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Happy and Hopeful - Like my Grandfather

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Lessons from from both human and power tool ancestors, out on the Scenic Route

January’s column excepted, I’ve not written a Scenic Route in a year, and January’s was merely a confession that I would continue, a warning shot across the reader’s bow. Now, having run through all ideas I have ever considered writing about, I wonder if I’m crazy to do so. I started repeating myself ten years ago or longer. In that time, politics haven’t changed, nor have politicians. It seems that we are led by a cowardly, overtly greedy and entitled mass distinguished by a few bright stars who can and are willing to think beyond their own welfare.

The efforts of the stars to drag the rest along toward sanity attract the attention of vocal sharks preying on a disillusioned populace by complaining about people with more talent, ethics and compassion than the sharks could ever hope to have. In other words, the media has gotten more hysterical and more divisive. Celebrities are more bizarre and less of a good example to those who celebrate them. We are spending billions on weapons and spectator sports annually while thousands of children starve to death daily. We are burning billions of dollars and millions of barrels of gasoline chasing each other around in circles—literally and figuratively—while burning up our biosphere in the process, and directing nearly no effort toward discovering a way out of our dependency on fossil fuels or off this planet. 

I have written about all these things, sometimes two or three or five times, but still they continue. It seems a bit futile to continue myself. And, yet, I told Publisher Gannon that I would have something for February. So, what will it be?

Outside the window of my little writing cave in Montana, I can see an even dozen trees larger than ten inches, diameter breast height. DBH is a standard used by foresters when cruising timber with their calipers, inclinometers, compasses and tapes. 

Said trees belong to me. Interspersed among them are many smaller trees obscuring a phalanx of other large trees. Once in a while, I cut some of these down and, depending on their state and species, make firewood of them or send them to the sawmill. I learned to do this and how to do this from my father and my grandfather. 

My grandfather used a crosscut saw. Gasoline powered chainsaws did not arrive until he was about 60, and then it took two men to make one work. I am blessed with a Stihl that weighs 15 pounds and can fell a tree in about a third of the time that the old double-ended Mall might have, and six times faster than grandpa with his crosscut. 

My grandfather was a happy, hopeful man. He lived in a world much different than ours, especially in the speed at which things happen and the stark contrast between the attitudes of humans then and now. We all seem to want more. He was happy with what he had. Why we want more is debatable, but part of it has to do with our willingness to listen to those who would have us believe that we are defined by what and how much we have. 

My father, I think, was not so happy or so hopeful as my grandfather. He was of that next generation, the Boom-makers, who believed in the mantra of industrialized America, and taught it to their children: “a refrigerator in every kitchen, a television in every living room, a washing machine in every home and two cars in every garage—unless you can get more” or some variation on that theme. And so, now, we are addicted to stuff. 

My grandfather and grandmother never had a refrigerator, though they did get a huge freezer when they finally got electricity in the 1940s. They had a garden that my grandma worked in on crutches the summer before she died at the age of 91. They had an orchard. They had a chicken house, a big home, a shop and barns my grandfather built himself. To the best of my knowledge, they never had more than one automobile. Grandpa plowed with horses until 1953—when my dad brought in a Ford 9-N tractor. 

The tractor did make life easier, especially in winter, which it is now, here on this old place in Montana. Snow is piling up around those dozen trees I can see from my writing cave. And all the rest of them, too. 

My father died at age 57. I have outlived him by four years already. My grandfather outlived him by 27. I have my grandfather’s 1943 Montana driver’s license, issued in April, the first time he got to the county seat that year, I imagine. It lists his age as 60, his height as 6 feet and his weight as 170. I’m a year older, an inch shorter and quite a bit heavier. But, I recently learned to run a cross cut saw, and I’m thinking of doing some logging in the spring. 

Sandy Compton’s latest book, The Friction of Desire, has nothing to do with crosscut saws, and very little to do with sex, in spite of the titl; but you should buy one, read it carefully and then wrap it up for a friend. It’s available at Vanderford’s Books and The Corner Bookstore in Sandpoint or online at www.bluecreekpress.com 

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Author info

Sandy Compton Sandy Compton Sandy Compton is one of the original contributors to The River Journal, and owner and publisher at Blue Creek Press (www.bluecreekpress.com). His latest book is Side Trips From Cowboy: Addiction, Recovery and the Western American Myth

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The Scenic Route, crosscut saw, progress

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