Tip of the Spear - Missoula County

But A Moment in Time: Reflecting on Gratitude

November 23, 2022 Missoula County Commissioners Season 2 Episode 28
Tip of the Spear - Missoula County
But A Moment in Time: Reflecting on Gratitude
Show Notes Transcript

This week, Commissioners Vero, Slotnick and Strohmaier immersed themselves in the spirit of the holiday season by talking about gratitude. They share some of their favorite adages and how they stay grounded through the pressure of productivity.

"Tip of the Spear" is the ethos that guides our work at Missoula County. It reminds us to lead with innovation, represents our can-do culture and encourages us to work toward solutions even for challenging issues. The "Tip of the Spear" podcast aims to tell the stories of how we do that.

Juanita Vero:

Well, welcome back to Tip of the Spear, I'm Commissioner Juanita Vero. I'm joined here with fellow commissioners Josh Slotnick and Dave Strohmaier. We're here a couple of days before Thanksgiving, and we don't know when you're going to be listening to this podcast, but we're going to talk about gratitude today. This is the season of reflection and storytelling and kind of thinking back on the year. And Slotnick here has a poem he'd like to share to start us off with.

Josh Slotnick:

Sure.

Dave Strohmaier:

Break the ice.

Josh Slotnick:

Yeah. This is a poem on gratitude and small This is written by Wendell Berry, the great farmer poet of the United States. It's called the Sorrel Filly. And Juan, you you did advise me that the sorrel filly could grow up into being a chestnut mare, which is not...

Juanita Vero:

Beware the chestnut mare.

Josh Slotnick:

Why should we beware chestnut mares?

Juanita Vero:

They can be difficult. You know, redheads

Dave Strohmaier:

I had no idea. I had a black Shetland pony as a kid. For what it's worth.

Josh Slotnick:

All right. The Sorrel Filly by Wendell Berry. The song of small birds fade away into the bushes after sundown, the air dry sweet with goldenrod. Beside the path, suddenly, bright asters flare in the dusk. The aged voices of a few crickets thread the silence. It is a quiet I love though my life too often drives me through it deaf. Busy with costs and losses, I waste the time I have to be here——a time blessed beyond my deserts, as I know, if only I would keep aware. The leaves rest in the air perfectly still. I would like them to rest in my mind as still, as simply spaced. As I approach, the sorrel filly looks up from her grazing, poised there, light on the slope as a young apple tree. A week ago, I took her away to sell and failed to get my price and brought her home again. Now in the quiet, I stand and look at her a long time, glad to have recovered what is lost in the exchange of something for money.

Dave Strohmaier:

Hmm.

Juanita Vero:

Awww.

Josh Slotnick:

Wendell Berry.

Dave Strohmaier:

Wendell Berry. I love Wendell Berry. I... One of the first book I read by him was The Unsettling of America.

Josh Slotnick:

A classic. A total classic.

Dave Strohmaier:

Yeah. It really expanded my thinking about

Juanita Vero:

I feel like a bad American. I haven't read it.

Josh Slotnick:

It was written in the early seventies, and It all it all happened. What you described was happening happened. I think it's.

Juanita Vero:

Going to be it's on the list, I'm Audible-ing

Dave Strohmaier:

So gratitude, what are we all thankful for

Juanita Vero:

Yeah, Do you guys have a, quote unquote

Dave Strohmaier:

A gratitude practice? Well, I... Far too few of us just take time to to reflect on that very question whether we have a practice or not just building in some reflective silence in our busy lives. And and this might be for our listeners news out there, but I think those of us in elected office from time to time think about these sorts of things, it's not all just road maintenance and, and loving mills for for taxes, but it's also thinking about what makes for a full and meaningful life for all of us. And that's at an individual level. And certainly those of us sitting around this table, I think probably struggle with that. But it's also for our community at large. And and so for me, just carving out time when there's so much going on by way of the flood of email, it never stops. And how do you triage your life in a way that creates those spaces and openness and openings for recognizing the gift that every moment that we have and every breath that we take is absolutely.

Juanita Vero:

So how do you do it?

Dave Strohmaier:

Not very well, actually. But so for me right now, coming on the heels after election season, I am certainly grateful for the folks of the community who have entrusted me with another term in office. But that comes with a recognition that you should only be doing this as long as you have a passion for for the work, passion for service, which I think I still do, but also recognizing that this work that we do is is just kind of embedded in the matrix of a larger life that includes poetry, it includes literature, the arts. All of that is essential to, I think, being human and also to effectively being able to give back to our communities.

Juanita Vero:

I just came from a lunch with University of of the lunch, he left us with a comment. He had heard from a friend that "Missoula is the place where apathy goes to die." And I really do appreciate that and how engaged our community is. And he was kind of saying this about university students, how engaged they are, which can be difficult because you want you want your community to be engaged and to to hold you accountable. And he was kind of expressing he loves that about the students. But then it's also, you know, that he can feel beat up, too. And I think as this public servants, we definitely appreciate this engaged community. We get to serve and then absolutely get the lumps that come with it. And man, I feel so much gratitude and grateful. This is this is the community we get to serve and to to work in so much, rather tackle the problems and the issues that we have with this community then pretty much anywhere else in the world.

Josh Slotnick:

Yeah, right, Right with you there.

Juanita Vero:

So what's your practice?

Josh Slotnick:

So I've just been aware of balancing two Most all of us, I feel like, are judged to some degree on production. Did you get all those emails written back? Did you make sure all the projects you're working on got to the next step? Did all the things you work on here and family business everywhere? Did we do all the things we said we were going to do? Are we ready to do more of that? And I feel like it's not just us. This is everywhere. I don't know, say, disease, but it's kind of like a disease where production has become the most important thing. I'm at the grocery store and I run into a friend I haven't seen for a long time, and I say, "How's it going?" And because he's really my friend, he answers truthfully instead of just fine, fine. He goes, "Oh man, I'm just so swamped, so crazy busy." That's the same response I get from everybody. It is as if this is what you're supposed to be massively producing. Whatever you're doing, you're supposed to be really, really busy. And at the same time, we've had these expectations of ourselves are around empathy and caring and being good to each other and being good to ourselves and good to our families. And that tension there is production tends to run over everything. I would like to see us if I could have a kind of a wish in this holiday season, to ratchet back the production a little bit and ratchet up the intention a little bit. So if all of your energy is going towards production, you're going to get all your stuff done. It feels fine to sacrifice other things in the name of production. So just to be real crass, you're going to go through the drive through any garbage because you're racing from one place to the next and you just got to keep yourself fueled because you're getting the things done that need to be done as opposed to intention. No, I'm actually going to prepare a real meal and sit with my family and look, people I care about in the eye and share this good food. I'm going to get less done. And we have a tendency to orient ourselves much more towards production and less towards intention. And he just used food as an as an example. But it could be caring for the the ground behind your house or showing your loved ones how much you care about them. We sacrifice all these things in the name of production every day, and I think we could do a little bit less on production and do a little more on intention and feeling gracious as part of that.

Dave Strohmaier:

The case that you bring up. Josh as far as being really intentional, yeah. Any tricks or techniques that you found that that help? Because I certainly struggle with it.

Josh Slotnick:

There's something I do and this is in farm feel intense and oppressive. There's so much to be done and it's all under a timeline and you've got to go fast. And it's just to stop for just a millisecond and look up and you see it's beauty all around. We get the best skies in western Montana, not the big sky, but the best skies. And to see for a moment, man, I get to be here in this place right now. What what a great privilege. And I put my head down and pick up the irrigation pipe, But it really works.

Dave Strohmaier:

Just taking a moment.

Josh Slotnick:

A little millisecond to look up and see where special. Most places are not like this.

Juanita Vero:

It's the Henry David Thoreau quote: "The speaks to me. And I think both of you are saying to look up. I dabbled for a moment...I thought I was going to be an art major. Yeah, perspective, too. And just taking the time to notice whether you're looking up at the sky or you're looking at the composition of the pavement, meeting the drain right there and and holding some, some wonder, just taking like that those 10 seconds to see that helps ground me.

Josh Slotnick:

Yeah I found you can do a similar thing with it sometimes but I'm getting and instead of just saying thanks to the barista, I kind of try and look them in the eye a little bit and give a little bit more thanks. Just try and establish some small connection that I'm realizing. I'm interacting here with a person, not an automaton, handing me my green tea and almost always get a smile. And for whatever reason, it must be imprinted in our DNA. It makes me feel better.

Juanita Vero:

Same when we get a constituent with an angry If we can take a breath and and be curious about their concerns, that really helps me. Yes. Center and ground myself and allow the onslaught.

Josh Slotnick:

I think you hit something on there that's Being curious about the concerns first before we go to problem solving. Yeah, because problem solving too soon leads to argument. This is the solution. No, that's the solution. And really hearing the concerns are are more important.

Dave Strohmaier:

Yeah. Authentic question of "Why?" Not "Why are?" But I mean really trying to go deeper than that and tease out what is the the multi layers of story behind how someone came to the position live within the context that they do. You know, thinking back about what you just said, Josh, about production and some folks are going to if they've heard me talk about this before, my apologies. I might sound like a broken record, but it takes me across the continental divide to Fort Benton, Montana, where on the side of the elementary school in Fort Benton, there

is a sign that says:

"Industry is useless without culture." And this is not some new thing that got tacked up over there. This has been on the side of that building since the 1930s, and it's kind of a WPA era sort of project that came to be this sign. And what that really tells me is, is that the sense of production, of industry, of busyness, of all that goes into that really is hollow without the the relationships, the culture that binds us all together. And that's part of what I think is the beauty and magic of this, this place that we call home here in western Montana, I think want to keep home into the future.

Juanita Vero:

I still want to get back to Strohmaier's So what what else do you... Yeah. So you saw the sign on the side of the school, and you say that you struggle with, you know, the production of the email inbox. So what have you or... Do you take time to appreciate things?

Dave Strohmaier:

Yeah. So. So part of it is a business unto itself also. But it's recognizing that our relationship with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes is important. We had a big celebration here a number of weeks back where we dedicated Bear Tracks Bridge that has everything to do with culture. It's it's a relationship with people who have called this place. And we're right now looking out at Hellgate Canyon right now out the window. And people who have called this place home for thousands upon thousands of years. And how does that play into our sense of rootedness and centeredness in this place, that that has less to do with industry, everything to do with culture. How do I kind of sit in that and stew in that a little bit. Well, for me, I guess to get right down to practice, it's this time of year that we're in right now fall. I'm a big game hunter and I can think of few times in my life where I feel as rooted and as connected as being by myself. Somewhere under the the Dome of Sky here in Montana, tracking a big game animal or any more. For me, it has really less to do with actually filling my freezer. As much as I would like to put a little venison in my freezer this season than it does just seeing the wonder of of this kind of miraculous world that we live in, just flourishing in life.

Josh Slotnick:

Right with you. This last week I was in the hunting trip perched over these breaks...

Juanita Vero:

I can't believe you told people where you

Josh Slotnick:

It's big.

Dave Strohmaier:

Township, range and section Josh! Cough it up.

Josh Slotnick:

It's a big area sitting on on the edge of the bottomless if you know what the Greater Missouri Breaks look like and then looking up at the kind of rims of the breaks and these hills and they were orange with the sunset, the sky was orange behind them. And I just sat there so quietly and stared at him and then watched the orange turn to blue, kind of periwinkle to black and thought of this.

..another Wendell Berry quote:

"The earth is news."

Juanita Vero:

Oh, that was so good.

Josh Slotnick:

Yeah, yeah, so good. Just to see that that beauty. And there's kind of timelessness to it. It puts other things in perspective. But again, it's looking up and noticing and being in a room intentionally putting yourself in a beautiful place, which isn't difficult here. It's really difficult in lots of places, but it's not difficult here.

Dave Strohmaier:

And I think it helps all of that. Put in perspective, what might seem super urgent in the moment may not, in the grand scheme of things, be quite as pressing or life life changing as it might seem.

Josh Slotnick:

I feel like we are often faced with a clash urgent almost always wins.

Dave Strohmaier:

What about you, Juanita? You live in a What's your practice?

Juanita Vero:

I'm so lucky. Yeah. Just being able to live for. And you talk about that like groundedness and grounding. When I took this job, I'd never spent time indoors and it is really disconnecting to be in an office building. And I felt that on a very physical level and it was weirdly difficult for those first six months or so in this job. I'd never experienced fluorescent lights like this and the indoors and the air conditioning, and I didn't really realize like how kind of off centered I was. So I got some office plants and that really helped. Need a little bit of green, a little bit of grounding. But yeah, that my own practice is to try to be observant. And if I can't be observant visually that I try to think about what I'm smelling or hearing or feeling and just kind of work through the senses to take a moment to ground.

Josh Slotnick:

I'm with you. This was my first 100% indoor

Juanita Vero:

And how did it feel for you those first few

Josh Slotnick:

I remember walking in here in the beginning inside, in September?"

Juanita Vero:

And that's what it was. It was the time of

Josh Slotnick:

In winter it's not so bad because I spent well. But spring, summer, fall, not at all.

Juanita Vero:

Yeah. So what did you do? You were still working at the farm too?

Josh Slotnick:

I still had, yeah, just like you a couple of So it didn't. I couldn't live without it. I'm the same way. You couldn't. It's just part of who we are.

Dave Strohmaier:

I think part of the great thing with the work spend way more time in this retrofitted 1960s-era law conference room than than I would than I would like we do from time to time, get to roam around the county really outside of these walls, really. And that for me is part of that grounding. It's reconnecting not only to. The work we do outside of these walls. But the people and the landscape that we have jurisdiction over here.

Juanita Vero:

We really do have a beautiful county.

Dave Strohmaier:

Oh.

Juanita Vero:

It is. And the diversity? Yep. Yep.

Josh Slotnick:

We're yeah. I also find some groundedness in It's super real.

Dave Strohmaier:

It is and super important.

Josh Slotnick:

It can be paralyzing if you let yourself But it's also a fueling too.

Juanita Vero:

It's such an honor. Such an honor to be able to serve your community in a community that given us so much and has so much opportunity. And here's our opportunity to make it better, make lives better, help make a system work better for everyone.

Dave Strohmaier:

And we have but a moment of time.

Josh Slotnick:

It is just a moment, yeah.

Dave Strohmaier:

And as it relates to gratitude for me, folks, I do, my fellow commissioners here, but just the incredible staff that we have at Missoula County that I wish more people were able to get a window into that. Because when I show up here every day, I am pretty sure that the vast majority of my colleagues and coworkers are coming here to do their level best to give back to their communities. One other thing, not to dominate the conversation here, but one other thing that comes to mind gratitude wise in this season of Thanksgiving, but also just beyond the holiday itself, just taking stock of the lives that we live at this time of the year is as I came through this election season and having to deal with lists of contributors and lists of folks who I'm I'm engaging as part of a campaign cycle, seeing the names of folks who are no longer with us. How I just think about the friends and colleagues who played a big role in our work here in county government who passed on whether it was the mayor of Missoula this past year or the many other folks that all of us can probably remember in all individuals who played some role in our lives. And I'm extremely grateful for those individuals.

Josh Slotnick:

Yeah, it's important to realize you kind of a moment we have. We shouldn't be acting as if things will always be the way they are right now and that the people around us will always be here. There's some obligation in that to.

Dave Strohmaier:

Yeah, time moves on and and hopefully we can down the road. But we do what we can.

Juanita Vero:

Yeah. Like what you said about that who are no longer with us and in my mind, I want to do right by them.

Josh Slotnick:

Absolutely.

Juanita Vero:

I've always tried to do right by my great how I kind of align my life. But then more specifically to local government, I mean, the leadership of Mayor Engen or Klaus von Stutterheim.

Josh Slotnick:

Those are two those are two big ones right

Juanita Vero:

Yeah. Yeah. And why not do right by them, do

Josh Slotnick:

I thought about the mayor often when things on a specific day and feeling just beat up and hearing him say, "Well, you just brush yourself off and get up and get back there tomorrow."

Juanita Vero:

Oh, good one.

Josh Slotnick:

And then as I'm leaving his office, he smile rest of the day off."

Juanita Vero:

Yes, so true.

Dave Strohmaier:

Another thing that John said often, and and I phrase are saying, "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." And I think it's important to do your level best. And you might make a mistake in the process, but if you're always waiting for the stars to completely align, you're going to be in paralysis.

Josh Slotnick:

Yeah, I really appreciate in terms of down with the idea that we should get caught trying as opposed to wait...

Juanita Vero:

Absolutely.

Josh Slotnick:

...Until things are perfect before we take Given that our time here is just that finite moment, we've got to put our level best into action.

Juanita Vero:

Because the stars could be aligned. It might just be a little cloud cover.

Dave Strohmaier:

I like it. If COVID has taught us anything, roll up your sleeves and take action in spite of the murkiness of what it looks like going forward.

Josh Slotnick:

So how about if we end this some holiday

Juanita Vero:

Oh, yeah. Health and safety. A lot of people got to travel. I want our loved ones to be healthy. Yeah, that's my wish.

Dave Strohmaier:

I do not debate that one. That is a good one. Maybe just building off how we started this in terms of gratitude and intentionality. And I wish for folks that they're able to turn off their cell phones momentarily and and be willing to maybe take a day, maybe just start with a minute, 5 minutes without worrying about that flood of correspondence. That might be waiting for us. And I think you hit the nail on the head, Josh. Maybe my wish is that we all just take a moment and look up.

Josh Slotnick:

That's good. Yeah. My wish would be we take a moment and see something. Find something that's really positive. I feel like we're a bit oriented towards what makes us mad. It's kind of like candy. Like it just gives you a little jolt, and then you've got to go get to the next one. But it's not satisfying as compared to what makes us feel filled up. Look for that.

Juanita Vero:

Happy seeking, folks. And happy Thanksgiving.

Josh Slotnick:

Thanks for listening.

Dave Strohmaier:

Yeah. See you next time.

Josh Slotnick:

Thanks for listening to the Tip of the Spear If you enjoy these conversations, it would mean a lot if you would rate and review the show on whichever podcast app you like. And if you know a friend who would like to keep up with what's happening in local government, be sure to recommend this podcast to them. The Tip of the Spear podcast is made possible with support from MCAD, better known as Missoula Community Access Television and our staff in the Missoula County Communications Division. If you have a question or topic you'd like us to address on a future episode, email it to communications at Missoula County US and to find other ways to stay up to date with what's happening at Missoula County. Go to Missoula.co/countyupdates. And thanks for listening.