OldMenAndLawnTractors

As reported by The Daily Beast but not reported by any newspaper in Montana, Planned Parenthood of Montana will no longer provide medication abortions for patients from South Dakota, Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma, and will now require proof of residency for the treatment. [7/1/2022]

Old man ban

Although it seems as if there are enough laws on the books I’d like to add another: This one would ban retired men from owning tractors, chainsaws, or riding lawn mowers. It’s based on my observations of the profound ignorance of the natural world displayed by the geriatric rednecks who infest our exurban backwater outside Missoula.

One of these old men with way too much time on his hands is a guy I call Pudge. He’s married to an angry, unpleasant woman named Skanky. In order to avoid her he mows his lawn three or four times a week. To draw out the chore he mows a small stretch of grass one way, then the other, then he backs up and mows the same patch of tortured lawn again. This goes on for several hours. The mower is deafening. But it drowns out the sound of her voice. Here’s a poem I wrote about him:

Tractor boy
Tractor boy
Playing all day
With his toy.

Another neighbor cut down the forest on his ten acres with a chainsaw. Gone are the hawthorns, Ponderosa pines, willows, junipers and cottonwoods that once covered his piece of the floodplain along the Clark Fork, eliminating the canopy that once sheltered a menagerie of birds and animals. This old man is from North Dakota and apparently has been homesick for the treeless prairies that stretch across that empty, windblown state.

Geriatric Neighbor No. 3 hauled tons of topsoil to his property in order to block a relief channel running through several properties, including ours. This little serpentine gully is dry most of the time but during the river’s periodic flooding it siphons away water that would otherwise end up in our house. The county ordered him to remove this fill on penalty of a substantial fine. But at least he got to play with his tractor again. [7/1/2022]

IceSkatingOnMars

Short Story: Ice Skating on Mars

The last customers on the showroom floor had been fussing with the Haltbar for twenty minutes. They opened the French doors, stuck their heads inside, and pulled out the food bins. She made coffee with the Keurig and sipped from a plastic cup as he studied the freezer compartment. They pushed the refrigerator this way on its rubber wheels, then the other. Joe took a brochure from the counter. “Hey, folks. Thanks for coming in.” [continued]


NewsboysOnStrike--1899
A can of Missoulian news, please

The quality of small-market newspapers such as the Missoulian rises and falls on the zeal of its editors and the resources allotted to its reporters. Ever since Gwen Florio and Keila Szpaller fled the paper during the last 18 months the coverage of local news in the paper has deteriorated.

Take for example the edition published on Monday, May 16, 2022. The front page featured four articles: “The Sanctity of Space,” written by the Anchorage Daily News; “Census Undercount Decreases Funding,” written by Kaiser Health News, and interviews with the Dem and Goper candidates for Montana’s new House seat, written by the Lee State Bureau. Missoulian reporters had nothing to do with any of these.

A day earlier the paper published canned reviews of three nonfiction book that were first published in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The paper also prints the same photos day after day, such as the one showing the Dem House hopefuls. Over the past year the paper has been repeatedly embarrassed after being scooped by websites such as the Daily Montanan and the Montana Free Press and even the Kaimin, the University of Montana’s excellent student newspaper.

So what local news should the Missoulian be covering? For one, the city has a large Russian population centered around the Slavic Pentecostal Church west of town. Yet no interviews with these people about the invasion of Ukraine have appeared. Second, the paper has been completely silent about the city’s ludicrous and environmentally harmful poplar plantation. Third, instead of running canned book reviews the Missoulian might consider books by Missoula authors, such as The Last Heir, a history of 20th Century Montana published March 1 by the University of Nebraska Press. [5/18/2022]

Canned news, redux

If less than 10 percent of a daily publication features local news should it call itself a newspaper? For example, take the Sunday Missoulian, published on June 12, 2022 in Missoula (note that adding Montana to the location is unnecessary because there’s only one place named Missoula in the solar system).

In that edition the paper’s reporters produced only four articles. Most of the column inches are filled with wire service news most people have already seen on television or read online, plus canned book reviews from sources such as the Chicago Tribune and Variety and small, murky black-and-white photos. Yet despite its reliance on wire service filler the Missoulian failed to publish a story about a crime scene in a town just down the road: Couer d’Alene. On June 11 thirty one members of a white supremacist hate group called the Patriot Front were arrested there before they could disrupt a gay pride gathering. As reported by most every national publication and network in the U.S., the fascists were charged with conspiracy to riot.

The Missoulian from the second Sunday in June 1922 was more than 25 percent local news. The population in 1922 was 12,000; the population in 2022 is 80,000. But a Martian would assume based on reading both editions that much more was happening in that little town than is happening now in this growing city. [6/12/2022]

Like a corporate drone padding his expense account the Missoulian pads its pages not just with wire service filler but also by inflating its text with air, in another case of the kind of inflation in which a customer pays the same price but gets less product. For example:


Bad Type
Blacked out is the new orange

KPAX announced recently that it would no longer publish mug shots on its platforms unless the accused is a prominent public figure, the alleged crime is deemed to be horrendous, or the perp poses a continuing threat to the community.

DonaldInStir

We get it: A person is presumed innocent until proven guilty, but on the internet a mugshot can last for years, condemning both the guilty and the innocent every time it’s viewed.

The reason why the Missoula County Detention Facility makes these arrests public—as well as the photographs of those arrested—is the opposite of what the English did to suspected IRA soldiers during The Troubles; that is, arresting them without trial or evidence and jailing them without informing anyone of their whereabouts.

Still, we enjoy profiling Missoula’s detainees based on nothing but their looks. We know it’s morally questionable, but we don’t care. Because it’s fun. Let’s start with the men. Our categories are Werewolf, Vampire, James Dean, Kanye West, Cousin It, Butthead, Warlock, Zombie, Jesus, Thug, and Hoot (someone with chin hair but no mustache). Then there are the women: Zombie, Vampire, Karen, Heather, Witch, Brittney Spears, and Morticia. Pictured above: a Butthead. [5/24/2022>

WolfOfWallStreet
Money laundering

I like money. No, I don’t mean coins, crypto, lines of credit or debit cards. I mean actual folding money. I like the feel of the paper and I like the way a hefty wad of currency looks when it’s neatly stacked up. I like dollars and I also like Euros. One time I brought home a stack of Malaysian 1 Ringgit notes after a trip to Borneo. Although a pretty shade of blue, I decided that compared to dollars and Euros they were just too small, measuring only 120 x 65 millimeters, compared to a Washington, for example, which is 154 x 65.

What I don’t like about folding money is the way it smells. This ranges from the ghastly perfumes and colognes that have turned rancid to the acrid odor of cocaine. So when I get some new bills from my wife—who gets them from barrel racers paying their entry fees--I always stuff them in a cloth bag and wash them thoroughly with unscented hand soap and white vinegar. Then I put them in our dryer. While they’re still slightly damp I iron each one on both sides to make the bills lie flat. Then I add them to my collection. I have no intention of actually spending this money. Since the only people who use currency these days are gamblers I don’t have to.

I know this sounds like I have a hoarding problem. But I think it has more to do with an obsessive-compulsive problem. It began when I was a kid. First, there was Monopoly money, then that wonderful fake children’s currency that looked vaguely like real dollars, and then what is called “Hollywood” money you can now buy on Amazon, which looks and feels authentic until you read the words “Motion Picture Use Only.”

When I was twelve I began printing my own currency with a typewriter on cotton paper. This was money issued by Lower Slobbovia, a piece of unoccupied floodplain in the redneck backwater where I grew up, a name I stole from Al Capp’s L’il Abner comic strip. I called this money The Credit and issued it in 1, 5 and 10-Credit denominations. Instead of being backed by the gold standard, like the dollar was before Nixon severed the connection—it was backed by the rock standard—the bright, shiny stones my grandfather polished to a high gloss and gave to me.



Missoula, A Place. Sort Of.

It began as my entry in the 1982 Missoula County seal contest: A flying animal that might be a platypus or a very ugly duck, drawn by an artist named Jan Faust, surrounded by the Latin words Vos Hic Estes, translated as “You Are Here.”

Most government seals are designed by Chamber of Commerce boosters who think they live in the best place in the world (spend a slushy gray winter in Missoula or a hot smokey summer and you will quickly be cured of that odious conceit). For example, here is Missoula County’s current seal, whose designer wants you to notice its homage to, what? Snow, trees, water, Indians? Boring and uneventful, like brunching with bureaucrats.

The following year I reworked my seal entry and came up with this lateral move at the line of scrimmage: A Place. Sort Of.

In 1984 I started printing the image on tee-shirts and selling them. Here’s what the advertising copy said:

“The Tee-Shirt that tells the shocking truth about Missoula! Just in time for Christmas, the shirt the authorities don’t want you to wear. The shirt that isn’t afraid of Missoula’s dark secret. The shirt your friends won’t believe. Only $8.50 each. Available in eight startling colors . . . . For external use only. Void where prohibited by law.” [4/12/2022]



PlagueDoc
Shine a light

Like monkeys streaming from God’s butt plagues always spawn outrageous lies. Take the bubonic plague of the Fourteenth Century, for example. It was widely believed that the Black Death was caused by Jews who poisoned wells or bad air called “miasma” that was contaminated with fecal matter. It was also believed that its victims could be cured by rubbing their bodies with live chickens or snake parts or giving them potions made from crushed emeralds or the ground horns of unicorns.

Donald Trump believed that cures for Covid included bleach and strong light.

Butt monkeys in Montana spawned by the current pandemic include extremist websites that rail against vaccines and masks and the school boards that support the science behind these preventative measures. “Free Missoula News” (formerly "Missoula County Tyranny"), for example, and “The Western Montana Liberty Coalition” claim that the “Missoula Government School System” is actually “the largest Communist school system in Montana.” And the wingnuts who write these sites claim that ivermectin (an anti-worm drug) and hydroxychloroquine (a lupus drug) are effective against Covid, although not a single clinical trial has shown them to be of any use in preventing the disease. According to the Cochrane Policy Institute “there is no evidence to support the use of ivermectin either for preventing or treating COVID-19.” Cochrane also said that “hydroxychloroquine caused more unwanted effects than a placebo treatment.”

You might as well eat unicorn horn. [4/19/2022]



Serve and volley

After years of complaining to bureaucrats about the deterioration of Missoula’s public tennis courts we received this notice from the city, which will be published May 9:

“Notice is hereby given that electronic bids for the reconstruction of Playfair tennis courts located at 3001 Bancroft Street, Missoula, MT. 59801 will be received until 3:30 p.m., local time, on Tuesday, June 7, 2022. The bids will then be publicly opened and read aloud digitally from the City of Missoula, via Teams Meeting.” [5/6/2022]



The Wizard Will See You Now

So called “multi-level marketing” companies pay their sales force not only for the stuff they sell but also for the work of other salespeople they recruit. The theory is that the higher up on the feeding order you climb—as you recruit bottom feeders who then recruit bottom feeders beneath them—the more money as a sales “associate” you’re likely to make. But most of these business plans are unstable, and the products are often no more than snake oil. Plus, because of the high sales resistance “associates” encounter, the work is ridiculously time-consuming, and the lower echelons often make little or no money at all. Like “Needlenose” Ned Ryerson in Groundhog Day they become obnoxious street corner buttonholers who prey on their families and couch their messages on social media with born-again bullshit about the “Creator” in order to hustle people in the congregations they join.

And despite their serial failures some people become addicted to these pyramid schemes, believing that someday they’ll get in on the ground floor of one that will finally make them rich. They stand a better chance of winning a lottery. Most pyramid schemes are built on selling health products whose efficacy has never been validated. We know people who have sold, or tried to sell all of these scams:  Amway water filters, Herbalife multivitamins, copper bracelets for the treatment of arthritis,  and magnets to promote healing. Then they hawked Melaleuca products, which claim all sorts of medical benefits, none of which have been tested or approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Despite promising that their stuff  “supports” everything from prostate to cardiovascular “health” Melaleuca’s labels are required by law to state that “this product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.” (To be fair, the company also sells tea tree oil, an extract from an Australian shrub called Melaleuca alternafolia that’s a proven anti-fungal and anti-bacterial agent; but you can buy this substance most anywhere.)

Pyramid junkies are now mainlining on a company called ASEA. Based in Utah and owned by Mormon businessmen with no scientific training, this is the weirdest of them all. The company takes municipal water, adds salt and runs an electric current through it. Bam! Fountain of Youth! This whore of a product is dressed in the fine clothes of science.

One of the hottest topics in molecular biology right now is redox signaling. This is a range of chemical reactions produced when certain short-lived molecules generated by the mitochondria and other organelles in plant and animal cells race around telling the rest of the cell and other cells what to do. These activities include tissue repair, the transfer of energy, immune responses, and scavenging, the chemical reaction in which cancer-causing molecules called free radicals are neutralized before they can erode cell walls. ASEA claims that the human body produces smaller amounts of redox signals as it ages.

So you should drink the company’s expensive saltwater because it’s chock full of these awesome molecules, and you’ll become a better athlete and live longer. However, actual redox signals in the body exist for only a few milliseconds before their job is done, and cannot be “stabilized,” as the company claims. ASEA water has never been validated by a single double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial.  In the end there’s simply no scientific evidence that this stuff will do anything except drain your bank account. (for more about the supplement see “ASEA—Still Selling Snake Oil”).



School coup crushed

Like Putin’s invasion of Ukraine the push by Krazy Kristers and radical right zealots to demolish public education has stalled, at least in Missoula County. On May 3 Mike “All hat, no cattle” Gehl, Missouri carpetbagger Amy Livesay and anti-mask extremist Jill Taber lost their bids by huge margins to “serve” as school trustees. Another win-win is that we won’t have to drive by their annoying yard signs anymore. [5/4/2022]



dead tank
Easter Music

While some people on Easter like to listen to gospel or Christian rock I am playing the haunting strains of a song by Carl Gustav and the 84s from the 1984 punk album A Complicated History. Here are some lyrics:

I don’t wanna play rock and roll
I don’t wanna die before I get old
I wanna be there when the Russians come
I wanna be there behind the sights of a gun
I don’t want no political discussions
I just wanna kill Russians


The band is named after the Carl Gustaf recoilless rifle, an 84-mm anti-tank weapon produced in Sweden. British troops refer to it as the Charlie G. To Canadians it's Carl G and U.S. soldiers call it simply Gustaf. In February 2022 Justin Trudeau’s government sent 100 of these lightweight weapons plus 2,000 rounds of rocket ammunition to Ukrainian forces fighting Putin. [4/17/2022]





Brad Tschida
Angry White Men

[back to the beginning] Brad Tschida is obsessed. Although the Missoula Trumpster trounced his Democratic opponent in the 2020 Montana House of Representatives race by a margin of 57 percent to 43, like a pit bull with a squeak toy he won’t let go of his allegation that the election was rigged. After he and some twenty of his fellow conspiracy theorists invaded the Missoula County Elections Office in 2021 to do a sloppy hand-job “audit” of the envelopes that contained mail-in ballots he announced that he smelled a rat. But the election had already been certified by the Montana’s Republican Secretary of State.

Worried that Tschida’s antics were discouraging Gopers from voting in upcoming races Missoula Republicans paid $5,000 for an audit in March of the 2020 ballots. The audit found zero schemes, zero fraud and zero irregularities. This pissed off Tschida even more. He claimed the recount revealed brand new rats.

Putting aside the possibility that Tschida is a Democratic mole trying to drive Goper voters away from the polls, his rants are typical of an anger management issue common among privileged white men. Take for example, Richard Fuisz, portrayed by William Macy in The Dropout. He was accused by disgraced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes of stealing her blood analyzer patents. She sued him. He spent years trying to prove that she was a fraud. In the process he ruined his personal life. His wife left him.

Another example is Robert Kearns, who invented the intermittent windshield wiper for vehicles, an idea stolen by every major automobile manufacturer in the U.S. Portrayed by Greg Kinnear in Flash of Genius, he sued them. In the process he ruined his personal life. His wife left him.

Finally, consider the case of Matt Lauer, portrayed by Steve Carell in The Morning Show, who tried for years to get people to believe he lost his job at NBC not because of sexual misconduct, as was alleged by the network, but because he had been kancelled by Kancel Kulture. In the process he ruined his personal life. His wife left him. [4/14/2022]

Hee Hee. Ho Ho. NorthWestern’s Got to Go.

[back to the beginning]In December 2019 NorthWestern Energy promised it would reduce its “carbon intensity” 90 percent by 2050. The corporation that supplies much of Montana's electricity claims to have already reduced its “carbon intensity” by over 50 percent since 2010. However, during that same period it continued to own the same amount of a coal-fired power plant, plus it added a gas plant to its portfolio. So how can the company make this claim?

According to the Montana Environmental Information Center: “The key to deciphering this bogus statement lies in defining the term ‘carbon intensity,’ which is not the same as ‘carbon reduction.’ NorthWestern is using the term ‘carbon intensity’ as if that means it will actually reduce real world greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide. But ‘carbon intensity’ is a ploy to confuse people while the company avoids actually reducing emissions.”

According to a growing number of health care experts such as Missoula’s Beth Shenk much of humanity’s looming medical miseries will be caused by “upstream” disasters like global warming, which is produced by greenhouse gases from coal and gas-fired energy factories. The most critical aspect of this environmental crisis will be a lack of water. Look at Glacier Park and the problem is obvious: Snow falls, but it melts earlier and earlier in the season, leaving no run-off for the warmest months. This is why the glaciers are disappearing. The consequence will be crop failures and a sanitary nightmare in which diseases such as cholera, typhus, and dysentery reach plague proportions.

NorthWestern Energy’s stockholders have no reason to insist that the company switch to solar power. What they want are profits now instead of investments for a safer future. While it’s convenient and fun to call shareholders fat cats, in fact because of widespread private pension plans most everyone with a decent job is now an owner of greenhouse gas polluters.

Remove the profit motive from Northwestern’s operations and you remove obstacles to preventing widespread disease and starvation. How do you do this? Ask the City of Missoula. In 2017 after a long legal battle it took control of its water system from a rapacious international equity fund that was allowing the infrastructure to deteriorate rather than invest for the future. [4/14/22] 2022



My Year in Dallas

At recess two girls and a boy walked up to me and stared. “Y’all say something,” the tall girl said after a while, putting her hands on her hips. I got ready to run. “What do you guys want?”

The girls whooped. “Guys! We ain’t guys!”

“Son, what is wrong with y’all?” the boy said, turning his head like a crow considering a worm.

“What?”

“Why do y’all talk like that?”

That morning our third-grade teacher had asked if anyone knows the name of the thing that lists the freedoms. It was my first day at James Bowie Elementary in the Oak Cliff part of Dallas. I made the mistake of answering. The class turned to gape at me. Maybe these kids had seen Ozzie and Harriet or Leave it to Beaver. But this was probably the first time they had ever heard a real Yankee boy speak.

I had learned the answer at my school in Montana, which was a year or two ahead of Jim

TomTerrific

Bowie. But I had no idea what it meant. My little sister and I were spending time with my grandparents, Mother Vaughn and Daddy William. My father was posted at the Air Force base in a town somewhere called Amarillo learning how to fix jets. For me, it would be a year of one surprise after another.

School days began with bacon and an egg fried in bacon grease. While I ate and did my homework I watched Tom Terrific on the television. This was a cartoon about a boy who lives in a tree house and wears a thinking cap that he uses to be anything he wants. Along with his sidekick, the lazy Mighty Manfred the Wonder Dog, Tom goes out every day to fight with Crabby Appleton, who admits that he is “rotten to the core.”

If I was going to be anything at all in Dallas the first thing I’d have to do was learn how to talk like a Texan. My fake accent must have been pretty good because a few months later I was in a play about rabbits. “Iz you is or iz you ain’t mah chillun?” was one of my lines. [continued]



I walked alone every morning six blocks to Jim Bowie from the house on Crawford Street, which had a big pecan tree in the backyard. I was more interested in the sky than the sidewalks. In the spring a huge tornado had torn through Dallas, killing and injuring dozens of people and wrecking houses all over the place. Three small children had been sucked up into the sky, like Dorothy and Toto, I believed. But Crawford Street wasn’t touched. After Mother Vaughn told me this story I asked her how this could happen. Well, son, God works in mysterious ways.

Sunday school was another new thing. But it didn’t answer my question any more than my grandmother had. Jesus loves me, we sang, this I know, and read Bible stories about whales and floods. Compared to that church in Montana where my mother had taken me—where the man spoke a funny language and there was smelly smoke, candles, and wine plus these little crackers—this stuff was pretty boring. She had pulled me away from a painting of Jesus showing his heart, which was on fire and wrapped in thorns. Staring at his green eyes, I was trying to make him blink.

On Saturdays I walked to the Dallas Zoo to see Jenny and Jimmy, the zoo’s little gorillas. As I watched them play with a basketball a lady told me that when they first met they got into a terrible fight. Here were some more firsts: my first zoo and my first gorillas, plus camels and tigers. One Saturday Daddy William walked me up Crawford to a park and asked some boys playing baseball to let me in their game. I fielded a couple of plays while he watched. After he left I hit a grounder to the first baseman, who tagged me hard before I got to the bag. I didn’t blame him. I spent the rest of the morning at the zoo. Summer came and with it some more marvels: air conditioning, barbecue, iced tea, cousins and fireflies. One day Daddy William drove me to summer camp. It had a bunkhouse, horses and a swimming pool. Even better, I was sharing the week with my cousin Larry, who introduced himself to me by beating the tar out of a boy who had called me a piss ant.

One evening after a morning ride and an afternoon swim I was told to stay put in the mess hall along with Larry and some other boys. Daddy Williams came in and said that he was going to teach us some stuff that would make us part of a secret club we would belong to our whole lives. I had no idea what he was talking about. But as he told us what to do I was obedient and moved from place to place along with the others and recited the confusing words he told us to say. It was like a game but he didn’t give us the rules. Afterwards we went out into the brush to play capture the flag in the moonlight. The next morning I was covered with chigger bites.

The day arrived when my year in Dallas came to an end. A cranky family stopped in front of my grandparents’ house and loaded me and my sister into their station wagon. The trip back to Montana was awful. I didn’t much want to see my father. But I didn’t have much choice. He had told me the year before that the reason my mother was no longer around was because the Lord took her.



A child’s memories are sometimes accurate. But they’re rarely true. The fact that I never saw any black people in Dallas doesn’t mean that they didn’t exist. That’s because in 1957 the city was strictly segregated. If my rambles around Oak Cliff had taken me only four blocks east of James Bowie Elementary I would have found myself in the Tenth Street District, a “Freedmen’s Town” settled in 1865 after the Juneteeth announcement that emancipated the slaves of Texas. The city had designated the Tenth as a “Negro District,” one of several, including Arlington Park, where the 1957 tornado obliterated the apartment of Birdia and Melvin Anderson and killed their three small children.

It wasn’t until 1966 that the first black child entered the doors of Jim Bowie Elementary, a dozen years after the Supreme Court’s Brown v Board of Education ruling that school segregation was unconstitutional, and five years after the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals tried to give the ruling teeth. Dallas continued to drag its heels. Finally, in 2003, after decades of orders imposed by District Judge Barefoot Sanders, he released the school system from judicial oversight.

If you were going to pick an appropriate name for a segregated, all-white public school in a segregated all-white Texas neighborhood you couldn’t do better than James Bowie. When I was a student enrolled at his namesake all I knew about him was based on the TV series, which was one of the first to be criticized for its violent content due to Bowie’s unwholesome interest in knives. He was a slave-trader, a Confederate zealot and a slave-owner in a state founded on the exploitation of slave labor to grow cotton. A hero to Texans because he was killed in 1836 at the Alamo, Bowie fought against Mexico—because it intended to abolish slavery in Texas, which was one of their provinces until that year.

Bowie was also a notorious swindler who sold land in Louisiana he didn’t own. These days James Bowie Elementary is on a list of schools whose names Dallas is considering changing. It has already changed the names of five schools named after men with ties to the Confederacy, including Stonewall Jackson Elementary and Robert E. Lee Elementary. Since its founding in 1888 the Dallas Zoo displayed animals in order to make money. By 1980 that attitude gave way to a mission that emphasized science and humane treatment. In 1965 Jenny and Jimmy, the gorillas, produced a daughter named Victory. Jenny died of a stomach tumor at the zoo in 2008. She was 55 and considered at the time of her death the oldest gorilla in the world.

After serving in France during World War I Daddy William, or William Pleasant Vaughn, moved from Mississippi to Texas and bought an eighty-acre cotton farm near a backwater crossroads called Birthright in the northeast corner of the state. He promptly married Mother Vaughn, or Eula Ruth Orr, both descendants of Confederate soldiers. They set about bringing six children into the world. By the start of World War II the price of cotton had dropped so low the Vaughns could no longer make a living in Birthright. The children scattered in the wind and their parents moved into Dallas, where Daddy William took a job selling life insurance for the Woodmen of the World.

This non-profit benefit society was founded in 1890 to provide a safety net for widows who would have been forced to accept charity if not for their husbands’ insurance. It was also a fraternal organization with rituals and rites that drew from Christianity, paganism and a Celtic-flavored nature worship. Its physical legacy is a tombstone shaped like a tree stump found in old cemeteries across the South and the West. Men were ushered into the Woodmen circle with an initiation ceremony featuring a mechanical goat that shot blanks from its butt when the novitiate was bucked off.

The Woodmen established summer camps to give the children of families with modest incomes a low-cost immersion in horses and country life. And to introduce them to the society’s rites and rituals in the assumption that they would be lifelong members. Based on my confusing experience with Daddy William’s instruction in the Woodmen’s secret world, this could hardly be called indoctrination.

I didn’t know at the time that my year in Dallas had been arranged to take me away from Montana and the events that were much more traumatic for my grandparents—on both sides—than for me. A child’s wounds heal faster than an adult’s; and memories of my days with my mother were still warm and adoring. One of these sunny days was a ski trip, me standing in front of her on her skis as we cut a path down the slope. Another was a train ride to Oregon, where I splashed in the Pacific as she painted a seascape in bright, fragrant oils. And then there was the day we walked hand-in-hand down the clear, sandy-bottomed creek that trickled through our three-acre place in the country.

It wasn’t till years later that I learned how she died. And that in taking her life she had almost killed me and my sister, as well, the car idling in a closed garage attached to a small house, where her two young children lay sleeping. [4/16/2022]