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October 20, 2012: Meeting’ New Friends

This morning I went to a 10 a.m. meeting over in the Butte, an area that we over here say “is over there, on the other side of the river.” We here consider it to be kind of rough – and don’t go there very often.

The meeting was one in a series organized by the Mat-Su Trails Foundation—it’s a part of their “Master,” plan. Yep, I thought, even this term is exclusionary. This is the problem, in the Butte and other places in the Mat-Su Valley. Motorized and non-motorized users want to continue to have access to the Jim Creek and other trails, and of course are at loggerheads with one another.

I have not been in on what Rhetorician Kenneth Burke calls “the ongoing conversation,” regarding the specifics that center around the Jim Creek and other trails. And I came in late to this particular meeting. But no matter – I immediately knew the particulars that preceded this particular discussion, and the particulars that are going to follow.

The meeting was held in the Butte Fire Station. There were 25 or so people in attendance. The bicyclists, hikers, ATV users, horseback riders, and area

residents sat at tables that had been put in V shapes. And (of course) bulleted lists and handwritten lists had been tacked to the walls. Yes, I’d been here before, prior to the USKH takeover of our area comprehensive plan.

Within three minutes, I began feeling itchy. The summation of previous meetings was being put forth by a young woman named Shelley. Tall, bone thin, black hair pulled back, she wore trendy hiker garb – had, I thought in dress and manner taken a middle-of-the road stance. She was, I quickly discovered, adept at “mediation speak.” Those engaging in this kind of talk say things like “I hear you, we need to keep coming back to a space. . .” and “I sense that what you’re getting at is. . .” and “Thanks for sharing that with us.” Okay, it’s the use of the personal to deflect what they believe to be hostility that bothers me. This is because, really, the tenor is instead one of frustration.

I listened for a bit, and took in the first power point slide, which was entitled “What is a Trail?” Sensing that I was being talked to like I was in kindergarten, I then did a few yoga type things – I took a few deep breaths, squared my shoulders, and put myself in neutral pelvis. This all went by the wayside, when moments later, another slide one was posted. This one was entitled “Your trails tool box.” According to Shelley, “using this will be most useful in every stage of development.”

My hand, of its own volition immediately shot up in the air. Shelley, looking surprised, gave this supposed pre-school individual permission to speak. I began by posing a question, which was, “don’t you agree that the words and phrases we use are reflective of the way we think?” Shelley, sputtering said she wasn’t sure, she would have to hear what else I had to say. I then said that the term “toolbox” is one that will most likely be embraced by ATV users, adding that if say the term “saddlebags” was used, that they’d claim rhetorical favoritism. I was successful, I think, for after, people also put the ideas in this slide in the context of bicycle panniers, backpacks, and even a purse. However, I don’t think she’ll change the term.

Unbeknownst to all in attendance, this was a breakthrough moment for me. I’d heard the term toolbox used in TTeam clinics, when working with horses. I’d never been comfortable with it because I’m not a toolbox user. I once owned one, but it eventually became Pete’s. And so, as the conversation disintegrated into people airing gripes, I wrote down some ideas for an article for the TTeam newsletter.

My problem with this mediator speak is that the interests and concerns of the people who are RIGHT end up being subsumed by those who are WRONG. In this case, the non-motorized users want continued access – the problem is that the motorized trail users continue to trash them. Sometimes I can’t help but wonder if the mediators drag the inane discussions that center around this debate out so that they might make more money.

There was, after the mediator lost control of her audience, an intermission in which we were to take a moment and examine the wall charts. I noticed that no one did this – rather, people sought out those who had a similar viewpoint, so that they could continue to say what needed to be said. I gravitated in the direction of my friend Patty, who introduced me to Brit Lively and her husband Greg. Truth be known, I went to this meeting because I wanted to meet them. Brit and Greg had, in the throes of the recent horse rescue debacle, agreed to take on the care and feeding of Melinda’s mare and foal. Good people, I thought.

Good people, I was right. We all bowed out on the next proposed portion of the meeting – working in focus groups – and instead reconvened at Brit and Greg’s place. Over lunch, I learned that the pair have put considerable time and energy into this, the trails issue. And with good reason. They’ve put their heart and souls into transforming a nearby riding arena and stables into an upscale facility, which is one which in time will be used by area horse goers. Quite obviously, having a horse friendly trails system is central to their goal, which is to further galvanize the area horse community.

Their hard work became most evident when Brit took me on an area tour. Unlike the likes of many, they’re acting on a plan. The stable, the arena, the grounds, the horse pens, the area trails, all have a good feel about them.

I took heart when I saw it all, for I was easily able to draw parallels between their community-based struggles and ours over here. Righting wrongs involves (of course) considerable time and effort – this is seldom without consequence. And this is true in this instance. Greg and Brit have been so engrossed in their trail related work that they’ve had no time to put into their jobs, or engage in leisure activities. They have to be getting tired of all the nonsense that’s involved in being proactive.

In a way, I felt a bit ashamed after leaving their place. I had enough after one meeting. But these two have been to more meetings than they can count. And still, they keep at it. This gave me reason to pause. The philosopher Hannah Arendt says that people best learn by example. Brit and Greg’s tenacity was more than inspiring. Rather than turn tail and run, I will hold my ground and assist those in making the Mat Su Valley a better place to live.

Next: 315. 10/21/12: The Week In Review