In Which We Search For an Elusive Treehouse and Find an Ant Hill: Montana Diary.3

To see the previous Montana posts, scroll down.

It being Labor Day, we are not laboring, except, perhaps, under the impression that there is a treehouse on the property, and that we would be able to find it. Well, to be fair: several of the member volunteers have been here before, and some of them have actually seen the treehouse, so seven of us set off in search of it, knowing that whether we found it or not, we’d have an adventure. Here are my hiking companions, Carol and Bill standing, and L-R seated, Ann, Rae, Colleen, and Cathy. These are some pretty impressive human beings, let me tell you. And not just because they all crossed the rope bridge without complaining. (I went first! I went first!)

The hike took us through gorgeous woods, across fields, over bridges, past an impressive ant hill, up to an old cabin. We came upon the ranch’s three charming horses, one of whom took a shine to me and wouldn’t let me get far away enough for a good picture. It was a satisfying two-hour(ish) walk, and we never even found the treehouse. More pictures, including horses and rope bridge, below.

Tomorrow we start work at 8. I don’t know exactly what I’ll be doing, but this explains why I’m here:

“Here at Project Vote Smart, Americans young and old volunteer their time, take no money from special interest groups, and have committed themselves to an extraordinary effort that, if successful, will provide their fellow citizens with the tools for a reemergence of political power not known for half a century. Their idea is one you may have thought of yourself. It is a deceptively simple concept but enormously difficult to achieve and would not be possible without the collaboration of citizens willing to lay their partisan differences aside for this one crucial task.

Picture this: thousands of citizens (conservative and liberal alike) working together, spending endless hours researching the backgrounds and records of thousands of political candidates and elected officials to discover their voting records, campaign contributions, public statements, biographical data (including their work history) and evaluations of them generated by over 100 competing special interest groups. Every election these volunteers test each candidate’s willingness to provide citizens with their positions on the issues they will most likely face if elected through the Political Courage Test.”

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Click to continue to Part 4 ➤

Wherein I Trip in a Gopher Hole: Montana Diary.2, Illustrated

If you missed Day 1′s installment, it’s here. Of course I’ve come to Project Vote Smart to work, but today’s Sunday, a day off, and when I planned to come this week, I didn’t even think about the fact that there’d be no working tomorrow–Labor Day–either. I’m assured they’ll have plenty for me to do during the four work days I’ll be here, and in the meantime I have the chance to explore my surroundings and work on the music I need to learn for the concert I’ll be doing in Bozeman a week from today.

From what I gather (and there’s a lot I still don’t know), most of the staff, and all the interns who come for ten-weeks stints, are in their twenties. Then there are the member-volunteers who normally come for two weeks. The ones I’ve met so far seem to be retirement-age; I think I’m the “baby” among them. The ranch is surrounded by mountains. Around me are lakes, trees, birds with calls I’ve never heard before and whose markings I’ve never seen, fields, a stream with a consistent trebly music punctuated by a hand-drum sound, lots of sky, all kinds of insects (three of which have already wound up in my bathroom, and as some of you may know, I’m not so good with insects). The wind and sun are playing a game, a variation on the one in the old fable: one makes you put your jacket on, the other makes you take it off, and back and forth, back and forth; must be great fun for them.

This morning I took a walk with Cathy, mentioned in yesterday’s post; she’s been here once before, so she sort of knows here way around the property. We got only slightly lost, which was fine, because you don’t really get lost, and everywhere you go there’s plenty to see and hear.

Time to show you some pictures. The first one (if these are in the right order) shows the veranda of the building my room is in (I took the picture from where I’m sitting right now, as I type). You’ll see Cathy fording the stream, then me about to do the same. Carved on a bridge crossing the stream, a quote from John Adams: “Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people”; pretty much the raison d’etre for Project Vote Smart. The white thing on a piece of log? A salt lick (I had no idea.) Oh, I almost forgot: Gopher holes. In the field. Tripped on one and went down like a ton of bricks (I’m completely fine).

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Click to continue to part 3 ➾

Some Day Is Now: Montana Diary

I’ve been a very bad blogger, but I’ve just started on an adventure that gives me an excellent reason to get back on track. I left New York early this morning and am now at the Great Divide Ranch outside of Philipsburg, Montana, where I’ll be till next Saturday.

No, I’m not at a dude ranch or in rehab. I’m volunteering at Project Vote Smart, a non profit organization I’ve written about before. Is it unseemly to quote oneself? It may be, but here’s what I posted last year: PVS “is a completely non-partisan organization dedicated to the idea that a knowledgable citizenry is an empowered citizenry. With the click of some keys you can find out everything you need to know about candidates and elected officials: biographies, voting records, issue positions, public statements, campaign finances, and more.” You can find out where they stand on issues that matter to you.

For years I’ve been sending donations, and for years I’ve been saying some day I’m going to come here to volunteer. This year I decided there is no “some day.” There’s only now. And here I am. I arrived at Missoula airport this afternoon, along with a couple other volunteers. We were picked up by a group of young staff members and interns, and after a bit of shopping and dinner, drove the two approximately hours from Missoula to the ranch. A lot of the staff and longer term interns are recent college grads, many of whom majored in political science, communications, journalism, international relations. The ones I’ve talked to so far, on the ride to the ranch – Colleen, who arrived today and will be here for ten weeks, and staffers Rachel and Masha – are pretty impressive. Member volunteers, like me, normally come for two weeks, which I’d originally planned to do. But exigencies of life made two weeks problematic, and the folks here were kind enough to let me come for just a week. I hope I’ll be able to contribute something of value while I’m here. It may be as simple as envelope stuffing or data entry, and that will be fine.

Before I close this post, I want to say something about why I’m here, how I feel about participatory democracy, and why I think it’s so important to vote, even if we don’t like any of the parties or candidates. Since I wrote about that once before, I’ll do the unseemly again and link back to my October 2010 post (geez—have I had the blog that long??). And of course I encourage you to visit Project Vote Smart.

Click to continue to part 2 ☛

I Found My Thrill On Daffodil Hill

I’ve lived in New York a long time. A LONG time. I’ve been in an urban environment pretty much my entire adult life, and there are times, let me tell you, there are times. . .

Thankfully, I have the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for getting away from it all. The BBG has become my happy place, and will remain as such, I’m sure, as long as I live in Brooklyn. I’m glad to report that things aren’t entirely out of whack, seasonally-speaking — only somewhat. A few cherry trees are in bloom, but most just hint at the glory to come. The lilacs and roses are nowhere to be seen, which is good; it’s March, after all. But the daffodils, yes, the daffodils are doing exactly just what they’re meant to do. The magnolias are magnificent; the white star magnolia gave off the most delicious, delicate, spicy scent. Aaahhh! There are camellias and primroses and periwinkles. The bark of a crape-myrtle. Turtles and ducks making the most of an unseasonably peaceful day. I heard a bird call and looked up, up, waaay up to see a spot of vivid orange against the branches and clear blue.

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Winter Garden

Dust of Snow
 - Robert Frost
The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

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The birthday present I gave myself today was simply a trip to my beloved Brooklyn Botanic Garden. The need to spend more time gets stronger and stronger. This afternoon’s visit lifted my spirit on this January day.

Drive-By Sunset

I love the painterly feeling of these photos. In fact, they make me want to paint! I took the pictures, but I take no credit, since all I did was point my camera and click at the scenery that sped by while my husband drove us homeward on Route 684 in New York. As far as I’m concerned these are  more than anything about a sort of chemical — perhaps alchemical is more apt, not to mention magical — reaction of sunset, window, and velocity. Click on the first image, and then you can scroll through the rest. I did a single adjustment in Photoshop to the fourth image, which caused the blues to emerge, but all the other colors you see are exactly what the camera captured.


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