|From West by Northwest.org
Voices of Spencer Creek
Life on the Forty-fifth Parallel: Strange Spring
By Ryan Ramon
Feb 26, 2005
We denizens of Spencer Creek Valley have an annual ritual of comparing our observations of this area’s early spring joys: the brave December violets slowly spreading into March carpets of delights, January’s Indian plum leafing, hazelwood catkins blooming and the spring peepers singing, February’s crocuses and snowdrops flowering, spotting the first juncos and chickadees, and various woodpeckers seeking food near the homes, hearing the winged migrations flying north on frosty moonlit skies. Pregnant does wander around nibbling sweet new green grass and budding roses. Any day now the March skunk cabbage will emerge from the boggy wetwoods and fawn and dog-tooth violets will rise and bloom where the meadows meet the forests. But the creek has swollen and surged with its seasonal rain water flow only a half dozen times or so this winter and early spring. The days are sunny and warm, lovely yet strange. After all, this is the soggy Pacific Northwest. Spring means rain. We don’t want to be ungrateful but... what is happening? Is this what climate change means? That poor Southern California gets our rain and snow and we get their usual weather? Well, some planners and policy makers have been trying to get NW water down south for a long time but this takes the cake. No need for massive infra-structure public works projets, just tamper with the climate! Oh well, now solar collectors will have a better exposure rate here.
People are wondering what to replant as fir trees die off from the drought/disease stress syndrome ––palm trees? But while we are basking in the unseasonable sun our northern souls are troubled. Not only by the apparent change of seasonal weather (oh, we are so grateful for the stretches of rain we have experienced), but wondering how we came to this situation where we have to water newly planted trees in February? Is there a connection between this strange spring and the general foreboding that seems to permeate all conversations?
I hang out with the parents waiting at the school bus stop with the kids and at soccer games. We speak in low tones to each other of the potential of the military draft claiming our children for a war most people out here question. Too many young men and women we all know have already died for what is another ill-conceived venture where the consequences are not considered for us or for the folks the US decides to “liberate.” This is not just another mistake in policy, it is our government’s international policy to try to control by force the troubled places in the world while ignoring the needs of this country and our biggest security threat, global climate change accelerated by our economic refusal to adjust to reality.
We share other concerns too that at first seem of a different nature; Franny’s widowed mother, Mrs. T. lives in senior housing in town. She is handicapped with chronic illness. Franny talks to her almost every day on the phone. Since Mr. Bush’s proposed budget was released, Mrs. T. is worried that her low-income rent subsidy will be cut. If she has to pay full market value, she will not be able to afford her food, or medicine, which is very expensive. (Her pain medication was recently withdrawn from the market due to higher risk of heart disease.) She wonders why the FDA waited so long to act. She feels her government just wants her to die and get out of the way. Mrs. T. is carrying a big load of foreboding and insecurity.
Jeremy is a logger for a small local company. He just returned from a cruise up the McKenzie. He speaks in flat tones of his worries. The US Forest Service under new directives is opening up the federal forests, ushering many wholesale, big industrial operations. All the good timber could be gone in a year or two, flooding the market, lowering prices, including labor for the small operators. And then, what will be left to harvest ten or twenty years from now? Besides, his company dropped health benefits and his family has no health insurance. His 8 year old kid, Jimmy, has asthma. Jimmy has daily medications. With no health insurance pool sharing the costs, it is very expensive. Jeremy is carrying a big load of foreboding and insecurity.
Anne has recently joined the ranks of the soccer parents. She and her 6 year old daughter, Amy, got on a bus this last Monday and went to Salem as part of a statewide effort by parents and kids to lobby Oregon legislators to increase the state school budget, underfunded by millions. Anne is a self-employed, skilled artisan and makes little money. She and Amy were on the Oregon Health Plan, a Medicaid program funded in part by the state and in part by matching federal funds, to make medical care available to lower income folks. After the latest round of federal budget cuts, they no longer qualify. With a little kid and an unemployed husband whose manufacturing job was shipped to China, Anne is carrying a big load of foreboding and insecurity.
Mary who lives down the valley in Lorane travels to Portland twice a week for a trial study at Oregon Health Sciences University. She is participating in this 2 year study so help find more effective treatments/drugs for rheumatoid arthritis. She drives to Eugene (since there is no bus) and from there she takes the morning AmTrak train to Portland. Now we have learned that AmTrak’s existence is in danger since Mr. Bush’s political appointees’ to the Board have deliberately missed the budget submission deadline. Without a budget, AmTrak may be dismantled and Mary couldn’t get to Portland. Mary is carrying a big load of foreboding and insecurity.
Laura raises sheep. She has a small flock. We got to know Laura when she was a great student volunteer coach for the younger kids’ soccer team. She graduated last year from high school. She was planning to go to Oregon State University to study veterinarian medicine. With the tuition increases and decreases of federal financial aid/loans, she can’t afford her state school but is doing her science classes instead at Lane Community College. I hope she will make it to OSU. Her boy friend Bob joined the military on the recruiting promise of paid college and ROTC. He is now a grunt in Iraq, in danger every day. Laura is carrying a big load of foreboding and insecurity.
How can my neighbors feel such forebodings in sunny weather? Maybe our problems with health care, schools, jobs, military adventures, and climate change are all related. Unreal behavior and federal and state budgets create their own climate, literally. Current federal government policies and budget cuts are making most folks lives more difficult and the climate change is part of this complex. Until we have responsive and responsible government policies, the strange springs will get stranger. Pass the sunscreen and don’t mention the “S” word (summer) yet.
Ryan Ramon is an occasional contributor to these pages. You may find other pieces of his at West By Northwest.org
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