My grandson asked about our family tree for a school project and I found myself thinking about the changing character of our society and wondering how we have become so dysfunctional.
I have been fortunate to have lived in a region that may be one of the last parts of the country to have retained aspects of the society that settled the West in the 1800's. Both sides of my family were part of the wagon train movement that came west and settled in Idaho.
Those were brave, tough people who came and built communities that reflected those characters. My parent's generation was the bridge between those original settlers and our modern society, and I was fortunate enough grow up knowing those people.
I live about 200 feet from the route of the Oregon Trail. I can easily walk to remnants of the trail and stand in the still visible tracks of those wagons. I think sometimes about what it took for people to do that and the toughness that they had to have to survive it. My great grandmother pulled a handcart from St Louis to Salt Lake. We can't trouble ourselves to walk a mile to the grocery.
When my mother's parents were married they created their first home as a dugout. To build that you dig a trench in a hillside and use logs to create a roof and front. Imagine spending a winter in such a shelter and giving birth to your first child there.
Just a few miles from my home is where the first settlers here built their home. It was a couple with two children. The husband was one of the party killed in the first massacre in the Idaho territory in 1814. His wife, fearing that they were next, gathered her two children and began walking to Fort Walla Walla a distance of 260 miles through the Idaho wilderness. Most remarkably this was in the winter. Few would do that today even if equipped with North Face winter gear. Winter isn't a gentle season in these mountains but the three of them did it in 53 days.
In our electronic bubbles we can't comprehend what the day to day struggles of those people were like and the values that imprinted on the communities they founded. A lot of things come to mind as I think about those people. We were prospecting for gold on the continental divide one summer. There is a spot on the ridge with Idaho on one side and Montana on the other where you can find small veins of nearly pure gold.
My uncle was fond of saying that from there you could pee into either the Atlantic or Pacific ocean. But that isn't the story.
We saw mountain goats on what looked like mine rubble nearby and went to take a look. Someone had driven a tunnel by hand straight into the mountain, large enough to almost stand up straight, for about 200 feet. We examined the tunnel and that miner had found absolutely nothing. At the end of the tunnel he had laid out his tools very neatly and never returned.
That effort by that unknown miner took several years with no reward at all but I think of that sometimes when things seem hard. Our society of instant gratification is not resilient and I worry about that.
I was a war baby born in 42. We were poor but everyone was and life was easy enough. It was a rural culture where the work day was sun up to sun down but a pretty easy life. I did have a chance to know those older generations however, and as I look back at the lives they led I can't help but wonder what will result from the society we are building today. So many seem to care so little for how fragile our system has become.