An Afternoon in Greenough

22 December 2014


          It’s early Monday morning. Outside it’s quite dark, yesterday having marked the solstice. Today begins the long march to spring. I wonder, Periwinkle, How will it go for the daffodils this spring? Tannhauser is blending into the background, playing forth from the laptop’s small speakers. I’m quietly asking myself, Should I go outside and salt the walk again or not this morning? It’s been treacherous on the hill lately with a combination of mainly rain and freezing rain. Cycling down to the office later this morning may be interesting. Yesterday Jonquil chewed up my mouth guard. I’d left it on an old stack of hardbacks on the nightstand. Why does one grind his teeth in the night? Why is such a simple item so expensive? The molars made it through the night, regardless.
          Yesterday Tulip asked if we might go for a hike. This always being an opportunity to spend quality time, I of course obliged. It had first been determined to make our way down to the university campus and then walk up the Clark Fork along the Kim Williams bank, formerly the old rail bed; however, we happened upon an event occurring at the university’s center and hence changed plans, deciding to cross the river and hike into the lower Rattlesnake along the well established trail system in Greenough Park. Tulip, now having her license, has been working on her driving skills. This is going quite well. Eventually she found an area in the lower neighborhood to park, not too far from her old dry land training area when she was on the ski racing circuit. “I like this area anyway. We used to run through here,” she said following our having discussed the need make other plans. It was lightly raining with significant overcast. There was a slight breeze. Once out and about we realized it was a bit colder than we had surmised while crossing through town.
          Lower Rattlesnake Creek, just above the small stream’s mouth, as you know, Periwinkle, winds its way south through the neighborhood north of town. A lovely little drainage and Missoula original water source, it originates in a designated wilderness south of the Mission Range (another sublime region) abutting the Flathead Indian Reservation. The water, as it tranquilly flowed along below us, contained a slight discoloration and was somewhat up for this time of year. This a result of the recent moisture. We walked by a waste bag pole with its small box resting above two garbage cans with heavy metal lids. The lids were tightly closed to keep out the local black bears, now most likely in hibernation. I pulled out a few plastic sheets for Jonquil, just in case. As we walked along, the Missoula community was active in the area. People tightly clad in their lycra exercise attire were jogging and walking along, coupled with their dogs and children. One child came by on a small tricycle with training wheels. “What is that?” Tulip asked, observing a small grey stone shed like structure which had the appearance of a small jail cell. “I’ve never inquired, but it’s old,” I believe I replied. I found myself glancing at the small green markers below the stands along the bank, one for a Dogwood tree, another for a small Service Berry. “I love it here, but sometimes think of the old hardwoods where I grew up,” I said noting the grey cloud of my breath as I looked into the trees, mostly large Ponderosas below the homes on the small shelf above us. This spilled into a conversation, mostly me reminiscing, about the old neighborhood, Periwinkle. You were never quite into the nuts, but I recall your fondness of the colors in the fall and the simple days of frolicking below the great stands, instinctively enjoying their cover. I discussed the old neighborhood’s Hickories. My collecting the nuts, cracking them and painstakingly using a small metal pick to get at their delicate meat. Sometimes simply smashing them with large rocks and scrounging up what was left. What a grand tree, the Hickory. Hickories were hell on chainsaws though. I recall one having fallen on an aunt’s roof and having to be removed. Do you remember that? The vices and how many some of the larger blocks took to finally give? Also, the stands of Chestnuts below the old place in another neighbor’s yard.
         “Do you recall the sea urchins?” I asked Tulip as we walked through the wet suburb, thinking of our family times in the ocean snorkeling. It took a little thinking, but somehow alluding to a porcupine brought back the memories of the black, spiny creatures in the sea. “When not much younger than yourself, I used to climb into the neighbor’s Chestnut trees and pick the nuts. They were difficult to open at as they were encased in a spiny like armor which resembled the sea creature, only green and a bit smaller. Once the outer material was removed, I would cut open the thin brown shell and eat the raw yellow meat,” I continued as we walked along in the rain. “Don’t most people roast Chestnuts?” she correctly noted. “Yes, and boil them as well which makes removing the shells easier. I recall around this time of year when quite young peeling the recently boiled hot cases from the nuts so that they could be cooked in various holiday recipes. I can’t recall others who would eat them raw, but I did. Only so many though, as the stomach could only take so much.” Great old neighborhood, Periwinkle.
          The three of us made our way to a section where we had to either go up onto a main Rattlesnake artery, West Greenough Drive, or cross over a small bridge above the creek to the east, among neighborhood homes. In a slight drizzle, we opted to go across the bridge, though I realized there was not a connector trail going north and we’d have to take a road up briefly once we crossed. After crossing the bridge, Jonquil sniffing everything as dogs will, we came across two beautiful yellow labradors with a man who was standing at a restrained intersection to the south. “Hello there,” I offered in a loud voice as we approached. I don’t recall a reaction, though maybe a hello or brief nod as well. I do recall the intense expression, however. The two labs were unleashed and minding their own affairs as we walked through continuing east. For some reason, I decided to turn around and walk back thinking the Greenough road had always been the usual route and why should this time be any different. Crossing back through the intersection, the fellow stated that the dogs belonged to the neighbors in the area and were not his. His features now becoming more apparent, though he was wearing cold weather attire and a cap. As we continued through, he offered in a firm direct voice, “It ends!” I looked directly at the gentleman, trying to recall where I’d seen or met him prior. His commanding expression, those two words, almost a yell. “What?” I believe I asked, perplexed? “It ends,” the voice echoed resolutely again. There are moments where one thinks of a thousand responses in a matter of seconds and I had many, but I simply went with, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” We continued walking and I still could not make the connection of how I knew this fellow. We avoided a large puddle prior to once more crossing the bridge. A man jogged past, part of his body remaining in the brush along the path’s edge to avoid us and the puddle. Later in the evening, it came to me how I recognized the man we’d seen. One day riding up the Sheep Mountain trail, an old haunt, we crossed one another, climbing just below the last drop off to the Three Pines junction. That day too he was quite determined, pulling hard on the bars while climbing. There was no response when I commented to the elder gentleman, “nice work,” as I quietly passed. Above the junction (where there’s always a nice Huckleberry patch late in the summer), a large Ponderosa was across the trail. I decided to turn around. Coming down, I rode by him again as he continued to ascend. That expression, dogged and serious, almost terrifying.
          Following this we trekked by a lady with her dog. Jonquil behaved. We then took West Greenough Drive to Lolo, crossing over another bridge above the quiet stream and then back onto the ice covered trail not far north of the bridge. Prior to the bridge, we passed a late friend’s condo. A cancer victim. This weighed on me as we walked. At some point the conversation turned to contemporary events and we found ourselves discussing medicine and the health industry’s astronomical costs. This chat had first initiated, I believe, a bit earlier when we had crossed below the mother’s home of a fellow with whom I occasionally duck hunted. He stored his boat and decoys there. One of our former waterfowling party having been in the medical field, now retired. It’s been a great while since we’ve been waterfowling, Periwinkle. The urge to do so having waned similar to the pursuit of big game. Maybe as we get older, these things become less important. The experience of recreating in the outdoors, principally armed with a camera, accomplishes the important attributes of educating youth in nature.
          At any rate, we took up the conversation again. “Were there not insurance entities involved in the equation, great third party payors, expenses would most likely be dramatically lower,” I suggested as we walked along, noting the still evident yellow and brown leaves encased in the ice above the trail below our footsteps; their former lifeblood still standing above, grey and bare as Cottonwoods appear in the winter rain. “Imagine a world where there were no insurance firms or, more importantly, governmental bodies such as Medicare and Medicaid paying one’s medical expenses. Might the fees charged for procedures drop? Might people try to take better care of themselves? Might unnecessary visits decline? What is needed is emphasis on preventative care, Tulip. Taking care of one’s self along the journey,” I continued to the somewhat perplexed ears nearby. “But, if there’s no insurance, won’t only the wealthy be able to afford services?” I, of course, knew this was on the way. “Costs as a whole are sure to decline were there no significant third party payors. In the short-term, it may be the case that costs remain elevated; however, over time competition would work its way into the industry and there would be adaptation and lower prices. One risk might be that health care and medical innovation declines; yet, never underestimate the profit motive which along with the non-profit research tanks, would probably continue to drive the development of new advances. Patents, Tulip, are another industry dilemma. Often significantly too long, are patents. Further, I do not feel that it should be the realm of colleges and universities to expend their resources on medical research. This should be done in “outside” private or non-profit research tanks. Perhaps the academics/scientists can find employment in both arenas. Academia should pertain to educating pupils, not getting government grants. The same goes for athletics, Tulip. This should be an outside club matter of some sort, not within the campus environment. Perhaps at younger levels in some municipal or non-profit capacity as is the case in parts of Europe. I realize we’ve discussed this before…” I went on.
          At this point, Periwinkle, Jonquil was pulling hard on the lead and I found myself sliding on the wet ice along the creek. “We should invest in those chains that go on the base of shoes similar to those applied to waders,” I suggested as we skated along. We dipped down to the water’s edge allowing the dog to get a drink and play in the creek. Jonquil’s panting cast a light grey mist which quickly disappeared above the water’s muted green flow. “If you are paying five hundred or a thousand dollars a month for your insurance coverage, might you be more inclined to ‘get your money’s worth,’ Tulip? Might you say, ‘it’s not really a significant condition, but I think I’ll go in anyway.’ I’ve nothing against insurance firms, Tulip. The truth is that were it a truly unregulated industry, there would be more firms and more competition driving down premiums; however, regulations, firms are mainly regulated at the state level, have greatly impaired the industry’s ability to properly function. It is overly protected in this sense. Further, the fact that firms and government agencies are willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for procedures and/or meds has perpetuated the present crisis. Ask yourself, Who are the beneficiaries of these monies? This is always where to begin, Tulip. Were there no middle entities, these astronomical expenses may well be significantly lower. So, what has been the chosen course to attempt to remedy the industry?” I continued expounding, Periwinkle. Someone was spending her time now looking up into the trees as we walked along. It’s a bit surprising she enjoys the walks, but that seems to be the case. “The path taken has been to mandate one to have insurance coverage. This, like many things of late, is being imposed at the federal level, Tulip. A continued Western trot towards centralized planning, the modern methodology to remedy perceived economic failures, ailments if you will, Tulip. A committee somewhere will make decisions for you, my dear girl, that in the future you will be unable to make yourself. The new law, as put forth by the present Administration, requires that the country’s citizens purchase insurance. Does this infringe on the US Constitution? Yes, Tulip, of course it does. Once more, ask yourself, Who benefits?” There was no answer. “What about those with preexisting conditions?” I can hear some exclaiming, Periwinkle. Again, where there no third parties, costs should decline.
         “The hospitals and medical providers state that many of their customers are not able to pay for their visits and therefore costs are being passed on in the form of more expensive services and ever rising monthly premiums to those who are able to pay. Thus, so the argument goes, might it not be better to simply mandate that coverage be had by all? Thereby increasing the pool which should spread the burden, lowering overall costs. Well, this of course places the emphasis on the young and healthy to provide an economic base to buttress the new government mandated system, right? Why, of course, Tulip! This can also be thought of as a tax, you see. After all, why shouldn’t the healthy suck it up? Those who have taken care of themselves subsidize the carefree. A societal act of good will,” I went on… perhaps getting a bit carried away, Periwinkle; but, she was, I believe, getting it. “It does not take a great deal of creativity to see where this is going with life expectancies continuing to expand, right Tulip? After all, these new hundred thousand dollar medicines and procedures are allowing folks to live into their eighties and nineties, right? It is true, of course, that many of the county’s younger generations are already saddled with the costs of student loans, lasting for perhaps decades into their futures. Readily available government liquidity lubricating higher education. This indebtedness (should one go to college, a separate subject) being the case while one also attempts to save for her home purchase and raise the family’s children. If one happens to be self employed, she’s paying almost fifteen percent of a large chunk of her income into Social Security and Medicare whilst at the same time paying high federal, state, local and property taxes. Does this make you want to go charge the world, Tulip? Take big risks to start that Tire business we once discussed? Maybe a small tech consulting concern? I’m sure the thirty and forty age set can handle it, right? Maybe the Millennials as well?”
          So the conversation went, Periwinkle. Government always seems incentivized to perpetuate itself. Solve the peoples’ problems for the people rather than allowing individuals to act in their own interest. How does this train stop? It was the standard jargon, but I believe she caught some of it. Upon hearing its familiar screech, the two of us looked high up through the light rain into the top of a dark Cottonwood. There, perched on high, was a large falcon. The great bird was stately like, observing all activity below its position. We at this point also happened to be standing above Mr. Bugbee’s plaque, which cites an apt quote of his pertaining to nature’s educational value. How are there going to be proper resolutions for the above ill policies? Time and nature will most likely have to work her course. This is unfolding more rapidly in other parts of the world at the moment. You, of course, are aware of these matters.
          A last item, Periwinkle. I’ve decided to read Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment over the holiday break. Why not? Thus far (I’m only half way through the work), it encompasses his traditional themes of how one’s environment may influence one’s actions. Certain characters epitomize what Dostoevsky describes as “unfortunates” in his other philosophical writings. The book probes impoverishment and the ill effects of excessive alcohol consumption on a society. In Dostoevsky’s A Writer’s Diary, he castigates the “unfortunate” ideology and implores one to rise above his environment (should it be an ill one), rather than allowing it to sink one further into its dregs.
          Happy New Year, Periwinkle. I hope to hear from you in good order and have the honor to be, Sir your most humble and obedient servant,


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