Like the whackos who vandalized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon last winter, the Goper candidate for Montana Lieutenant Governor doesn’t like our national government and its most visible presence in the Treasure State, the Bureau of Land Management. She has routinely advocated for the transfer of Federal lands to state and local control, a deeply unpopular idea in Montana. Yet for two decades Lesley Robinson, a Phillips County Commissioner and a cattle rancher, has taken welfare checks from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. According to public documents
, her ranch, the Lazy JD Cattle Company, applied for and accepted $67,581 in conservation, disaster and commodity subsidies between 1995 and 2014. (21 April 2016)
The April 2 New York Times
carries a story about Navy SEALS who are critical of former SEALS such as Montana Representative Ryan Zinke for shamelessly cashing in on their military experience. “The dispute lays bare a widening rift provoked by what leaders and many in the ranks describe as rampant commercial and personal exploitation of a brotherhood that once prized discretion,” the Times reported. Zinke’s zealous self-promotion includes his campaign bus, which is emblazoned with the SEAL Trident and six stars, and a Political Action Committee raising money for him called SEAL PAC. (2 April 2016)
According to a March 31 report by Martin Kidston in the Missoula Current
the editor of the Missoulian
has been suspended until "further notice." Staff members not wishing to be identified said the paper’s editor, Matt Bunk, was seen with a firearm in the office the third week of March. Carrying a firearm on company property is against the corporate policy of the paper's incompetent, short-sighted owner, Iowa-based Lee Enterprises, and it indicates something about the novice editor's mental state and political armature.
As of April 6 the Missoulian
failed its readers yet again by carrying not a word about the suspension, while every other news organization in the city has given the matter full coverage. (originally posted 4 April 2016)
Vote for Sanders.
By the time Democrats in Montana vote in the June 7 presidential primary—the last in the nation—it might appear that the race is over and Hillary Clinton will be the party’s nominee. But even if she has more delegates than Bernie Sanders—which at this point in the race is more speculation than fact—delegates to the July convention in Philly may get cold feet about Madame Secretary’s ability to defeat the Gopers come November. There are many reasons why we will vote for Sanders, but here are four of them:
1. As a Senator from New York Clinton voted in 2002 to authorize the Iraq War, which was based on White House lies about mass quantities of destruction. The war destabilized the entire Middle East and gave rise to ISIS. Sanders consistently voted against funding this colossal foreign policy error.
2. Clinton was a constant supporter of the Border Fence between the U.S. and Mexico. At a Town Hall event in New Hampshire on Nov. 9, 2015 she told the crowd that “I voted numerous times when I was a Senator to spend money to build a barrier to prevent illegal immigrants from coming in.” The Secure Fence Act of 2006" divided Native American lands and allowed the Department of Homeland Security to waive more than 30 environmental and cultural laws to speed construction of the barrier including blocking the migration corridor of two wild cats—the ocelot and the jaguarondi. Sanders consistently voted against funding for the Fence.
3. Clinton voted for bills written by Wall Street, including the bank bailout measures and the tightening of restrictions on the filing of bankruptcy by private individuals. Sanders has consistently voted against measures that would benefit the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us.
4. As Secretary of State Clinton worked to overthrow Muammar Qaddafi, which plunged Libya into chaos and produced a failed state that’s become a breeding ground for anti-Western terrorists. "We came, we saw, he died," she joked when told about Qaddafi's death. She accused Sanders of voting for regime change, but that was a lie. Sanders, in fact, co-sponsored a unanimous Senate resolution "strongly condemning the gross and systematic violations of human rights in Libya." (31 March 2016)
Of the three major issues inflaming the denizens of Missoula County, the looming deconstruction of the old Missoula Mercantile building on Higgins Avenue is the most emotional. Neither the fiscal freefall brought on by the incompetence of the University of Montana’s enrollment recruitment “program,” nor the expensive and possibly doomed effort on the part of the city to wrest control of its water system from a foreign corporation has caused as much widespread teeth-gnashing. That’s because of the fond memories people have of their happy hours inside the old store. (Mine included making out with a girlfriend in the photo booth on the mezzanine, and pretending to look at books in the bookstore when all I really wanted was a chance to ingratiate myself with the gorgeous red-headed clerk).
Even many of those who want see this crumbling, abandoned old eyesore torn down don’t want it replaced with the prospective owner’s cookie-cutter hotel, which could pass as any dull box in Tampa or Omaha. But there’s no reason that the façade of a new structure could not be built to echo the late nineteenth-century feel of the Merc and other smaller buildings downtown. This façade, of course, would have to be built from reinforced, earthquake-resistant, high-quality brick (the Merc’s brick is more like Play-Doh than it is masonry). Examples of the look of this new/old building might be the 1996 Johnston building designed by James Hoffmann on S. 3rd St. W., or the Gleim Building on Front St., a whorehouse built in 1893. (25 March 2016)
The Johnston Building
The Gleim Building
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are composed of different sorts of political contaminants—he’s a sexist, a xenophobe, and a bully (Megyn Kelly, The Wall, every critic); she’s a war-mongerer and a Wall Street lackey (Libya, bankruptcy law). But their levels of stink rise to the same mark. So it now seems like the perfect election year to give the Tea Party lunatic and the liberal capitalist a run for their money with two more national parties—the Democratic Socialists, led by Bernie Sanders, and the Conservative Party, led by Michael Bloom. They may not win the White House but their campaigns would set the stage to force left and right to negotiate with one another to pass legislation that slashes Federal spending and levels the playing field for the working class. (1 March 2016)
If the only publication you read is the Missoulian
there’s a lot of local news you won’t hear about. For example, you won’t know that the multiple Academy Award nominations for the Leonardo DiCaprio film The Revenant
were made possible by a Wyoming native and former Missoula resident. Michael Punke published the historical novel of the same name in 2002, and sold the film rights before the book even hit the bookstores. (By the way, as the New York Times
reports, like most novelists Punke must support himself with a real job—he’s the U.S. Ambassador to the World Trade Organization.)
On a lighter note, you’ve never read a review of my book, Hawthorn
, in the Missoulian
because the paper didn’t bother publishing one, although my political, cultural and natural history of the tree from Yale University Press was named one of four honor books by the Montana Book Award committee. (And in the brief online announcement of the awards the paper spelled my name wrong.) (By Bill Vaughn, 27 February 2016)
One sparkling May afternoon in 1979 I answered a knock at the front door of our house in Missoula to discover a large, angry man. “Bill Finnegan and I vowed that the first one back in America would kick your ass,” he said.
My wife had some nice pieces of antique furniture I wanted to spare so I stepped out onto the porch and closed the door behind me. “Who are you?” So began a confrontation that would end peacefully but leave me bewildered.
I had taken a job the year before working for Outside,
a slick new magazine targeting the burgeoning outdoor adventure crowd. My credentials for this hire had nothing to do with any wilderness skills(although I’ve taken some risks on the backs of horses, I’m only comfortable with sports played in safe, artificial venues, such as tennis.) In fact, I got the job because I had designed and edited a fishing book that made a New York publisher some money (I don’t even fish). There were those who apparently believed that because of my title, Contributing Editor, I was in a position of power. Although I had commissioned my girlfriend at the time to draw some illustrations for my section of the magazine—the equipment reviews in the back—I was not authorized to make feature assignments.
Finnegan and the man on my porch, Bryan Di Salvatore, had been told otherwise by a respected author who led them to believe I would be their contact. So off they went, sailing west across the globe on their surfboards, and sending me pitches for articles they assumed I was sharing with my fellow editors (most of whom had no idea who I was, since they worked in San Francisco and I worked in Montana.) [read more]
They’ve got a wall in China
It’s a thousand miles long
To keep out the foreigners
They made it strong
The Joy of Walls.
The only thing I have in common with Donald Trump is a love of walls. I like building them. I like what they look like when I’m finished. Most of all, I like what they accomplish. I suspect that this affinity for structures that keep others out is now innate, since it began festering in the human psyche ten-thousand years ago as nomadic humans settled down in villages because that’s where grain and the alcohol made from grain were stored. In order to protect these resources the first town people built palisades of timber and earth. Later, as settlements grew across the planet stone replaced earthwork. Although the Neolithic Revolution and its walls made possible a reliable source of food and drink it introduced a host of unpleasant side effects: new diseases, decreased vigor, reduced life expectancy, and an increase in the violence we resort to when we want things others have.
A section of the garden wall.
The different sorts of walls at Dark Acres each have a purpose. The stone walls are intended to keep dogs, deer and horses away from the garden, and to absorb heat during the day so it can warm the plants at night. The wooden walls keep our dogs and horses in, the animals of our neighbors out, and serve as a visual aid to help outsiders understand our borders. A variation of these plank structures is the pallet fence I built on the bank of a slough at Dark Acres where it was impossible to dig post holes into the dense root system of the willows, water birch and dogwood that flourish here. I pounded steel fence posts into this tangle, and attached pallets to them in a line that snakes through the thickets.
To protect out fruit trees I’m planning to plant Douglas hawthorns around them, then work these into a living wall—a process called hedge-laying that produces in time a spiky, impenetrable barrier (see illustrations and a description of the process in my book, Hawthorn
). These hawthorn and blackthorn hedges were used across Europe for centuries to keep farm animals and wild foragers away from the crops. They were also used as weapons against invading armies.
The question of whether The Donald’s proposed wall separating Mexico from the U.S. will work or not is moot. This is campaign rhetoric that plays on an old cultural or perhaps genetic compulsion. Hundreds of miles long and assaulting the natural world, this wall would simply be too expensive. The Donald promises that the Mexicans will pay for it. But in fact the Code of the West stipulates that it’s your job to keep them out, not the other guy’s job to keep them in. (31 January 2016)
Recycled planks keep out one neighbor's vicious dogs.
The Pallet Wall prevents our dogs from roaming in the forest.
An excerpt from Making Bones.
By Bill Vaughn, Arrow Graphics, November 2015. ("An absolute winner . . .The True West shines through in this one, with a truly admirable character at the center." —Nate Briggs, The Kindle Book Review
Izzy sprawled in her lawn chair, holding hands with Mark and trading gossip about the latest acquisition of the local polygamist, while they waited for the sheriff. Rolex, Izzy’s bay-and-white paint, and Sally, Mark’s long, tall buckskin mare, were saddled up and tied to Mark’s trailer.
At ten a streamer of dust on the horizon announced the arrival of the local constabulary. Smudge Iverson was already red-faced and out of breath as he lowered his considerable heft from the county’s old stock truck to the ground. He’d brought along one of his three deputies, a scarred and wiry Cree named Fenton Welch. Their horses stomped in the rack, eager to get out and get on with it.
“Porta,” the sheriff rasped, apparently unwilling to waste any additional effort to shake hands. Mark had told Izzy that Iverson informed him in their most recent professional conversation that he was no different than his constituents in the matter of their position on Washington D.C. and its most visible presence in the Breaks, the Bureau of Land Management.
“What did he really say?”
Mark shrugged “The BLM can just suck on it."
Izzy watched Smudge examine her in a guy way, chest first, then crotch. Then he looked again, in reverse order. “Hey, Smudge . . . .” She resisted the temptation to ask him if he’d like her to turn around so he could check out her ass.
“Izzy,” Iverson rasped, ignoring her to deal with Mark. “What’s this, Porta? You bringin a date to a body search?”
Despite herself, Izzy laughed. Everyone in Hilger County knew that she and Mark were doing more than sniffing around each other. After all, they were high-profile individuals—Izzy resented because she inherited a big spread in a part of the world where there wasn’t enough ranch to go around for even the male heirs of these old families, Mark reviled because he worked for the land-grabbing socialist government that was trying to confiscate their property so rich liberals on the Coasts could have even more playground in the Big Empty.
“She’s here in an official capacity,” Mark told the sheriff.
“Welch will take all the pictures we need,” Iverson rasped. “You know we cain’t take no civilians along.”
She went to her saddle bag and came back with her badge. The BLM office in Lewistown had issued the shield to her after Mark convinced his bosses that her knowledge of the Upper Breaks qualified her to be sworn in on the Castel case as a special deputy ranger.
“Ain’t no civilians round here,” she said. Iverson took the badge and poked it with what seemed to her an unwholesome gesture.
“Well, fuck me and the horse I rode in on.”
Izzy tapped her index finger on her lips. “Tempting. But how about just the horse?”
An excerpt from Hawthorn.
By Bill Vaughn, Yale University Press, May 2015. (A Missoula Independent
notable book of the year, and named one of four 2015 honor books by the Montana Book Award committee.)
“There’s no sense in getting killed by a plant.” —Day of the Triffids
During our first spring at Dark Acres I filled my chain saw with fuel and oil and lugged it across a pasture to a tangle of twenty-foot trees in full white bloom. The morning was moody and overcast, glowing with that gauzy, shadowless May light photographers love. Overhead, a chevron of Canada geese passed so low I could hear the hiss of their wings. The air was perfumed with pennyroyal, and the languid fragrance of cottonwood buds. A breeze blowing up the Clark Fork pushed hypnotic waves through the fresh green grass, lush after a week of warm rain, making our river valley look more like Ireland than the normally parched terrain of western Montana.
Now that we were living in the country again, in the same sort of redneck backwater where I spent my motherless, feral boyhood, the only thing that could have made me happier on this perfect day was finding a hundred-dollar bill blowing in the wind.
On closer inspection I saw that these bushy trees were actually one tree, which had shot out eight trunks in all directions. The trunk causing our recent problem had grown parallel to the ground for fifteen feet and a yard above it, building a thorny wall of zig-zaggy branches that embraced a confusion of vines and a length of web fencing that had been strung between pine posts, now rotted. Woven from steel wire into two-inch squares bound at the intersections with tight twists of a thinner gauge, the fence was the sort used decades ago to confine dogs, or pigs. It had been rusted and pitted by the weather, and warped and folded by the force of the growing tree.
Male shrike with his prey impaled on the thorns of a hawthorn. A well-stocked pantry attracts females.
I wondered why the ranch family whose cattle once wandered across this floodplain had used webbing here instead of the odious barbed wire snaking everywhere else through the forest. But recalling that my sister raises a few pigs on her cattle ranch in central Montana, I decided that pork must indeed be the explanation. Whatever, like the barbed wire, which I was beginning to replace with more horse-friendly post-and-rail fences made from treated pine, this nightmare union of briar and metal would have to go, as well. And right away.
The day before, when I had gone out to bring in our quarter horses from the pasture, I was horrified to find Timer, our old brood mare, standing by this tree, head down, her left front hoof raised. Walking closer I could see that it was caught in the webbing. While concentrating on her work, which was the grazing she and the others were allowed four or five hours a day, Timer had somehow managed to step through a gap in the fence.
I ordered Radish, our noisy red heeler, to back off. But he’d already launched himself at the task, and couldn’t be recalled. When Timer saw him charging, his yap turned to full volume, she pulled back from the fence in alarm. I stopped yelling at him, expecting the worst. [read more]
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