Prairie Lights: Heartwarming stories for the Yule season


Jerzy Strzelecki/Wikicommons

The unassuming fieldfare. No great shakes in his natural habitat but a sensation on vacation.

If Tim Blixseth was released from jail in time for Christmas, it didn’t make the news. The last story I saw was dated Dec. 22 and said that lawyers for the “real estate mogul,” as he is usually described, had asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for an emergency order that would allow him to spend Christmas with his family.

I’m assuming he wasn’t let out of the Great Falls jail where he has spent the past eight months. Is it a violation of the Christmas spirit to admit that it warmed my heart to think of him still stuck in the cooler?

Blixseth, after all, is accused of cheating creditors out of tens of millions of dollars after his grandiose Yellowstone Club went bust. He’s still in jail because he refuses to adequately account for how he made millions of dollars disappear, apparently funding his “lavish lifestyle” (another phrase that crops up in stories about the mogul) while his creditors got little or nothing.

Why should he get any more consideration than a common burglar? Does it hurt less when the thief, instead of breaking through a door, plays hide-and-go-seek with bank accounts?

Along the same lines, it warmed my heart to see a news story (nine months old but served up fresh on Facebook on Christmas Day) about the “day fine” system used in Finland and other Scandinavian countries.

Basically, it means fines for certain criminal violations are based on daily net income, so that punishment meted out to rich people is proportionate to that imposed on people of lesser means. The New York Times story making the Facebook rounds led off with the news that one very rich Finn was fined the equivalent of $58,000 for driving 14 mph over the speed limit.

If Blixseth had been caught speeding in Finland at the height of his moguldom, the fine might have reached seven figures, and maybe he’d still be in a Finnish jail rather than one in Great Falls. At least he might have been closer to Santa Claus, according to a widely circulated story published on Christmas Eve.

In other Christmastime news, one of the biggest stories out of Montana last week concerned the hot-headed Helenan who threatened to shoot his friend for posting “Star Wars” spoilers on Facebook.

Besides proving that Facebook has a deeper impact on society than the mainstream media ever did in their prime, the story struck a chord around the world because who doesn’t like reading about dumb people with guns?

My friends, and my readers, are not like that, thank God. To prove it, I will publish my own spoiler right now: I saw the new “Star Wars” movie on Christmas Day and I was astounded to discover that Captain Kirk is the father of Han Solo.

In still other Christmas-week news, it was reported that the Commonwealth of Virginia, displaying a lower tolerance for dumb people with guns than Montana does, announced that as of Feb. 1 it will no longer recognize Montana concealed weapon permits.

We do indeed have different guidelines for denying such permits, but the “Star Wars” story did mention that the dumb gunman who made the threats was arrested and charged with assault with a weapon. Shouldn’t that count for something?

Lastly, in what was without a doubt the best story of the week, the Missoulian reported that during the local Christmas Bird Count, birders were beside themselves when a creature known as a fieldfare was spotted.

The fieldfare, it must be said, is not much to look at. It looks like a robin wearing a spotted vest and it favors just the sort of habitat frequented by robins. And yet, as one Audubon member told the Missoulian, “If you chase rare birds and have a bunch of money, this is one where you’d get on a plane to fly out there to see it.”

Wow. I mean, I’d drive to Great Falls to see Tim Blixseth in an orange jumpsuit, or to the West End to see the new “Star Wars” movie, but hop in a plane to see a robin lookalike? Why all the excitement?

Well, it seems the fieldfare normally stays in Norway, Sweden and Russia. And no, he didn’t hitch a ride on Santa’s sleigh. Again, according to the Audubon member: “There was a tremendous low-pressure system off Siberia that buffeted the Alaska coast last week. That may be what got it to our side of the world, although why it came this far inland, I don’t know.”

What an adventure that little bird must have had. I only hope that he enjoyed his Christmas in Missoula, away from all his friends and all that was familiar, and probably trembling with fear that Donald Trump wants to have him interrogated.

Let me be the first to say that I stand with the fieldfare. And after all he (or she) has been through, I would advise it to stay away from Livingston.

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