April Travels

          Saturday Seth was in Polson, Todd, Kalispell (soccer) and Sunday, Erin in Great Falls for volleyball. I drove to Polson to catch Seth’s first game, then drove back to Missoula to drive Erin to Great Falls the same evening in order that she would be there in time for her 7.15 schedule Sunday morning and I did not have to drive to Great Falls at O’Dark Thirty. Driving back in decent weather Sunday, I began to recollect the weekend and figure that I’d go ahead and pencil (write on/in the journal) down a few words.
          Seth’s team only had eight players but still managed in the rain and miserable conditions to play at a competitive level. Dave, their coach, has a lot of patience and keeps the enthusiasm level for the kids up in a tough season environment due to player shortages and injuries. He also somehow continues to persevere through the difficulties of managing the overall program itself. Since Molly was in Kalispell, I took our Labrador retriever with me to Seth’s game. This was an added bonus and the two of us took a walk in the rain above Flathead Lake, which was pleasant. Polson High School had a trade show occurring on Saturday as well, which made parking in the area a bit interesting. I did not take in the show, but noted a few stove dealer trucks which looked familiar.
          I did not stick around for Seth’s second game. Evidently Todd, in Kalispell, had been semi-decked during his first game and I did not inquire too deeply into this matter as it was most likely the typical baloney that occasionally goes on in sports and is often overlooked or sometimes simply not seen. “What had he done to deserve it this time, if anything?” I thought to myself driving south back to Missoula along the Mission Range, which was cloud covered, always a bummer. I thought about running the dog through some of the Ninepipes’ potholes, but decided to hightail it home to get stuff ready for the next half of the day.
          Driving back from Great Falls Sunday, while looking at the chocolate milk along Hwy 200 that was the Blackfoot River, I thought to myself how remarkable Saturday’s drive over to Great Falls had been. These long drives over the years to events have been a great part of life, often bringing forth material conversations during the dead time. Saturday’s conversation with Erin spilled into many subjects. Things like “Where did your family come from?” I was asked. So this spilled into the Germanic origin, Sixteenth Century England, then, finally our lineage through Richard’s arrival in Braintree, MA in 1640s. I mentioned that at one point I was pretty into genealogy, mentioning having helped to get the TFA off the ground a while back and for the kids to use it as a source in the future if they ever develop an interest. We spoke about mom and dad’s college days in Boston and Missoula, the importance of internships and getting work experience on the resume as soon as one is able. The one excellent aspect of Northeastern during my attendance was its cooperative program, which I will forever hold in high regard. Erin and I spoke about dogs. I mentioned the Llewellin setter we had, Rebel, had been from the Great Falls area and I had hoped to pheasant hunt with him, but he was too wild. Eventually, Rebel met with fate along Hwy 93 north of Lolo, having escaped his kennel in our backyard. We discussed friendships, trust and life itself. “Friendship means trusting one as one trusts one’s self” I thought to myself having read a few old sage words in the past. This means true friends are often few and painful when lost to the path we all must tread. We reviewed subject matter such as simple living and remaining within one’s own means. Simply attempting to be a productive, decent citizen and not concerned with unrealistic ideals. It occurred to me visiting with this fourteen year old how early “kids” mature today. She seemed to absorb things that most adults have trouble discerning. Finally, hitting the lighter themes, she asked “If I’m not able to get a vehicle, would it be possible to have your truck some day, because I like it too.” I laughed at this, knowing that she has actually been demonstrating a desire to find a job to make things happen on her own. It struck the two of us that both parents have to be in accord in this regard, the bit about the fifteen year old working, that is. Venus and Mars. “It has 194,000 miles on it, but sure, we’ll see.” I think I said in reply. It will probably need a new transmission by that point, but who knows? It had 65,000 when I picked it up in 2005. Things seem to last longer now-a-days. In Montana, kids can drive at age 15. Her brother has a nice used Toyota RAV4 that has worked out well which I bought off of a local lot from a fellow formally from Belarus.
          She described to me some materials covered in her marketing class (a freshmen in high school) which during this two and a half hour drive brought the conversation around to answering her question, “What is economics?” This was where I found myself trying to employ the art of boiling things down to a level where comprehension remains simple as to hopefully not have the young mind nod off. An eighteen wheel gas truck rolled by and I recalled Friedman’s “Pencil” lesson which outlined all of the market making decisions that are employed in the simple act of manufacturing a pencil, how the invisible hand works. Starting with the tires, we discussed supply and demand if you can believe it. What the two are and how decisions get made. Is the individual better off making the decisions and taking the risks or are collective bodies better doing so? I used an example of her going to a bank and getting a loan and starting a tire manufacturing (not the best choice, but it worked) business to sell (supply) tires to the trucking industry where there was ‘demand’. Her stating she found math easy, we discussed engineering in the manufacturing process as well. Also, what is efficiency and why individuals are better decision makers, minding their expenses to stay afloat. What countries she will have to go to to import the cheapest, yet best quality rubber; what the inputs are to making tires, such as oil and chemicals, and why people working in their own interest are able to peacefully through trade come together buying and selling goods. We chatted about recessions, depressions and what happened in ’08/09 and briefly why. She actually had somewhat of an interest in this. We actually discussed opportunity costs related to simple things like watching Netflix at night or doing one’s homework or reading a book. “What is socialism?” She asked. She had been studying something about Wal-Mart and how labor is treated at the entity, which had nothing to do with socialism; however, she mentioned her instructor often kept repeating the threat of socialism loomed during classes (this was encouraging to hear). I simply explained the natural (relevant) solution to the labor dilemma which is that if individuals do not like working for the company they should not do so, seeking employment elsewhere. Regarding socialism, I tapped around the individual versus government planning bit regarding the truck that had driven by and who was better at manufacturing said truck and why? Then the whole table turned to “outsourcing of jobs,” which to my surprise, she brought up having covered it in her subjects I reckoned. I found myself delving into comparative advantage, of all things, and trying to keep the my truck out of the river driving east and laughing again to myself. I suggested that Wal-Mart had little to do with this issue, but it was common in many industries and not something to fret about. Again, staying with the theme of nature, what is natural? “If it is more advantageous for a firm to hire employees in India to do their accounting than folks in their own country, this is not necessity a bad thing.” I said. “But, dad…” “Hold on. Think of it in the old school context which is that a country should focus its industries and companies in areas where it has a comparative advantage.” I used an example of manufacturing helicopters, airplanes, automobiles, and smart-phones, which may or may not be an area of comparative advantage for US firms, but probably are. We discussed education levels, technology advantages, ability to finance such things, the absolute need for transparency and so forth. I though of Obama’s present travails in Japan, attempting to get Abe to go along with the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Pact. Abe’s continual protection of the rice farmers and their traditional way of life. Fighting nature. Clearly the US has a comparative advantage in many sectors within Ag.
          Regarding how “outsourcing” is not a bad thing, I alluded to the fact that if the countries (India in our example) are able to experience prosperity might they buy American made goods in the future? In time might this mean more private sector employment in the States? More tire sales for her company around the world? Might this also have her and her employees like the Indians and wish to be their friends? I think this was received pretty well as the lights started to go on upstairs in the mind of a fourteen year old. Government has a profound ability to extend what should have only been short term dislocation pain into significantly prolonged periods by artificially hindering the natural process of markets. I found myself saying how important it is for students in their high school years (using the junior and senior years in high school as ones I feel to be particularly important) to develop an understanding of the rudimentary basics of economics and markets and why certain systems work and others fail. I discussed an argument I had with a former high school roommate from Michigan about why I felt tariffs were a disaster only putting off the inevitable and inflating prices to everyday Joes and Janes. “But, your parents are in the steel business!” My friend from Detroit expounded. For me, Adam Smith had won the day. We discussed how periodic corrections and recessions are actually healthy and why entities need to be allowed to fail. I went into a brief tirade about the significant dangers of corporate socialism and cartels whose ends often bring about artificially higher prices by using scale and government intervention to eliminate competition. These powerful firms across industries can also bring about unwanted consequences such as unnecessary wars. A basic and early economic foundation is applicable not simply to any occupation (which, of course, it is) but to society as a whole. What is economic freedom and political freedom? What are property rights? What is the role of government? Order or erroneously something more? What are charities able to accomplish in a community? We touched on all of this, but I did not quite make it to Locke and Burke. It was quite a drive over to Great Falls. We ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union and something also briefly about Chairman Mao, as I was thinking about the “iron rice bowl.” I lastly indicated that I used to find it fascinating to observe global markets and the behavioral characteristics of the many actors, but that this interest had somewhat waned in recent years. Through a section above Helmville, I pointed out a large Golden Eagle on the west bound side of the road perched atop a deer carcass enjoying his evening meal. Magnificent and efficient birds, eagles.
IMG_2303One thing that came across Sunday in Great Falls (having spent the majority of the trips over on the soccer fields below a grain silo) was the distinction of the Bison’s facility. Great Falls High School evidently was founded in 1890 and the campus on Sunday was a beautiful throwback. Built in 1896, the structure is on the National Register of Historic Places. A green campus (though no greenery yet on the trees this time of year), red brick coupled in places with old stone for an exterior along with the old school wood feel in the interior. Old latrines. Recall steam radiator heating systems? “On the ones in our childhood home, I used to place a metal bowl with water on the radiator so the room would receive some humidity.” I mentioned to Erin. I have not noticed many of these types of structures in Montana and for some reason this place really stood out. The football stadium even had an old surrounding iron fence with spike like points along the top. I found myself walking in the area and throwing the bumper for the dog between games. A nearby home in the surrounding neighborhood had a wonderful old grey stone wall that a squirrel hopped from the top of onto the base of a yet to bud maple, causing the dog to choke pulling hard on the lead. It was pleasant area. The only blight were the many funeral home plaques under recently planted pine trees scattered about the grounds.
          Driving back Sunday someone opted for her headphones and reading her homework rather than listen to her father’s blathering lessons. We chatted briefly about this and I laughed, she insisting she had to read her book for homework, though the kids had Monday off in Missoula for administrative day. I listened to Johnny Cash on the i-phone while driving home, tucked above the driver’s side sun visor. “Folsom Prison, A Boy Named Sue” and Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me, Babe” to name a few on Cash’s best hits album (is it still called an album)? Each time I hear that Dylan song, I recall fondly days during my youth fishing in W.Va. listening to the old “Biography” album tapes, Hank Williams, Senior and even old Neil Young works. One of my friends one day remarked driving through a coal mine section, “How can you stand that guy? He sounds like a squirrel!” While I was petting the dog driving along, I also thought about our chat the day prior regarding some of my activities throughout the Blackfoot Valley in the past. We chatted about some duck hunting I used to do near Ovando. “One day I was out with Robert, a now retired family practitioner, sitting along the banks of Nevada Creek, which was then basically a slew. It was a cold early afternoon, but clear. We were practically napping, lying in the cattails along the bank watching the decoys, the sky and the dogs eyes. Something over time I’ve learned observing dogs behavior while duck hunting is to I watch their eyes. They are keen and pick up on things going on above if they are awake and alert.Labs At some point during the afternoon this day out, out of nowhere, a hawk, perhaps a Peregrine, dove straight down from the sky above us and hit one of the decoys full on, creating a loud “crack!” This was electrifying as the early afternoon was completely tranquil. I had been quietly observing and listening to the singing blackbirds, noting their contrasting patches of red and yellow against the brown reeds and off color water below. My hunting companion and I looked at one another in complete disbelieve, watching the somewhat stunned hawk fly off. The decoy in the process became untied and floated down stream away from the others.” I stated. I could still see Robert getting his wading staff, a makeshift job pickup up at some point along the walk in, and hear the sucking sound of his waders as he navigated the slew in pursuit of the escaped deac. Hearing the story, my daughter looked at me in disbelief. “Really?” “Yes, we were shocked. Another time in the same area, one year it was sub zero and the wind was howling. We had to walk in quite a ways, carrying decoys, shells, shotguns and other gear. There was another retired fellow, King (Robert called him by is last name), with us who was retired and nearly deaf from all of his past hunting. Walking in, when we finally reached the spot where we were going to set up the decoys, I tripped and I fell forward into the muck of the slew. The decoys in the bag on my back rattled and swayed off to a side and I managed to somehow catch myself; however, looking down I noted the barrel of the Browning over and under was now full of the brown muck along the bank. Both tubes were filled mud which immediately froze absolutely solid. Using long sticks or reeds, the brush from the bank, I was unable to get the end of the barrels to clear so I hiked back back out to the vehicle with the dogs, shotgun, thermos of coffee, shells and my broken pride. Once to back to Robert’s old blue truck, I was nearly frozen. I hopped in, pressed in the clutch, put it in neutral and turned over the crank. Never before had I been so happy to hear an engine turn. I cranked the heat and listened to the AM radio, which at the time was broadcasting Clinton’s impeachment hearings in the House of Representatives.” I had recalled, the day in 1999, hunting with these two fellows, driving out once they called it early due to too harsh of elements, our listening to the Congress. King was close to deaf, as stated prior, so we were doing a lot of yelling! Following this episode, I’ve learned to take a cleaning rod along during hunts or, even better, a second shotgun.
          I recalled many great memories for my daughter to hear from days hunting in the Nevada Creek drainage, such as eating Robert’s duck pate sandwiches and drinking scorching hot coffee while trying to keep his golden retriever and my labs out of our sacks. Our lying along the banks with the labs on some days simply soaking in the sun and waiting for the Trumpeter Swans to fly through to take a few photographs. One year one of my labs snapped at the other fighting to get the best dibs on a napping spot with the master. I have not been in the area in quite a while. I believe the rancher placed it in a conservation easement and the section became a restoration project for the bull trout, thus eliminating the slow flowing slew in preference of maintenance of the native species, which, after all, is fine as the trout fishing along this section of the Blackfoot, below the Bob Marshall Wilderness, is a whole separate tale.

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