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 For 18 years I would get up long before the sun, walk out the back door, pick up an armful of small logs, kick open the crude board door to a tiny ramshackle 1920s trapper’s cabin, toss the wood into a rusty old cook stove, fire it up and hoped it would be above freezing by the time I returned with a cup of coffee.

 The Duck Inn, my office, was so miserable, member guests likened me to some early Christian involved in self-mortification.  Not so. I loved it, enjoyed it in my warm fleece, with a cup warmer and the little space heater between my legs as I began early morning calls to those just getting up and out on the East Coast.

 The most delightful moments were rare evenings sitting on the porch with Adelaide, when we weren’t entertaining any of the 7,200 newcomers or guests who slept and ate in our home over those 18 years.  We just sat and watched all the young people heading out after another days agonizing,  monotonous defense of the facts to play basketball, tennis, ride horses, go boating, fish or hike through that extraordinary property with its gazebo, teepee, tree house, rope bridge,  and endless beaver ponds – maybe on their way to the old homestead or grave yard beyond, where we had put a dozen pets, including Hopsalot, a favorite bunny done in by a fox, and Teddy, everyone’s favorite horse who was done in by lightning and then eaten by a bear.

 From that porch we witnessed a great many sights one does not normally see:

 The huge bull moose with a deep, blackened scare where some heroic hunter did his best on this dossal King of the forest.  He would often frequent the lake between our buildings foraging for his dinner on the bottom aquatics.

 Once, after joining my after-work flyfishing lessons, a half dozen interns were trying their luck when the King arrived and waded in for his supper. Not getting any trout strikes, the students blamed the moose for disturbing the waters.  They got in a rowboat to chase the master away. Not a half dozen strokes out the King looked up from his meal to find a curious sight: a boat coming toward him stern first (never having rowed before, they had gotten in the boat backwards). The King turned his enormous rack toward them and began swimming as if to greet the newcomers. The effect was instantaneous. Hunters no more, with Olympic effort they made it back to shore just as the King got bored and finished up his purely vegan meal.

 “A bear, it’s a bear!” some student called out. Bears were infrequent visitors because we kept our leftovers secured, but when they did come, we had Fish and Game come out, trap them, and take them elsewhere. But on this evening’s occasion, a particularly cuddly-looking one relaxed on the lodge lawn as dozens of interns ran for their cameras. Seeing them rushing back towards him from various directions, the bear panicked and scampered high up into a Douglas Fir.

 The students quickly and completely encircled the tree, cameras clicking. It was then that I thought I should get involved.  So, I leaned forward in my porch chair and called out the most effective line I ever uttered: “It’s OK, just make damn sure you are not the closest one when that terrified animal busts out for freedom.”

 Over the first ten years at the Ranch, we continued to slowly grow. But just at the point I began construction of a large addition to our office, to house more staff and students who would begin efforts on local county and city elections, our membership numbers took a dip.

 Our biggest supporters, the “Greatest Generation,” was dying out.  And the younger generations,  so stripped of civics education in our schools, that less than a third knew of their right to choose a religion, express themselves, or assemble.  Protections they were unaware that the “Greatest Generation” and every generation before them had fought and died to make certain they would have. These younger generations were becoming vulnerable. Exposed to manipulation and an AI future that without or something very much like it, would  first confound, and eventually bring everyone to heel.

 I did not see any of this until everyone went out in a blizzard to party.

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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