I cried, but maybe I did get a little misty.

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Saturday, November 03, 2007

Finding yourself

I just want to get away from all this. All these things I have here in my home. I want to go somewhere else to find myself. I think this place and all these things have sort of gotten in the way of the real me. I want to find out what kind of person I really am.
That's cool. Nothing wrong with that. But I already know what you will find.
Well, not exactly. But I have a good idea. And the interesting thing is that you already know too. You just don't know that you know.
So what am I going to find when I go to find myself?
All the things you bring with you.
Okay, this is what happened to me when I moved to Montana. I figured that going to the far side of the horizon would be a good way to re-create the true me. I could get away from some bad influences and make some good habits and things like that. And that worked, sort of. But when you go somewhere you take a lot of yourself with you. All your likes and dislikes, skills and wisdom and dreams and aspirations and so on. They stick with you. You can leave some things behind, but in the end you are going to find much of the same person in the new place as you were in the old place. And these things in you that survive the move, well, that is who you really are. You will recognize these things after you move because they have been a part of you all along.

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