Sunlight Shining Through Cloud

Archive for July 2012

Jeremy was born in Indianapolis, home of the famous Motor Speedway and the Indy 500. By the time his first last-Sunday-in-May rolled around, I was at Tatalina Air Force Station deep in central Alaska. The race was available to me only by radio there. I called Jeremy’s Mom and asked that she turn on the TV or radio near him so we could experience it together.

This was the beginning of a near-tradition. In the years when I was home, we’d sit on the couch, eat popcorn, and watch. When I wasn’t, we shared a thought-connection that was almost as good.

My father and I had little in the way of common musical interest. This is not the case with my son and I. We have an intense appreciation for the music of England’s Mike Oldfield, a contemporary master whose Tubular Bells became the first icon of art rock back in the early 1970’s. Twenty-five albums later, he’s still cranking them out without compromise to commercialism.

A couple days ago, I learned that Oldfield might be in some way involved with the 2012 London Olympics Opening Ceremony and I alerted Jeremy to it. Resourceful guy that he is, he sent me a link to a ‘live stream’ this afternoon, and there it was in all its spectacle and glory. What a wonderful production.

And then the moment came. Jeremy e-mailed: Mike Oldfield!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I fired back: Here we go!

It began with the instantly-recognizable phrases of Tubular Bells and evolved into several of Oldfield’s other works. He was there, playing ‘live.’ And it wasn’t just a token nod to a noteworthy British artist; Mike’s segment of the Opening Ceremony lasted a full eleven minutes! Meanwhile, on the stadium floor, good battled evil in a tribute to British children’s literature perfectly complemented by Oldfield’s score.

London’s Opening Ceremony was thrilling from beginning to end and it’s impossible to single out a memorable moment among so many. But for Jeremy and me, Mike Oldfield’s appearance transcended the event and became our best moment ever; a shared passion, a confirmation of the validity of our eclectic musical interest. And though we were twelve hundred miles apart, today, it was as if we were sitting together on the couch, eating popcorn and enjoying a father-son experience as only we can.

It was exactly the kind of July day you’d expect south of the border. The sun blazed without mercy. The usual breezes were absent. The dust hung lazily in the air. Thermometers agreed: 107ºF. The cattle didn’t do their customary mozy from one field to another. Today, they stayed put…in the drinking ponds. (Click to enlarge.)

Stayin’ cool in the pool

Nuthin’ unusual about this until you consider that the border I was south of was the Canadian border.

You probably have a fair concept of the Mexican border: multi-lane traffic jams at the crossings; high fencing everywhere else…gotta keep the bad guys out. But did you ever wonder about our northern border? Maybe you’ve crossed through in a one- or two-lane affair. Fencing? Not so much.

…and the old one. (Pics taken before planting)

The new border marker

Our Border Patrol keeps a never-ending eye on access points not located on any map. They have mounted cameras and motion detectors. They actually do catch ne-er do wells who would traffic drugs or perpetrate terrorism on our lands. You rarely see our good guys around…until they’re needed…then they’re there like white on rice…right out of nowhere.

I spend a fair amount of time near the border. I’m so close so often that the Patrol probably has an active file with my name on it. (Thank God I was 16 when I committed my last crime.) Lately, they’ve even waved at me as I approach on the back roads. Have I passed muster, or do they wave at everyone?

The two-fingered wave. Farmers and truckers alike…most will lift a couple of fingers from the steering hand to acknowledge you; it’s the regional courtesy. I’ve seen variations elsewhere. I’m glad they do it here.

I’ve written before of the pleasure of meeting and doing business with people who live off the beaten path. It almost always evolves into something of a friendship.

In the tiny town of Westby Montana, only six miles from the border, there’s a farmer’s co-op, a hardware store, a restaurant and a very small grocery store: Al’s Meats. I didn’t think much of Al’s the first time I walked in. It’s just an old, hardwood floor place whose shelves are stocked with the essentials. I soon came to realize, though, that Al’s had a major reputation for quality meats.

100-year-old cutting tables on left

Al’s Meats in Westby MT (pop.168)

First, I bought beef jerky that didn’t pull my teeth out. Then I started bringing Al’s bacon back for the home folks. Every time I go through Westby, I shop at Al’s. Now they know me by name. I like that.

But back to the border. When the oil trucks aren’t roaring past, it’s an incredibly peaceful place. You can hear yourself think. You wonder what the countryside looked like before they started poking holes in it. You wonder how much longer the locals will tolerate the intrusion before finally deciding to flee. For now, they’re holding their own. It’s all they have ever known. It’s their land. It’s what they love.

The access trail to my northernmost landowner actually crosses over into Saskatchewan before curling back into the U.S.  The first couple of times I went there,  I felt the eyes of the Border Patrol upon me. But no matter…once on the farm, the utter peace and quiet make the trip worthwhile. This is the way American settlers have lived for many generations. City boy that I am, I find myself wondering if I could fit into this lifestyle.

It’s a nice thought.

My heart swells at the sight of our flag, but it sinks with news like this — a just-released Pew Poll reveals that almost half of us don’t know that the Supreme Court approved the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) six days ago.

How can that be? Network or cable news, online sites or blogs…the number one topic for months has been the ACA and the consequences of the Supreme Court ruling both before and after the fact.

This is why politico’s can lie to us and get away with it (death panels?). They know we’re barely paying attention. And if we vote at all, it will be with impressions derived from “issue ads” funded by anonymous deep-pocketed special interests.

All of the bunting is well and good. But after we celebrate our country’s birth, we must re-commit to its growth — a work-in-progress, and one that requires the engagement of all of its people.

Of course, I’m preaching to the choir.


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