Week in Review: Ice, Haiti

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The week began not with fire but with ice, sheets of it forming on sidewalks and roads that had already been snowed upon and only diffidently cleared. I took Coen on a walk in his stroller on Sunday in hopes of lulling him into a much-needed nap, but the ice created such an uneven surface on nearly every sidewalk that he was kept awake by the lurching and bumping of the stroller’s wheels over the lumps of ice.

Missoula has recently vowed to enforce sidewalk-shoveling ordinances more stringently; if authorities were offering a reward for turning in your neighbors, I could have made a pretty penny. But the real question is whether the city has fined itself for the days’-long impassability of the sidewalk along the bridge near our house.

The freeze, which had been with us for a week or so, finally broke on Monday, and by Wednesday the midday temperatures had been above freezing consistently enough that the ice was starting to retreat. But temperatures were still below freezing overnight, and there was rain on several mornings, and the resulting ice was thin and invisible but no less dangerous for that. Around mid-week, the paper reported that there had been about 20 car crashes one morning because of the freezing rain.

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Of course, all of this is only confirming the suspicion of my out-of-state readers that I reside in some sort of Arctic hell for ten months out of the year. They never seem to quite believe me when I explain that this is the warm part of the state, and that the kind of cold I’m describing here is anomalous.

For real cold, you have to go east of the Rockies, out into the flatter parts of Montana. There was a day in early December, during the last true cold snap, when it was in the twenties in Missoula and still about fifty degrees warmer than the northeast corner of the state.

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Even Choteau, just on the other side of the Rockies, gets the kind of cold to make last week’s low temperatures in Missoula sound downright tropical by comparison. Our friends Vin and Casey, who used to live two doors down but moved to Choteau for work, suffered a broken water pump and some burst pipes in the last weeks of 2009.

To replace the water pump, they had to drive 50 miles to the nearest Home Depot, and they didn’t realize the broken pipes were broken until the new water pump was up and running. Having just completed the pump repair, Vin was lying under the house in the crawlspace when he began to wonder why he was being soaked with hot water.

That’s country living for you.

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On the home front, Coen continued his campaign against drinking from a bottle, leading to long afternoons of struggle and resentment, until all of a sudden he changed his mind. He is large, he contains multitudes, so we’ll call his new openness to the idea a trend only once it has proved to be-but so far, so good.

Amy’s job hunt commenced in earnest this week with her discovery of an ad for a job she would actually like to have. There’s a good chance that’s the last one of those we’ll see, at least as far as Missoula-area jobs are concerned. There’s also a good chance that her application package will be one of 500 or so that the company will receive, and that some blunt filter like “has a microbiology degree” will result in her resume not even being read, but we’ll keep our fingers crossed.

It would be nice if she doesn’t have to compete in the blue/pink-collar market, like for a cashier job at the local version of Whole Foods, since various area plant closings in the last month have dumped about 500 additional job-seekers onto the pavement, or about one percent of the population of Missoula.

Even if our grand Missoula dream comes crashing down, at least our city hasn’t come crashing down on top of us, as happened to the residents of Port-au-Prince this week. In the first day or so after the disaster, I heard someone on the radio quote someone else who had once said something like this:

“War brings out the worst but also the best in people. Wouldn’t it be great if we could have the best without having to have the worst?”

The commentator went on to make the point that such a thing is possible after an event like this earthquake. As I have watched the coverage of one of the worst disasters to befall a nation-relative to population size, relative to ability to respond-in recent memory, it’s occurred to me to wonder if it’s the kind of event that should lead me to change the course of my life, in the way a war might. A Mr. Rogers quote-about how the thing to focus on during catastrophes is all the people who are helping-is making the rounds on Facebook, and I feel the stirrings of that part of me that has always wanted to be one of the helpers.

Of course, that’s the same part of me that led to my joining the Coast Guard, which in turn led to my awkward relationship to Haitians: I used to help deport desperate would-be refugees back to that hellish island. As a result, I can’t help but think that maybe I owe these people more than a ten-dollar text message (though of course every bit helps). What would repay that debt, though, is another and so far unanswerable question.

Hey, did you know that you can subscribe to Margin Notes by email? One email per day, if that, letting you know of any new posts. What’s not to like?

Note on the photos: except for Coen’s, they are from an ice-fishing trip two years ago.

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