By Elliott Oppenheim, MD, JD, LLM Health Law
This year has been the worst of years. We are locked in a winter of our discontent.
Lulu was dead. She strangled on her collar which got caught in the south boundary fence on my Rockin’ E Ranch in Florence. As I dug the grave for my two-year old Pug, I had to accept fault and my tears dripped into her grave. This was a form of climate change I’d failed to well manage. My four dogs barked at the dogs on the other side and eventually I knew a tragedy was inevitable. I pretended that it wouldn’t happen.
I connected some dots and thought about how, only a month before, my 14-year-old Wendy scooted beneath that fence with Hannah, a 160# Old English Mastiff, but Wendy was torn apart by the Pit Bulls.
I lost two dogs to the South Boundary. This issue was never going away and I had to do something. Was I going to continue to ignore this?
Then we got hit with unexpected snow … a foot of wet, heavy snow.
I am seventy-two and live alone following a bitter administration change — replete with lies, calumny, and perfidy before the court, unthinkable lack of decency — with, now, minus two, plus one, three dogs and a cat, Gracie. Bella is the Bernese Mountain dog and Gauge, is a pound dog, whom I lucked into at the animal shelter following Wendy’s death. … whole again … but then Lulu died.
Three dogs and a cat and me … my family … and because of my bad ranch management. I was responsible for a 40% reduction in the population of my loved ones. I groveled in my shortcomings and culpability.
Losing Wendy after fourteen years was a rip into my soul. Losing Lulu was another incalculable and inexpressible hurt. I was broken and alone, quarantined on Rockin’ E Ranch in Florence.
Then the unexpected snow-demic came. I have five joint replacements: hips, shoulders, and right knee. My one worker, Dean, was out fighting the big fires and … despite the turmoil elsewhere, I had to get out and clear this snow myself … I had no choice. Rugged Individualism or bust.
Recently, “Frankenstein,” a radio show, saved me from going completely mad in my isolation and sorrows. The Stevensville Players, Jim and Susan McCauley, produced a radio play and I latched onto that. In this claustrophobic pandemic, to say that I have been depressed, sad, and lonely is an understatement. I flirt with jumping off my office deck every day but I won’t do it. It could be days before anyone would find me … I have no real visitors … and the dogs would probably eat me … and all that would be left would be my metal prostheses from my joint replacements.
So, summoning all of my strength, I injected my psyche with old Pee-Wee Herman films and vowed to exist. I had to. What choice did I have? America must go on. I must go on.
… Oh, and I made a chocolate pie.
At our Canine Council meeting where I am the Head Hamburger, lean, low fat, the four of us gathered in my living room before a fire. “This barking at the south fence has to stop,” I began and laid out the problems. “It is an existential environmental problem,” I said and I saw ears perk.
“We will only lose more if we don’t do something,” Hannah, the wise one, said.
Gauge, a Black Lab and Hound mix, who replaced Wendy in our pack, listened patiently. I heard a mew, a quiet mew, from my couch where Gracie sat, a gray Maine Coon, ordinarily silent on most matters.
I am a mammalian linguist, mastering most languages and dialects: horse, chicken, dogs dialects, feline. … not so adept at fish. “Cat lives matter,” Gracie said, a conservative in the pet realm. “I want to be on the Canine Council,” she said, licking her paws.
Renaming the Council to reflect our diversity, the Rockin’ E Ranch Council reinforced our unity of purpose: everyone committed to quality in pet lives.
“We have to update all of your vaccines,” I noted, followed by low barking and a long meooow. Then, we unanimously passed the South Cross-Fence Initiative.
Snow always makes me think inwardly and I thought about when I was a firefighter. We were four firefighters inside a massive apartment conflagration when timbers fell and the roof started to collapse. I was terrified. I feel like that now … as if the roof is collapsing in America, the sturdy Constitutional timbers which once upheld America are crushing under the weight of lies, deceptions, and reworking of commonly accepted values which have held us together since the Federalist Papers. … or before … since Plymouth Rock.
I am fatigued by all of this. You can’t litigate everything, I reflected.
This mess with Lulu and Wendy swirled within my sadness and fears over the political climate. Where is America headed on November 3rd?
America is in a great civil war, the kind that caused Lincoln’s agida. There was recently anti-Semitic graffiti in Kalispell. How does such a thing happen in Kalispell?
Having grown up on the East Coast with pervasive systemic anti-Semitism, I sucked in a breath. All lives matter; these black lies matter.
What are Montana values? I puzzled. As part of this election cycle, Montana values emerge, relating to one candidate or the other, and when mentioned, Montana Values seem implied, as if “we” all already know them.
As with so many Montanans, I am a transplant … eleven American states and four foreign countries … speaking four human languages … and dual citizenship with Israel. … so what do I know?
In over fifty years of presence in Montana, I have experienced almost no “anti” in Montana. I drive through the Burger King in Hamilton and get very friendly comments about my yarmulke. One server’s mother is Jewish.
Here, people help one another; come together when there are problems. My housekeeper, a born and bred Missoulian, who I often mine for social insights, asked her Facebook associates about what defines Montana values. Here’s her list: respect, family, hard working loyalty, honesty, giving, helpful, trusting. We don’t like liars and cheats. If you hunt, we follow the rules.
We shoot straight, I have heard many people say about Montana values.
Montanans make sure everybody gets a piece of the chocolate pie. “We don’t forget folks,” I heard when I played Taps at a military funeral in Corvallis.
I tapped into my deepest feelings and thought about how I wanted to poison those Pit Bulls who killed Wendy to the south of me. It is better to fence off that paddock. In Montana, we do what’s right. We know what right, is, I told myself, in my grief and despair over this upcoming election.
I think I feel the way Lulu must have felt when she struggled to free herself of her collar. I feel as if I can’t breathe. I am strangling and struggling.
My experience in Montana over 50 years is that there’s no flim or flam here. Sealed with an elbow bump these days, a person’s word is the person’s bond; count on it. Those values are what keep me here, what I treasure in this treasure state. Montana values assure that America endures.
America needs to address climate change. We need universal health care. We need to form a plan and stop the ravages of COVID-19. Any country that can send a satellite 200,000,000 miles to an asteroid to get rocks can conquer all of this.
My sorrow is so deep that my stomach muscles ache, such as they are at my age, I decided to get another Pug and, through the miracles of modern technology, I have met a nurse. Maybe together we can find sunshine together in this bitter darkness. Next year, I am sure, will become the best of years.
Want something better than chocolate pie to lift your spirits? Vote Montana values on Tuesday!
* NASA spacecraft on Tuesday touched down on an asteroid that scientists believe could hold the building blocks of life. The craft, OSIRIS-REx, successfully landed on the asteroid dubbed “Bennu” more than four years after being launched from Earth.