When Cultures Clash

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Young Navajo friends of ours have been living in an RV in town this school year so they can attend the local community college. Even RV living differs greatly from their homes on the “rez.” In town, Calvin* and his buddy enjoy electricity, running water, and electric heat (rather than wood-stove heating). They are within walking distance of the bus which whisks them to and from campus. Included in the monthly lot rental is cable TV and internet. (And the internet is not pay as you go, running out before the end of each month!)

Both fellows have appreciated the benefits of town living. However, over time, we have realized they lack fundamental knowledge about how things work in town..

RV living in winter

RV living in winter

Recently, Calvin moved out of the RV with little notice, frustrated at how cold the RV was and at having no running water for more than a week (with frozen pipes.) When my husband arrived a few days later, he soon had the RV toasty warm and had the pipes thawed within a few hours.

What was the difference?

Having grown up with wood heat and a lack of indoor plumbing does not prepare someone for town-living. Throughout the fall, we urged Calvin to put up insulation around the bottom of the RV. We explained a number of times how this “skirting” helps the heater work more effectively and keeps the water pipes from freezing when the weather gets cold.

In back-country Navajo culture, there is no reason to do extra work that is perceived to be unnecessary. Daily living takes enough energy and work. Unfortunately, even though we provided the needed materials, Calvin followed his life-knowledge and never got around to installing the extra insulation. In his world, one just throws more wood in the stove when the weather gets cold. With no skirting around the bottom of the RV, as the temperature plummeted this winter, it became more and more difficult to keep the place heated. Eventually, as we expected, the pipes froze.

Calvin’s perception was that the flaw was in expecting to live in an RV during the winter. He found little connection between the lack of preparations and the eventual consequences. The proposed work was viewed as unneeded—which it certainly would have been in his childhood home. Even similar suggestions, by neighbors who lived year round in their RV, fell on deaf ears.

RV parked in a similar location to where Calvin lived in town

RV parked in a similar location to where Calvin lived in town

Another clash of cultures occurred in the matter of paying rent. Calvin’s buddy was inconsistent, often choosing to spend extra days at home rather than staying in the RV. He then saw little need to pay for days he didn’t use the RV. He fundamentally did not understand that rent is owed each month for the entire month, regardless of days spent in the property.

Having to consistently pay monthly rent by a certain time was also challenging for the fellows. Few Navajo in outlying areas have any concept of credit, which translates to a lackadaisical attitude about bill-paying. After all, with no concern about a personal credit rating, what is the downside of being late with payments? In addition, having to pay a deposit to move in was a new idea. Putting money ahead of needed use is rarely done in a culture where family “need” trumps personal savings.

We are happy that Calvin is continuing to pursue education at the local community college. We are sorry it didn’t work out for him to continue living in the (low-cost) RV at this point. Sometimes cultural expectations outweigh other considerations…

*name changed to protect privacy

Mule Deer — 1 Mission Truck — ?

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There are large herds of mule deer living in this remote corner of New Mexico. We used to see them frequently on the mission property, although since we have been “babysitting” some horses there is little grazing left which means far fewer deer sightings.

Why did the mule deer cross the road??!

I used to think that white-tail deer (in Ohio) were large. HA! They now look puny when compared to the hulking mule deer out here! Plus, there are elk roaming this area and they make the mule deer look puny.

Randy made a long drive up to Colorado a few weeks ago. He left before dawn to get to a meeting by late morning. Unfortunately, one of the many mule deer who wander this area of the state decided to cross the usually deserted road right when Randy was passing. (Fortunately it wasn’t an elk—those collisions often send the driver/passengers to the emergency room. And the big hulking black bull mangled on the side of the road a few nights ago didn’t look like it would have been “fun” to hit, either.)

OUCH! poor truck…poor deer…

Randy didn’t see what happened to the mule deer, although judging from the damage done to the front end of the truck, the deer most likely didn’t survive… Randy was surprised to find that the truck continued the trip with no problems. No fluids were leaking out of the radiator, although the rattley noises were loud enough that he tied the bumper and other parts together with some rope for the trip home.

rope…almost as good as duct tape or baling wire!

Unfortunately, driving the dirt roads to church a few days later apparently shook more things loose. The radiator sprung a leak and the truck had to be limped home. Randy was a bit shocked when he opened the hood and saw all the damaged parts. And when he got an estimate for parts and labor, the repairs come close to “totaling out” the car.

All I can say is, I’m SO glad it wasn’t our new 4wd that tangled with that deer!

(The mule deer photo and lots of additional information about mule deer can be found HERE)

Lessons Learned from “The Week of No Water”

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We get our water from a community water system that serves 60 customers along 20 or so miles of highway. The well is right behind us, with storage tanks atop the mesa.

notice the water tanks to the right on top the mesa…LCM is just over this hill

After a few months of scares, problems, and outages, the pump that brings water up from the bottom of the 1700’ deep well failed.

It took a number of days of scrambling to file the appropriate paperwork, but the State of New Mexico eventually approved an emergency loan of $25,000 to replace the pump.  This turns out to be quite an involved project: the pump, motor, electrical cable and approximately 48 lengths of pipe (each 32’ long) had to be removed with each length of pipe unscrewed by hand before eventually reversing the process and installing the new pump, cable, and pipes. The Navajo water authority donated their services to do this project which was a huge help.

After a week with no water, you can’t imagine how excited we were to hear gurgling in the pipes…and to eventually have a trickle of water coming out of the faucet!

We are so glad the water was only “out” for a week. It could have been worse—much worse, with estimates as long as 2-3 months with no running water if state money had not been granted…

Here, in random order, are some of the lessons I learned during our “Week of No Water”…

  • Imagination is NOT the same as reality… Many of our Navajo friends have beautiful thick long hair. They haul water all the time, and I have tried to imagine how they keep their hair so clean: buckets? Drip showers? Water heated on the stove? When I asked for advice this past week, every one of them told me to just go to a family member’s house, someone who has running water! (Great advice…but my mom lives a few states too far away to run over there to take showers!)
  • Water is FAR heavier than you think…especially when you are dealing with morning after morning of carrying in the 8th or 10th big pan filled with water from the tank on the back of the pick-up truck.
  • Be careful not to strain any muscles when you are carrying those pans of water…there is (unfortunately) no hot shower available to soak away the pain…
  • Actual running water to wash hair is such a treat it doesn’t matter if it is icy cold! (I was able to wash my hair after the Cuba Volunteer Fire Department meeting mid-week. I think the chief was shocked that I didn’t complain about the cold water…)
  • Students are extra thirsty when there’s no water in the drinking fountains at school…(The school stayed open all week—with bottle water, porta-potties, and a “water buffalo” hauled in the by National Guard for water to be used in the kitchen.)
  • Soaking caked-on-food-covered-skillets in cold water is useless, even if the water has dish soap in it. I had to heat water (on the stove or via my coffee-maker) and let the skillets soak in HOT soapy water to scrub them clean.
  • It takes far more pans of water than you think would be necessary to actually flush the toilets properly (and then you sadly remember how much work it is to haul that water inside…) Suddenly it is easy to follow the saying: “If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down.” That toilet really does NOT need to be flushed every time it is used…
  • With no running water, you start looking around the property, trying to figure out where would be a good place to put up a few outhouses…after all, that’s what many Navajo have and how things work for many area churches…

    fancy women’s outhouse at a nearby church…

  • When the community water system fails, you suddenly learn how many local people do not understand how things actually work. I was lectured far too many times about how we were discriminating against the Navajo by turning off the faucet they use to haul water—nothing I said could convince them that we, too, had no water…

    like the Navajo families in this area, we too had to haul water this past week…

Helping “victims”?

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A few days ago a woman knocked at our door. She needed to arrange for a cemetery plot for an uncle who had died. She already knew we charge a small fee but still wondered if they could get a discount. When I said no (especially since this mission has had no contact with this woman or any of her family in the past), she just nodded and commented that our price was the cheapest option anyway.cemetary plots

Next she wanted to use the ex-church building on this property for a funeral service. “I suppose you charge a fee for that also,” she grumbled. She was shocked when I told her that the building is not currently available for use. (The pews were falling apart which wasn’t safe, so they have been knocked apart completely. We will eventually figure out what other seating options might make more sense for a multi-purpose building.)

She got a bit angry with me, demanding to know what their family was supposed to do. I suggested the chapter houses (local Navajo government buildings). I suggested one of the 15 or so other churches in this area. She didn’t like any of those ideas. She stated loudly that she was shocked we were no longer available for funerals. She questioned if we had the “right” to deny her family the possibility of using this facility.

I placated her as best I could, internally seething that a stranger would be so demanding. I don’t believe our mission is to be sitting around here, waiting for the 3-4 times per year that someone might prefer to use this facility for some reason, rather than one of the many other options in the community…

Still grumpy at this woman’s entitlement mentality when I walked back inside, I just started laughing in recognition of the truth in this quote, which was in a new email from a friend:

In politics, few talents are as richly rewarded as the ability to convince parasites that they are victims. Welfare states on both sides of the Atlantic have discovered that largesse to losers does not reduce their hostility to society, but only increases it. Far from producing gratitude, generosity is seen as an admission of guilt, and the reparations as inadequate compensations for injustices — leading to worsening behavior by the recipients. – Thomas Sowell

We continue to wrestle with the question of how we can TRULY help the Navajo living in the Lybrook area. We continue to listen to some of our Navajo friends and community leaders who are becoming more and more outraged at the entitlement mentality of constituents who expect everyone else to do things for them. In the two years we have been here, we have learned that hand-outs are often toxic. And hand-ups are usually rejected, at least for now.

Police “Theater” … and the use of technology to avoid DWIs

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Within a few weeks of the tragic accidents on January 1, 2012, the various police departments who have jurisdiction along Hwy 550 announced that they were starting a special program. Almost three months later, there are still police cars to be seen parked along the highway, passing out tickets to speeders, and “keeping us safe.”

I feel sorry for the folks from out of state who are passing thru this area and don’t know that they need to follow the posted speed limits. Quite honestly, most of us who live here just sigh when we see a police cruiser, slow down, and grumble about “police theater.” Giving tickets to those who are speeding does absolutely nothing to increase safety along this corridor. What is really needed is police presence after dark, when the drunk drivers start cruising up and down the highway. The fatal accidents are not caused by excessive speed: at 70 miles per hour (the posted speed limit) any accident could be fatal, and accidents caused by drunk drivers greatly increase that risk.

On the other hand, we recently learned that police checkpoints to assess for DWI violations are largely useless. Apparently a few weeks ago when such a checkpoint was set up, a friend of ours was waiting at a dirt road turnoff for his wife to meet him there after catching a ride with a friend from work. That friend explained that there was a long line of cars parked along the side of the dirt road. Drivers were all on their cell phones, texting back and forth with others further up and down the highway, warning each other of the police check point. Once the police packed up and left the area, all those drivers—unlicensed or drunk—got back on the highway and finished their drive home.

We hate the hassles of “police theater” which makes a big show of making the highway safe. But we also feel sorry for those same policemen who can’t seem to find a way to change the culture out here…and modern technology seems to favor the law-breaking drivers, at least for now!

Truck Eating SAND Pit

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A few weeks ago, Randy got our big pickup truck stuck AGAIN. This time, he thought it was safe to drive the back roads. After all, it hadn’t rained for weeks and the dirt roads were rock-hard. The biggest risk was having the “washboard” road damage the truck’s suspension. (We won’t talk about the back aches all that jiggling causes for the passengers…)

Then I got a dreaded phone call. “I’m stuck,” he said. “I’ll start walking and meet you by the main road.” Sigh…I found the car keys and started driving. Along the way I was pondering what might have happened. The dirt road I was on was innocent looking. The back tires only slid a few times when I hit patches of loose sand…

After I found him and drove him home, Randy and Jakob drove back to the truck, armed with shovels, the come-along, a big jack, and some lumber. They worked for what seemed like hours: jack up the truck and drive off the jack to get forward momentum—fail. Make solid tracks and try to drive along the board “road”—fail. Shovel, shovel, and shovel some more—fail. (Sand won’t stay where it is shoveled—it just slides right back where it came from.) Come-along and tow straps too short—fail.

Eventually, I texted a Navajo friend for advice. After all, he and his folks have lived here all their lives. Surely THEY would know what to do. They were way back in the canyons gathering more wood for heat. They got basic directions to where Randy was stuck and headed that direction.

By the time they found each other, it had gotten dark. They tried some of the things Randy and Jakob had already unsuccessfully tried—with no better results. Eventually, they managed to get our big black truck out of the maws of the truck-eating-sand-pit. They attached the come-along and tow straps to the friends’ blazer and revved both vehicles, with 4 strapping young men pushing behind our truck, and driving along a firewood and torn-out-sagebrush “roadway.”

Whew! Another eventual victory against the dreaded vehicle traps of the back road network!

Lithograph by Pablo O'Higgens
"La Carreta"

And as a post-script: This past weekend I visited the Camino Real State Park in southern New Mexico on my way home from taking an EMT certification test in Las Cruces. Good thing no one else was in the theater with me as I watched the park’s DVD about the trials and travails of travel along the 1600 mile corridor between Mexico City and Santa Fe in the 1600s and 1700s. At one point it talked about how many “carretas” (heavy-duty wooden carts pulled by oxen) were broken by getting stuck in either clay mud holes or deep sand pits as they travelled. I laughed out loud. Apparently back roads in New Mexico have been breaking hearts, breaking backs, and breaking vehicles for 400 YEARS!!!

Car-Eating Mud-hole Strikes Again

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car eating mud-holeThe dreaded car-eating mudholes in this area stranded two vehicles yesterday. In mid afternoon, Randy tried to drive the mission truck on a dirt road through a deep wash. The foot and a half of mud in the bottom of the gully almost swallowed the truck, but Randy valiantly managed to gun the engine and force the truck halfway up the opposite bank before it bogged down. Randy then walked out to the highway and caught a ride back home.

Later yesterday evening, after the muddy places on the back roads should have been frozen solid, Randy tried to rescue the truck from the mudhole. After fighting for awhile to rock the truck out of the hole dug by its spinning tires, he gave up and came home for some dinner.

After dinner, he drove out to try again. This time, he attempted to follow the tiny lines of roads on the GPS to drive beyond that wash and get to the truck from the other direction. His idea was to use our Rez Rocket to pull the truck over the edge of the bank and back onto solid ground/road. When that didn’t work, he tried one more time to back the truck into the wash and onto firm road on the entry side of the mudhole.

Victory! The truck was now freed from the clutches of the dreaded mudhole. However, Randy was worried that the ruts were so deep that the car might bottom out and get stuck that way. So he tried to follow the GPS squiggles one more time to get to paved roads in a round-about way.

escaping a mud-hole

a car-eating mudhole missed its "prey" earlier this year

He almost made it, but a sudden blind curve found the Rez Rocket swallowed up to the bottom of the car in yet one more vicious mud-hole. This time, he had no idea where he was or how far he was from “civilization.” Too many of the GPS “roads” disappeared when attempting to drive on them and he found himself following other paths that were not on his map.

When he called me to tell me his tale of woe, I was worried. It was getting late, getting colder, and he was LOST back in the maze of canyons and dirt roads built for oil exploration, with no homes or people for miles. (I was relieved that we are in remote, high desert New Mexico, not in northern Kazakhstan with our oldest daughter where the temperatures have been hovering at -50 F…but that’s another story!)

Randy started walking while I organized things on my end—make arrangements for Anna (since big brother Jakob is out of town this weekend), find warm gloves and hat, refill water bottles, email a few friends for moral support, scrape the ice off our big truck, and more. I finally drove down the highway to a trading post 6 miles away—the place Randy was headed for IF he could find it.

By the time I got there, Randy was almost to the meeting point. Whewww! Relief! My husband was no longer wandering alone in the dark and cold down unknown dirt roads—even though the dreaded mud-hole still held our Rez Rocket.

We stopped by to pick up the mission truck, dropped our big truck back home, and gathered tow straps, a logging chain, and the come-along. Time to do battle with that mud-hole…

When we finally got back to our Rez Rocket, it took awhile to figure out a strategy. I’m sure I heard the mud-hole chuckling evilly as Randy tried to find a place where he could reach something sturdy under the car—a challenge when the car was nose downward, deep in the swallowing mud. He finally gunned the mission truck to the far side of the mud, attached the come-along to the hatch-back latch loop on the Rez Rocket and the logging chain to the back of the truck. I put the truck in drive while he gunned the car in reverse…and with a little smoke and whining engines, the car finally popped out of the grip of the mud-hole.

Randy got both vehicles back across the dreaded mud-hole and onto solid dirt road again. (No, I’m not yet ready to directly confront those dreaded mud-holes…) We finally got home after midnight, tired but happy to have all 3 vehicles parked back in the driveway where they belong.

I’m sure, however, that those mud-holes are already plotting their revenge…

Notes from the Lybrook Science Fair

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Judge RandyLybrook School held its annual Science Fair last week. Randy was one of the judges. (They asked me to be a judge again this year, but I helped a number of the students with their projects and didn’t feel it would be fair for me to judge the entries…) Randy and the other two judges took time to interview each participant, asking lots of questions and sharing a mini-science lesson for each project.

1st and 2nd places were chosen for each grade. These students took their projects to the district-wide science fair a few days ago. We are still waiting to hear results from this event. Hopefully at least a few of our students will be able to advance to regional competition.

It is difficult for teachers to find time to fit science projects into school days focused on math and reading curriculums. Unlike in suburban districts, these children do not have families who encourage, mentor, and help them complete research, experiments, and reports at home. I spent a number of days as a volunteer at the school, helping a few motivated students complete their projects. What a privilege to be part of the “A-ha! Moment” in science for these children!

One student was somewhat belligerent when asked if he had completed his project over the weekend. He had been excited with his home-grown idea to bury meat in his yard and see how long it took for coyotes to find the food. But nothing came of that idea. Reluctantly, “Barry” chose another project to complete in the few days remaining until the Science Fair. It was simple enough—needing just a small neck glass bottle, some paper to set fire to, and a peeled hard-boiled egg. He managed to complete that experiment, but again got upset when a teacher suggested he do the experiment a second time, to verify his results.

Gradually, “Barry” shared the rest of the story: He had gotten into significant trouble when he tried to bury the meat for his first experiment. Then he came home and used more food for another experiment. His grandmother had apparently gotten quite upset with him for wasting good food. So, it really was NOT possible for him to repeat the experiment. What might grandma have done this time??

We don’t think about these difficulties when we as Anglos or employed Navajo suggest projects to the students. Sometimes what sounds like a good idea can backfire. Unfortunately, in situations like this, the student often becomes more discouraged and belligerent against academic things.

Bradley's SuccessOn the other hand, I worked extensively with Bradley on his project. He had an idea he wanted to try: comparing the performance of pull-back versus mechanical toy cars. We talked it out, made our plans, and wrote up an experiment. I found two cars and became Bradley’s assistant as he tested the cars over and over again. He eventually dictated the results and a report for his project. He put together a display board, and practiced what he might say during the project interview with the judges.

This was quite a stretch for Bradley, since he struggles with academic learning. Because it was HIS ideas and HIS experiment, he had confidence to talk about his project. He was rightfully proud of being sent on to the district-wide Science Fair. This was a huge accomplishment for a shy young man who often lacks self-confidence.

Two boys, two projects…different experiences, different outcomes.

May we better “see” what is happening for these students so we can help more of them gain confidence and become more curious about learning new things in the world around them!

Required: Flexibility

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In the past five days I’m not sure there was a single day that followed my planner and to-do list. I used to be surprised by this. But I’ve learned this seeming chaos is actually the norm around here. Let me give you a few examples:

chinese acrobat in a barrel

How flexible are YOU? (Chinese acrobat from NM State Fair)

Friday was supposed to be “Friday School,” an extra-curricular training time for local 7th and 8th graders. I was ready. I had forms to be filled out. I had scientific discussion time prepared. (How do alien sightings and crop circles support the importance of Occam’s Razor?!) I had bookmarked where we had stopped in our last reading time. I had background books and an art project ready. The one thing I did NOT have was any students. Sigh…

And then, Randy called. He had a vehicle stuck in the mud and needed picked up. Since I had no students here, I was free to go get him. Then I got my car stuck in the mud. It took forever and I ended up covered in mud, but we finally freed my car and got out of there. More laundry was definitely not on the to-do list for the day. Sigh…

Friday and Saturday also included a few unscheduled trips to town, juggling vehicles and buying supplies forgotten on earlier town days. Anna and I had projects to do together, but she got lots of play time with Jakob instead. I guess that’s not a bad thing, just not what was planned. Sigh…

Sunday when we left for church I was worried about the muddy back roads. And I was not happy with how slim a margin we had for gas. So, I drove the longer (paved) route to church, including a stop to fill up the gas tank. We missed song time and most of worship time, but we did make it to church. Sliding all over the long dirt access road when we left convinced me the paved (longer) route was the one to take getting home. We were supposed to join another family for lunch and shopping for Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes, but they didn’t show up after all. Sigh…

Anna and I squeezed in time for projects on Sunday evening, which meant she stayed up way past bedtime. Oh well, at least we checked a few things off the to-do list! Sigh…

Monday is always a busy day, made much more hectic this week by my subbing at the local school for the 7th & 8th grade class. For once I wasn’t too upset when after-school tutoring was cancelled. It gave me more time to get back on track with finishing up the to-dos from last week! Tutoring is supposed to be twice per week, but so far has only occurred once each week, canceled for a wide variety of reasons. This week it was muddy roads that changed the schedule. Sigh…

So, why do I share all of this with you? It gives you a little glimpse into our world. It also helps explain (I think) why so many Navajo seem to be “unreliable” about following schedules and carrying out plans. Life around here just does not go as planned. Planners and to-do lists are helpful in a general sense, but would drive one mad if expected to be followed exactly as written. Flexibility truly is an asset out here. With decades of coordinating activities and homeschooling for a large family, I’ve gotten good at “going with the flow” and using to-do lists as guidelines not requirements. It is more of a struggle for Randy, coming out of the corporate world. Over and over we are learning that to thrive in Navajoland one main thing is REQUIRED: FLEXIBILITY!

Flexible Chinese Acrobat

Sometimes flexibility is a beautiful thing...

Lawless in the Wild West

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The “Wild West” is still a reality out here in Navajoland. Far too often, when violence erupts or a crime is committed, there is no law enforcement to be found. This lack of law-presence means this can be a law-less place.

I’ve talked before about family feuds. Occasionally robbery or other crimes are committed, although most often these are not reported to any authorities. Alcohol is a significant contributor to this still being the “Wild West” – just as it was a hundred years ago. When people get drunk they sometimes get violent. Years ago, if that same drunk could manage to get on his horse, he could get home safely. Today, there are too many injuries and deaths caused by mixing alcohol and cars.

If an emergency occurs and 911 is called, it often takes hours before police (or ambulance) responds. Even once they arrive on the scene, the various officers may spend time arguing over who is responsible to do the paperwork, discussing in whose jurisdiction the event occurred – state, county, federal land, or Navajo lands.

This, of course, does not build confidence or trust in law enforcers and the legal process. Too often, these circumstances lead to more lawlessness in the future.

And then, the past few weekends, there have been sheriff vehicles sitting along the US highway, clocking on quiet Sunday mornings. One might think we would be happy to see evidence of law enforcement.

Cars Sheriff

I might be happy to see THIS sheriff in our part of the country...

I confess, however, that it angers us to see those officers here in our lawless land. We want to get out and ask them,

“Where were you last Friday and Saturday nights when the drunks were a danger to themselves and others on this highway?”

“Where will you be on Monday morning when the semis are barreling down this highway in a constant overwhelming stream, hurrying to start their week?”

“Where will you be next time one of our friends calls 911 for help?”

Some days it is intimidating to realize we live in a lawless corner of the Wild West. Other days we realize our attitudes are changing. We are beginning to join those who question the usefulness of law officers. We are starting to accept the fiercely independent views of those enjoy the freedoms of living in remote areas, even if that comes at the price of infrequent sightings of sheriff deputies…

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