Uncommon Ground

Welcome Spring

A lot has changed over the decades and many grow increasingly concerned that too many working people, the elderly, and children are getting left behind

By Mike Jopek

I swung open the front door, headed outside. It was early morning and springtime sun peered through the larches, once again easterly onto the farm.

The fluting chirr rang from nearby lodgepoles. I quickly recalled that the gangs of robins were due to arrive. I’d forgotten about them migrating during the dark days of winter. Yet here they were, on their schedule and full of magic and promise of mischief.

They soon overtook the front lawn, seeking water from the small puddles left behind by quickly melting snow. Several of the springtime birds looked fat with bright yellow beaks.

We walked toward the fishing access. Another gang of robins assembled in the ditch along the road, where the water was still frozen from the night prior. These birds were as noisy as the others, as happy at arrival as any newcomer to the valley.

It’s a delightful time on the farm, spring sprung and life started bursting from the ground. The rhubarb tips are bright pink and the fruit trees’ buds show promise. It felt positive. I’d been concerned that 30 below winter nights might do damage.

Spring is churning. I feel it. I know you do likewise. It’s a hunger to get going, to get my hands in the dirt, and get active in community. My friends, the locals living in this place are good people, still giving and caring.

A lot has changed over the decades and many grow increasingly concerned that too many working people, the elderly, and children are getting left behind, squeezed out, during the historic economic transformation that’s overrun the valley in the past few years. Unemployment and housing cost are now higher in the Flathead than the rest of the nation.

No longer can young people afford a home. Elderly rents skyrocketed. State property taxes shot through the roof. Auto, home and health insurance is suddenly outrageously expensive. And the state booted 135,000 Montanans off healthcare, 35,000 children, thousands of valley kids, all while holding a billion-dollar budget surplus.

Recently, I went to several public events in the north valley. Judge Katherine Bidegaray was speaking at the Northern. Bidegaray was a powerhouse speaker, pro women’s rights and a tremendous advocate for justice. You should pay good attention to her state Supreme Court campaign if you like things like freedom, justice, and basic rights.

They gave me the mic at the community center to introduce my friend Dave Fern, who’s running for an open state Senate seat, which a decade earlier had been represented by Dan Weinberg and comprises both Whitefish and Columbia Falls schools.

I attended a listening tour that a state representative by the name of Mary Caferro from the Montana Democratic Party had put together in Columbia Falls. Mary is old-time Whitefish name, cousin to Phyllis who ran the local food pantry, and childhood friend to Velvet Phillips-Sullivan, my favorite candidate for the state House.

Many spoke this evening. Mary handed me the mic. It was my turn. I told a packed room of listeners that Montana has gotten way too expensive over the past few years. That housing, state property taxes, and insurance costs were out of whack for the working person and Montanan had better change direction, make a course correction. Workers, locals and elderly cannot tolerate this kind of outrageous expense.

We must move forward. There’s no going back, though, my friend Don used to say that turning off the internet would fix it. In the state capitol there’s plenty of solutions for most any lawmaker willing to do bipartisan work and look out for locals.

By late afternoon, the gangs of robins vanished, hidden in the trees, their chorus heard faraway throughout the spring day. It’ll be months before they return to wherever robins live during those long winter months.