If somebody asked me what impressed me most about any of the places I’ve lived, either here or overseas, I would have a hard time picking out just one thing. Oh, I suppose it would be easy to choose one for some places.
Phoenix, for example, would have to be the hottest place and Iceland the coldest.
But for most places? Who knows?
I got to thinking about that on New Year’s Eve. I was lying awake next to Lolly and worrying about her because it was obvious from what the outside thermometer showed when I went to bed — one degree above zero — that we were headed for a very cold night up here in Pine. The storm which had passed through the day before had knocked out the power twice, for about three hours each time, and we’d had four or five short interruptions as New Year’s Eve rolled along. And although we have a gas log to fill in when the power goes out, it sure as heck wasn’t going to be up to heating the house if the temperature dropped too far below zero.
I won’t keep you in suspense. No, the power didn’t go off. Well, it did, but only for a minute or two at a time. And yes, it got cold. Went down to nine below, setting a new record low for Pine. The old record was four below.
And I got another surprise. With the temperature that low, the furnace was unable to keep the house above 69 degrees, and had to run constantly to do it.
However, everything came out fine. We had power, and lights, and enough heat. When you live in a place like Pine, where the power goes off every time a sparrow poops on a power pole, you focus on essentials, and you are very happy when you have them. Try sitting in the dark for three days straight as we’ve done at times and you’ll see why I’m not complaining.
Anyway, lying there wondering if the power would stay on got me thinking about Pine, and about the Rim Country in general. And as always happens when you turn your brain on, I learned something. I was thinking about the reasons we decided to move up here, of which there were many. Inevitably, I got around to something that made a big impression on us when we at long last made it up here.
What do you think it was?
The magnificent mountains?
Probably should have been, but wasn’t.
The stately ponderosas?
Ditto, but nope.
The people? Well, in a way.
It was the number of people who had the sense to see that a service of some kind was needed up here, and the guts to go out, buy a little pickup and some tools, use their heads and hands to provide the needed service, and make a living doing it.
Have you ever noticed how many people we have up here who have done that? Must be hundreds of them. And not just men either. I had our two big old ponderosas out front trimmed by Robyn. And a fine job she did too. It was amazing to watch her scampering around high up in our trees. Wouldn’t catch me up there, Johnny!
You know what? When you think about it that begins to explain why some of us are here. You just have to look around to see that by and large the people up here are “different.” That goes for both the people who were born here and many of the folks who come here from somewhere else.
Of course, as with with most things, there are exceptions, but as I see it, the folks up here are a different breed. The question is, “How are we different?”
Well, when you look at all those pickups buzzing around, and take a look at the people in them, men and women earning a living with basically nothing more than an idea, a few tools, and a lot of hard work, it tells you that this kind of place has a special attraction — for special people. It attracts people who aren’t afraid to sweat a little, dirty their hands, and get in there and get the job done, whatever it may be.
You know something? That would almost be a definition of the people who crossed the ocean to settle this country. That’s the kind of people our pioneer forefathers were. They were a hardy lot, tough minded, unafraid of work, and willing to take a chance on their ability to survive with nothing more than their heads and hands. They were people who preferred a hard life in a new land to a easier one in Europe. And they were people who wanted to breathe free air in a place where they could do things their way.
I think that’s a big part of what makes people move to places like this, places that are still unspoiled, places where you can still do the things our forefathers did without worrying about someone looking over your shoulder and saying, “Hey, bub. We’ve got an ordinance that says you can’t do that.” Maybe we’re here because we still have some of what our forefathers had, a pioneer spirit, a love of hard work, a belief in the value of one man or woman, and a willingness to just get out there and make a buck.
I often hear people on television talking about the “American Dream.” It sounds good until they drag out some guy with a fancy house, a leased car, six closets full of clothes, and a seven-figure salary earned doing as little as possible.
That’s not the dream that brought people across the oceans to our shores. And it’s not the dream that brings people up here to the Rim Country either.
So what is the real American Dream?
Without getting into a lot of fancy, schmancy terms, why don’t I borrow something I learned while wearing a uniform. Right after I enlisted, some second john handed the new recruits a copy of the General Orders, a long list of do’s and don’ts. “Memorize them!” he said curtly. Well we were doing our best, but our top sergeant came over and told us something that’s worth repeating.
“Guys,” he said, “forget about memorizing all that. I can give you the whole shebang in one sentence.”
You know what he said?
“Walk your post from flank to flank and take no s—t from any rank.”
I can picture the guys and gals in those little pickups saying the same thing.
Kind of puts the “free” in free enterprise, doesn’t it?
Roundup columnist Tom Garrett joined the exclusive ranks of Rim Country novelists this month, with the publication of “Any Dark Corner” by Black Rose Writing.
The fast-paced, character-rich thriller chronicles the efforts of New York artist Tracey Parrish to cope with a stalker, despite the shrugs of the overwhelmed police — even after she receives a telephone death threat.
As the book jacket observes, “When she reaches out for help she discovers a bitter truth: An attractive young woman being stalked in a large city is the most vulnerable person on the planet. She can run away, but running from trouble is not Tracey Parrish. Nor is giving up a promising career in the art world. And it’s her city too, and she’s damned if she’ll leave it just because some cretin has a callus on his dialing finger. She stays to fight it out, knowing the stalker can pick the time, the place and the method. Any dark corner in the city will serve his purpose.”
Garrett’s weekly column appears in the Roundup, but his novel draws on a rich life in many settings. Born on Staten Island, Garrett spent 21 years in the Air Force before embarking on a second full career as a teacher of science and computer science. He has also been a writer for 45 years, publishing hundreds of articles, columns and short stories.