The Way Forward

Leaders are not born, rather groomed by their elders, family, and community

By Mike Jopek

Time has sped up. I mentioned that to my neighbor decades ago. She just smiled at me with those penetrating eyes, weathered face, and said that I hadn’t seen anything yet.

She was right, this season the calendar has been moving rapidly. Now it’s June. The tourists are here and town is full up. Well not really full. The Fourth of July is still pending. That’s when we really notice how many people love the Flathead.

At last week’s first Downtown Whitefish Farmer’s Market of 2018 we were peddling the vegetables that the ground produced over springtime. The red rhubarb always gets my attention. We grow hundreds of feet of the miracle crop. I just love it.

It also reminds me of our late neighbor. She travelled to Alaska over her days and brought back a root of the miracle crop to plant in her Whitefish homestead. She got her crown of rhubarb from the front yard of the first governor of Alaska.

That would make the plant a hundred years plus. Who knows where is originated before it was planted in Alaska.

Over the decades many homes in Whitefish have planted their own homestead rhubarb from a divide from our farm. It’s wonderful stuff and makes great pies, sauces, and crumbles.

My mom is jealous; no one in Florida seems to grow the red stalks, its too hot. In years past she has gotten a freezer full to tide her over the long winter months. Yes, Florida too has winters. Nothing like the absurdly long one that locals experienced up here in the Flathead, but still winter.

Yet time keeps clicking by. The lawn keeps growing and kids that I knew as toddlers have now graduated from Whitefish High School and are headed to university. It’s a miraculous thing.

I saw my friend Jeff at market. He was down the street managing the music scene at the wonderfully updated Depot Park. I stopped by to say hello, as Halladay Quist was singing on the stage in front of him.

I was worried about him. He had recently taken ill and things sounded bad. But there he was sitting, then standing and again smiling.

He meandered off to talk with other locals and I put a fresh bag of veggies on his vacant chair. I want him to eat his veggies. It’s the least that I can do as I wish him health.

The market is an incredible scene that encompasses a wide diversity of people from the very young to the rather old. I’m somewhere in-between, clearly leaning toward to older side now.

But not long ago, I was that youngster, who needed guidance on the farm. My neighbor was always there, to show us things like how to properly butcher a free-range chicken. She also teased us gently at our youth.

I recall one March eagerly calling her over to our front yard to see the fresh mushroom that had sprung up through the receding snow. It looked great.

Gladys walked over slowly, clutching her bamboo ski pole. She routinely used it during the winter months to keep from falling. She looked at my mushroom, fully knowing that edible mushrooms up here don’t grow up through the snow. She poked it with her walking stick.

Her gentle words still ring in my ears and bring a smile to my face. She said that my discovery, my mushroom, was an upside-down grapefruit rind. I chuckled, ashamed at my youthful inexperience. She smiled with those piercing blue eyes and thankfully changed the subject.

We all need mentors in life. Leaders are not born, rather groomed by their elders, family, and community. Our time is now. Do your part.

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