Makers and Doers

We Montanans aren't afraid to use our hands or our minds

By Mike Jopek

Some rain would be nice. A lot of rain would be better. An old-fashioned downpour would be great.

I know it’s not what the visiting tourists to our state would like to hear. But it’s the reality of our situation. We are facing another hot and dry summer, potentially full of wildfire smoke and raging forest fires. I hope not.

The land and trees are dry. Dig into your garden and quickly notice that a couple inches down, the ground is thirsty. That seems normal – it’s summer in the Flathead.

As we drove past Olney headed to a summertime wedding, the smoke poured from the northern hillsides. It looked ominous. The billowing was far up the hills in the crooks and crevasses of the mountain next to the Highway 93 corridor.

Pretty soon thereafter we heard the thunder from the chopper over our heads and saw the bucket dangling from below. The helicopter was scooping water next to the deck where celebrators had congregated.

The pilot made several trips to dip his bucket into the water. And then stopped scooping. The sound of the chopper vanished. It was quiet once again.

A few days later we traveled back up the wedding site to witness and celebrate our farm manager exchange wedding vows. On the highway route we couldn’t see smoke anymore, no fire erupted. The helicopter pilot had apparently extinguished the fire high on the hillside of the mountains.

The promptness of the emergency personnel is amazing. I hardly know the full story, but these people are heroes in my mind. Putting out forest fires is dangerous work. It’s work that matters; it’s labor that saves our forest and economy.

I spend a lot of time outdoors in all sorts of weather. That’s the life of a farmer. We work when its sunny, we work when it’s cloudy and we work in the glorious rain.

It’s taken me a while to get accustomed to a farmer’s schedule. That may sound uncharacteristic. I’ve been farming for most of my life, growing food and flowers for Montanans.

My schedule involves being outdoors the vast bulk of the year. We work the land from late winter to late fall. In the dead of winter, we shovel snow and fix stuff that broke earlier in the year. In some cases we fix the stuff that broke the year prior.

There just isn’t enough daylight per day.

But now, in the end of July, the sun is hot and intense. It’s about as high as it ever is in the year and that late afternoon sun is severe. Sure we wear protective gear and drink plenty of water during the day, but it’s a powerful time of year.

On Tuesdays we peddle our work in downtown Whitefish as the busloads of economy-driving visitors descend on Depot Park. It’s the time of year when we see fewer locals downtown. My experience is that locals avoid the big-city crowds. Maybe citizens are working, or recreating at our secret swimming hole.

Montanans are hard workers; it’s what we do. We may be farmers or work the restaurants preparing or serving food. We work in the woods and we work in the mines.

We build roads and we heal the sick in the clinics and hospitals of the valley. We teach kids in our public school and we manage the public land and wildlife healthy. We report on the news and we write. We put out fires and rescue people.

Montanans build homes; lots of us are in construction. We’re not afraid to use our hands or our minds. We know how to get stuff done. It’s what we do. It’s our way of life. I’m grateful for people who make good stuff happen.

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