A Thanksgiving Wake-up Call

by Mary Frances Erler

In our modern world, we take so many things for granted.  A couple of weeks ago, the pump on our well stopped working.  All of a sudden, there was no water when I turned on the faucet.

A call to the well-driller brought the suggestion to shut it all down for an hour and then try to restart it.  So we did.  It worked, but then the same thing happened the next day!  Another attempt was made to reboot it with the hour-long shut off.

I realize our house is past ten years old, and nowadays that means things are going to break down.  Some of our appliances have already had to be replaced.  Not complaining.  It’s just life.

But this whole experience has made me realize how many things we do take for granted.  Like the water coming on every time we turn the faucet handle.  Or the lights coming on whenever I hit the switch.  Even my phone and my computer making it so much easier to do research and to write.

Many of us are old enough to remember the days of typewriters and rotary-dial phones.  (My first two books were originally typed on a manual typewriter!)  But I fear our numbers are dwindling.  What kind of things will our children and grandchildren never experience?  Kind of like how we (and often our parents) never experienced travel in a horse-drawn covered wagon, homes without indoor plumbing or electricity, and travel from Kalispell to Eureka taking days rather than under two hours.

Right now our well is working again, after the second reboot.  But I don’t take that water in my sink or shower for granted anymore.  I realize it could disappear any day now.

I think the timing of this wake-up call event was good, with Thanksgiving just around the corner.  I have a lot more things to be thankful for than I realized, and I hope to stop taking them for granted.

A Greenhorn?

by Laura Thomas Boles

 I’m not a Hunter, in fact never have been, I don’t even carry a gun!  Not that I’m opposed to them, just not something I’m in the habit of doing. But here I am being called a deer slayer! So funny to think of myself as that, for I’m a softie. I got my first buck without even trying, in fact he got me.

Yet the story I should tell is that I killed him with my bare hands. Or as my friend pointed out “There’s no bullet hole, good job!”  So much better than saying, he hit my truck and took out a side panel, costing me a thousand bucks! 

 I killed a deer, an experience I’ve never been a part of before. The task of processing the deer seemed, well, a major task. I think some of it was the fact of the emotions I was dealing with.  Sad that I killed the poor thing.  Mad because he caused damage to my truck.

 I’m a greenhorn completely, like I said never hunted, never been around it. I didn’t grow up with hunting and married a vegetarian, so like I said a complete greenhorn. So why take on the task of processing a deer? Well the way I see it, he cost me a lot of money and I was going to enjoy every bite! Kind of a revenge thing, but at the same time it seemed a shame to waste the meat.

 So call in friends.  Thank God for people who can and will help, who tolerate my greenhorn-ness.  Teach me how to grow in knowledge, as well as dealing with processing a deer.

The best part, and most memorable, was my daughter and two grandkids a part of this experience, working together to put the meat into the freezer as a team. There for a while my twelve-year-old granddaughter was making the typical pre-teen faces and saying “This is gross. I think I’ll become a vegetarian.” In the end, however, she even started to be a part in the whole experience.

Growth, overcoming the unknown. Allowing an experience to sink in and become a memory that will be a part in growing to be a whole person. Crazy the things I’m learning, so maybe I’m not such a greenhorn after all.

Sunday Falls


A late day in October found us wandering along a backroad. This particular backroad was leading us to our destination, Sunday Falls. We had decided to take this drive, for the day was sunny, though a bit chilly.  One could see their breath in the air, on this fall day. The colors of the trees were displayed in their full regalia, a slight breeze in the air making leaves quiver, giving the illusion of gold glitter, as the leaves caught the sun’s rays reflecting the light. We were following Sunday Creek up this road and finally found the trail that would lead us to the falls. Upon parking and dispersing from the truck, we could hear the voice of the waters as it moved. It was a medium sized creek and flowing fairly fast–green in color, but not real deep, for one could see the bottom clearly.

Moving up the trail, I was stuck by the sheer size and age of the trees, one person could not wrap their arms around their enormous old trunks. And so tall, as I craned my neck back to see, they were sweeping the very sky, swaying in the winds that play in the heavens. Climbing ever higher on the trail, as it wound its way deeper into the forest, following the creek, one could hear the rushing sound of the water as it cascaded over the rocks that formed the falls. At the end of the trail we were greeted by a green colored pool, created by the drift logs pushed over the falls, a natural dam. The pressure of the falls pushing the water ever forward, came between the logs and created mini falls.

Looking closer we discovered there were ice crystals, created by the splashing water and the crispness of the day. These crystals were formed along the side of the falls, clinging to the branches that were overhanging the banks. They were also on the drift logs at the end of the pool.  Each crystal was unique in its shape and size, some hanging, long in shape, some formed along the small limbs of the logs. Each created by the spray of falling water.  One could see the water droplets in these crystals as each had been formed.

This was a new experience for me, to witness the creativity and wonder of  nature and how the water formed these beautiful ice sculptures. We spent quite a bit of time in this place, reluctant to leave, knowing we would not have the same experience again.

Almost Pioneers

karen in her hat small

Contributed by Karen Wills

My mother, Evelyn Wills, wrote the following true account of her family’s move from their farm in North Dakota to Montana during the Great Depression. I’m so glad she left this memory, and I’m so proud of my grandparents. They exemplified Hemingway’s definition of  courage as “grace under pressure.”  

This first appeared in The Montana Journal January-February 1997.

Almost Pioneers 

Our western North Dakota farm family was hard hit by the Great Depression. Dad could repair any kind of machinery, but neighbors who needed him couldn’t pay. When my ten-year-old sister fell ill with appendicitis, my parents sold the kitchen table and chairs to pay doctor bills.

Then, in 1928 when I was nine, my oldest uncle left Tolley, North Dakota, in desperation. Miraculously, he found work with the Big West Oil Company on the high plains near Shelby, Montana. He sent word of the oil boom, and my parents decided to follow him west.

Dad cut down the sides of our Model T so the front seat could be folded back into a bed for the four of us on the 400-mile journey. He had $11.00. Of course, this was long before credit cards, and our bank had closed its doors.

My mother suffered from a fierce migraine during every mile on the dusty, rutted road to the unknown West. But my sister and I, dressed in knickers sewn by a neighboring farm woman as a good-bye gift, loved the adventure.montana here we come  We had crayons and paper and considered signs fair game for additional coloring. At night we camped with other displaced travelers, cooking suppers over little fires whose colors matched the blazing sunsets reflected in the broad Missouri River.

Unfortunately, when the time came to sleep, the curtains lowered over the Model T’s windows did a poor job of keeping away thirsty mosquitoes.

Our faithful auto did succeed at a tortoise-and-hare act as we were passed several times on the trip by a man in a shiny new touring car. He’d race ahead, stop for unknown reasons, then hurry on, passing us again. When we arrived in time to share the same campground for the third night in a row, the frustrated driver finally walked over, kicked our tire and sputtered, “What the hell kind of car is this?”

At the Big West Camp, a line of buildings on the vast prairie, the Company provided our own place—a former cook house. I remember the big stove. 

By the time blooming cactus and other wild flowers softened the fields next spring, we had moved to a normal house, but drilling for oil was so close that my mother didn’t hang out the wash for fear it would be splattered from a gusher. kitties in a basket

On hot days, we took needlework outside to the shade of the company coal house, where a cool breeze always seemed to rise from the foundation.

The Company promoted Dad, and the strain of poverty vanished. Pictures of Mama taken then show a sort of time reversal. She appears younger in each new photograph.

By having the faith and courage to pack their children into a Model T and venture west from one sort of country to another during the drought-ridden depression, my parents achieved a secure living. However, for the rest of his life, Dad kept his savings under the mattress.


Arbor Day Connections

By Karen Wills

Climate change thrusts us into a heightened awareness of nature. Oceans, lakes, meadows and trees are the living matrix of which we are a part.  Trees in particular have figured in much fiction and nonfiction of late. Of course, poets have long written about and concerned themselves with trees. American poet Robinson Jeffers planted about 2,000 seedlings on his sea cliff property near Carmel, California in the first half of the 1900s.

There is a kinship of us humans to trees. Tree deprivation became as real for me when we lived on the Alaskan tundra as it was for settlers living on the virgin prairies of America. I loved the big, empty tundra with its miles of tiny wild cotton, but trees have always meant shelter, the promise of something to lean against, and shade in the glare of summer. I missed them.

In a recent blog on my website I quoted from Joanna L. Stratton’s, Pioneer Women, which tells of a woman whose husband took her along on a journey to bring home wood. She’d not seen a tree for two years. “…when they arrived at Little River, she put her arms around a tree and hugged it until she was hysterical.”

That reminded me of when we lived on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. We explored the countryside, often peering into abandoned settlers’ houses. One was a stone cottage with a small grotto beside it sheltered by trees. The woman who pioneered there had walked nearly ½ mile each way every day carrying buckets of water to keep her seedlings growing. They flourished. She is gone, but her trees remain, providing homes for birds, being natural wind instruments, and soothing the prairie with their sighing leaves and branches.

An insightful novel about those who plant, nurture, and preserve not just trees, but whole forests, is The Overstory by Richard Powers–winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. One of its most interesting characters is a Vietnam veteran who finds his purpose in life replanting clear-cut, logged-out areas for a living. But he learns that replanting rows of trees earns his corporate employer permission to clear cut more and more forests at a greater profit. That knowledge drives the veteran to desperate, reckless acts.

Another character in The Overstory is Patricia Westerford who devotes her academic and personal life to the study of forests. According to Patricia, everything that happens in nature happens for a purpose. “The environment is alive—a fluid, changing web of purposeful lives dependent on each other.” She also concludes, “We’ve been shaped by forests for longer than we’ve been homo sapiens.”

To return to Jeffers, in his poem “Ghost” he imagines himself as a spirit revisiting the new owner of his former property.  He has the following exchange with the startled man:

“I see you have played hell
With the trees that I planted.” “There has to be room for people,” he
answers. “My God,” he says, “
That still!”

This Arbor Day, enjoy the forests if you can, plant a tree if you’re able, and take a deep breath. Feel your connection to the earth of which you are still a part.