Contraceptives: the real measure of inequality

Aside from having my basic human needs met, what is the greatest freedom I have?

Since 2011, when I had my first child, my first thought when I see my belly is always gratitude.

Belly crop

I’m grateful that I was able to grow two healthy babies. I’m humbled that I got to choose when I conceived [roughly!] and with whom.

I’m so, so grateful to my mum for being into homebirth so I knew that was a possibility, and so honored that Anki was our midwife, and both kids born into water at home.

And I’m delighted that I have chosen to close that chapter, and that Haakon has a vasectomy, leaving us completely free and easy with regards to contraception [I’ll talk about the merits of vasectomy in a later blog].

No more wondering when a period is later than usual if a baby is the reason.

No more hypothetical moral grappling – if I were pregnant, would I abort?

I see this access and the ability to control when, and if, to have kids, as the ultimate luxury, and one humans have not been enjoying for very long.

I don’t care how many babies people have, when they have them, or if they don’t, or if they have them with many different partners, or a same sex partner, or raise them alone.

But now that we have such amazing options for contraception, I care very much about people only having babies that they want.

According to the US census website, the world population is 7.6 billion as of May 2018, and growing by about 180,000 per day.

And the United Nations Word Population fund says that 214 million women in the developing world who want to prevent pregnancy don’t have access to contraceptives.

We should want to fix that, because parenting is not for the faint of heart – a friend’s toddler once threw her head back and broke her mother’s nose during a tantrum. Most of us parents have cleaned a log of poop out of a pair of pants at least once.

Having and raising a child takes resources – food, clothing, money or bartering power. But it also requires support, a community, social capital.

If you have no resources, especially social resources, having a baby will not magically make them appear. And we need those resources – every one of us has felt squeezed dry at some point by the emotional demands of parenting.

Knowing this, sexually active women everywhere spend hours, weeks and months of their lives caught up with trying not to get pregnant.

More and more men are taking responsibility for not making babies, but since the evidence is written on a woman’s body she is often the most invested in preventing pregnancy.

In both of my homes, the US and Australia, people generally have pretty good access to contraceptives, whether drugstore condoms or an IUD, implant or vasectomy.

But access doesn’t necessarily trump culture. Although contraceptives are technically available in white, rural America, where I live, they often remain just out of reach of those who really need them – young people.

A conservation, religious undertone means sex ed leans towards teaching abstinence.

I just got back from a walk to the park, where I bumped into Tyran, who is not quite 21 and has two sons – a  four year old and an eighteen month old.

I asked her about her first pregnancy, and how that came about, how she felt about it.

“I was 14 when I got pregnant, and I had Lovell when I was 15,” Tyran said.

But Tyran wasn’t naive about getting pregnant:

“Oh, I knew how it [sex] worked, my mom told me, and we had sex ed at school,” she said “they didn’t give us condoms though, I think that would be good, if there was a clinic you could get free condoms, if they put them in our hands.”

Thinking back to being 14 myself, and remembering not being able to see past a week, I asked her if she just didn’t care.

“Yeah, I think that was it. In that moment I just didn’t care, I thought I loved him.”

Tyran, with help from her mom, the grandparents of her kids, and her youngest son’s dad, who pays some child support and has custody of both kids whenever he can, has fulfilled the American dream.

Work hard, fight adversity, not get an abortion.

Of her youngest child, Tyran said:

“His dad is really cool. A nice guy. We got married after 3 months because everyone said to me ‘why not, he loves Lovell,’ and I thought maybe god was giving me this, a family,”

She gestured to her youngest son, in his stroller, as we walked.

“But he [god] was really just giving me another kid,” she said, and smiled and stopped to adjust her son’s visor “he was conceived on a pull out couch. That’s kind of ironic, isn’t it?”

Tyran plainly loves her kids.. She sent me this picture of her sons, Lovell and Kale:

lovell and kale

Although Tyran was close to getting the contraceptives she needed, and turned a hard situation into a positive one, in some places, getting and using contraceptives effectively is an even bigger hurdle.

A family friend and doctor of sociology, Richard Barcham, told me a bit about the availability of contraceptives in Papua New Guinea, where he has worked on and off since 2000.

According to Richard, people in PNG are generally not shy about talking about sex and contraception, and tend towards being “pretty promiscuous.”

The biggest hurdle in getting contraception to those who want it, he said, is the power men have over women.

“The status of women is very low,” Richard wrote in an e mail “a large family is a big loyal workforce for a man to build prosperity, so men sometimes have multiple wives.”

Richard has heard women say they carry condoms in case of rape: he said rape is “gut-churningly and bizarrely common.”

Although the PNG government offers what it can by way of health services, most people have never seen a doctor, Richard wrote.

Churches and other aid groups provide better and more healthcare than local services, and because of religious conflicts, these groups often don’t offer contraceptives.

If a woman is offered long term contraceptive options, like an injection or implant of hormone birth control, often her husband must give permission, and “this can be a problem,” Richard said.

Richard told a story about working with a non profit group called Touching the Untouchables, who aim to bring health care to people in the highlands of PNG, only accessible by one road, which is “a bit dangerous,” because of road accidents and highway robbers.
“We often traveled in a District ‘ambulance’,” Richard said  “really a Toyota troop carrier and not anything like an ambulance at all. I recall on one occasion travelling in the front of such a vehicle,  with a health worker and the driver, while a group of village volunteers, NGO staff and their cargoes bounced around in the back. The health worker had boxes of stuff on her lap, and every time we passed a group of people standing by the road she would pass handfuls across to the driver. Behind us, people scrambled in our dust to pick up these tossed treats. On closer inspection, the contents of the boxes turned out to be condoms.”
A rising awareness in PNG of using condoms to prevent HIV, as well as to control pregnancy has made their use more popular. Richard sent me this link about a recent donation of 120,000 condoms to PNG.
The best part? every one of those condoms is strawberry scented!

 

If you appreciate your freedom with family planning, and want to gift that to another person, some organizations that provide contraceptive aid in the US and internationally are:

The United Nations Population Fund 

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Planned Parenthood

Pathfinder International

 

 

 

 

Darling jacket

I’ve never had a relationship with an item of clothing quite like my love affair with the down jacket I bought two years ago.

I’ve worn this navy blue jacket ten months of each year I’ve owned it, and when I’m not wearing it, its presence is upsetting Haakon because I slither out of it like a second skin:

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[I also hang it up sometimes, because I love him]

Back home in Australia, there is no clothing item that I wear so much – and that could save my life. [OK, maybe sun protection is on par!]

I spent the first few winters in Montana muddling through the unfamiliar cold with borrowed, old style down jackets, and layers of wool jumpers.

I was cold and hot a lot, because I didn’t understand the different types of cold yet – that the common cold here is between 30-40 F, which is cold, but not that cold.

I always wore leggings under pants in winter, no matter the temperature, and when I stepped into heated buildings, waves of sweat would wash over me, a feeling not unlike stepping out of an airplane into a tropical climate still wearing jeans because when you left, it was cold.

Now I step out in just jeans when it’s in the 30’s, feeling naked and so tough.

But there’s also the cold I had never experienced that hits in January or February- dry, windy 10 F, cold that makes your face hurt, which is almost impossible to comprehend on this fine spring day.

Cold that makes you realize your hair is not quite dry when you hear cracking as each hair freezes.

Cold that makes you run to try to get away from it, cold that makes your heart vibrate.

After hearing a story from a friend who is on the search and rescue team, I started throwing a lighter in my pocket when I went walking in winter.

This friend had searched all day for a teenage boy who had gotten lost while hunting.

It was early fall and the temperature was around freezing and the kid was disoriented when he was found, a sign of hypothermia.

The kids jeans were wet and he was wearing cotton socks and sneakers, and I remember my friend saying over and over “wool [which is warm when wet] could have saved his life if we didn’t find him. Having matches or a lighter would have saved him. He was totally unprepared.”

Well, I didn’t want to be un prepared.

I had chosen to live in this ridiculous climate, so I better learn how to survive it. I started noticing that when women went out in winter in fancy shoes, they put insulated snow boots in their cars in case they broke down and had to walk.

I realized I could not be prepared for winter by shopping at thrift stores, which is where all my other clothes come from.

I bought some tall neoprene boots, which are supposedly protective down to -30F. They are certainly cosy, and completely waterproof.

And then I bought the jacket. Extremely expensive, it is also light as a feather and seems like it wouldn’t insulate at all.

I wore it all winter with a sweater or two under it and was warm, even on the coldest days.

I wore it in the fall and spring over a light shirt or T-shirt, because in the mountains, the cold is always there, waiting, and the second the sun slips behind a cloud, a brisk and icy breeze makes you wonder why you were wearing a T-shirt at all.

I’m still wearing it in May, although daytime temps are in the 60’s and 70’s [20’s in Celsius] throwing the jacket in my bike basket when we ride to the park to pack up the ice skating rink and wearing it on cool nights around a campfire.

The companies that make these jackets always have advertising showing people out in the elements, rock climbing, running, cycling.

I reckon they should have an advertising campaign about how their gear helps transplants from hot countries just survive a north American winter.

Bugger cycling, I’m using my hard core performance wear to walk to the store and to dash from car to house.

I’m not the only one.

Pascal moved here from Cameroon to be with his wife, Heather, and their daughter Madeline [below, with Pascal]

 

Pascal

Pascal just got done with his first winter here. His wife, Heather, told me that he didn’t like having cold hands and feet and that he won’t admit it, but he spent most of the winter sitting in a rocking chair beside the wood stove.

Like I did, Pascal will have to figure out how to dress to be able to enjoy winters here.

I’ve passed Pascal working his job as part of the school maintenance crew over the winter, both of us hunched against the cold, both looking, I imagine, at the falling snow with the same combination of wonder and disgust.

When I pass him at the school, Pascal is wearing a big, puffy black jacket, and he waves, smiles, and gets back to flag raising.

Our jackets hold us down, despite their lightness. They keep us with our families.

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Heidi, Peanut, the duck and Mr Black Bear

My friend Heidi told me this story really fast while we were getting ready for a party the other night. It’s such a great story I just had to jot down what I remembered of it …

So you can visualize, here is a pic of Heidi last Halloween with her two dogs, Juan and Peanut [and Keeler, small and blond]. Peanut is in front, a tiny brown scruff of fur, and it’s important you know Peanut’s size for the story.DSCF2764

So Heidi was in the woods, walking her dogs.

“I keep this little knife in a sheath in my car, and some plastic, in case of roadkill,” Heidi began [Montana recently made it legal to salvage road hit animals for meat] so I’m walking and all of a sudden this big, beautiful duck flies straight into a tree in front of me and it’s lying on the ground so I’m all PEANUT! sic em!”

After Peanut failed to kill the duck, Heidi broke its neck, and, feeling very primal, got her knife and began to skin it.

“I realize now I should have plucked the duck,” Heidi said “but there I am, covered in blood on this little rise and it starts to rain. And then the dogs start going off and I look up and there is Mr black bear, right in front of me.”

Heidi started yelling to let the bear know she was there.

[A quick refresher for those not familiar with bears. It’s just like snakes in the part of Australia I come from: black snakes and black bears are generally less aggressive than  brown snakes or brown [Grizzly] bears. So Heidi did the right thing for the right bear.]

“Heeeeeyyyy bear!” she called at the top of her lungs, while trying to call her dogs at the same time.

Heidi dropped the duck, and ran back to her car with her dogs.

But after waiting there for awhile, she realized she wanted that duck, her hard won windfall.

“So I went back for the duck,” she said.

Hollering all the while to let the bear know she was there, she grabbed the duck and brought it back to the car to finish cleaning it up.

The sun came out, and a rainbow formed.

Then Heidi drove to our house, because she wanted to clean herself and the duck and not bother her housemate with the mess.

And I happened to be dragging two screaming kids up the stairs for bed and told Heidi that now was not the time for a visit, so she went next door to our friend Shawna’s house and told her the story instead.

Back at the party, Heidi finished telling her story and unveiled her potluck offering: pieces of tender wild duck cooked in bacon fat and roasted with the flesh of one of her homegrown spaghetti squashes.

“Now I’m thinking about it, I realize that bear had just woken up [from hibernation] and was probably starving, I should have left him the duck” Heidi reflected as we got the food ready for the party.

“You could have just tossed the duck to the bear and he could have caught it in his mouth” said Shawna, laughing.

The end.

Side note: I take interactions with wild animals seriously, and encourage everyone to keep a respectful and safe distance and not feed wildlife ducks or anything else.

 

 

 

The USA’s love of fake cream, and why it has me beat.

I love a good creamy dessert. Custard. Mousse. Trifle [What is a Trifle?]. Creme Brulee. Plain old whipped cream dolloped on warm cake.

But every now and again while we’re in Montana I’ll greedily load my plate with creamy dessert at a potluck or work lunch and after the first bite realize that the “cream” in a dessert is too thick, too greasy and too white to actually be cream.

Americans love whipped topping. And they love to share recipes using whipped topping like this chocolate and marshmallow pie which involves opening a package, a tub, a box, and mixing stuff together.

Made from a hydrogenated blend of vegetable oil and sugar or corn syrup,  whipped topping was invented by New York dairy farmer Robert Rich, in 1945, when world war two rationing affected the availability of dairy foods.

But it was actually the automobile maker Henry Ford whose company was the first to begin experimenting with making cream and milk substitutes from soybeans. Ford was apparently a soybean enthusiast and shared what he knew with Rich, who based his recipe on soybean oil.

Although neither Ford nor Rich were associated with the Seventh Day Adventists, who believe in eating a high fiber, vegetarian diet [John Harvey Kellog, of cornflakes fame, was a member of the church], the religion seems to be at least partly responsible for the early success of Rich’s soybean products.

One of the religions founders, Ellen White, wrote in 1873: “We have always used a little milk and some sugar. This we have never denounced, either in our writings or in our preaching. We believe cattle will become so much diseased that these things will yet be discarded, but the time has not yet come.”

White was onto something – milk and cream, in a time before refrigeration and sanitation, were a bit like Russian roulette. A bad batch could cause serious illness, or death. A person could even contract bovine tuberculosis through contaminated milk.

But not so much sweet whipped vegetable oil: I left this container of whipped topping on my counter overnight and it looked pretty similar in the morning [this is, of course, thanks to preservatives as well as a lack of bacterial contamination from not being an animal product].

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But why has fake cream stayed in the market in the US, while other countries, like the UK and Australia, also suffered food rationing during the war and returned to dairy cream?

The answer partly lies in the US’s historically low wages and the insane cost of private health insurance, which leaves low to middle income households with not much of a budget for food [several friends I’ve talked to pay around $10,000 a year for family of four, and that is considered “good” insurance, where the employer also contributes $10,000-20, 000 annually. I think I’d rather pay a little more in taxes and have universal health care].

As well as being cheaper than cream, whipped topping is convenient because it can be frozen and holds its shape for much longer than whipped cream [it’s often why the slices of cream pie in the revolving pie stands you see in diners here stand up so well, even after hours of display.]

Along with his whipped topping, Rich created a non dairy coffee creamer in 1945 and sensitively called it “coffee whitener” to avoid lawsuits by the dairy industry.

Coffee has been the hot drink of choice in the US since tea was thrown into the sea in Boston in 1773 – a pivotal moment in the American revolution and separation from Britain.

Here in the north west, people still drink lots of drip coffee [much weaker than your average Aussie coffee], and if they’re not drinking it black, they top it off with cream.

But an American is talking about putting cream in coffee, it’s usually a product called Half and Half that they’re talking about, which is half whole/full cream milk and half cream.

But even in the time I’ve been living the states, pre sweetened and flavored non dairy creamer has become a more common addition to coffee.

The picture below shows the scope of brand and flavor of creamer at our tiny IGA supermarket in our town of 900 – french vanilla, hazelnut, caramel, peppermint mocha …

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Some creamers do contain milk, and some are entirely dairy based but sweetened. Some, like Rich’s original, are based entirely on vegetable oils.

The comparison of dairy foods versus hydrogenated vegetable oil foods is not clear cut, except to my taste buds. Many fake dairy products are vegan, and could arguably be a better choice for the environment and animal welfare.

While I didn’t appreciate it at the time, I was lucky to grow up on fresh goats milk.

Our goats – cared for then by Pauline and Jenny, were fussed over.

I remember them being given spoonfuls of molasses on whole organic oats, sweet chaff, seaweed meal and, when a goat showed any signs of illness, garlic and bunches of parsley and other herbs were added to their food tubs.

Their milk was delicious [and not garlicky at all!] and my love of dairy foods remains pure because of my early experience of respectful animal husbandry.

I hope that the move towards smaller, more animal friendly dairy’s can continue, and spread even to low income areas like our home in Montana.

Just before we left Australia last time, in late 2015, the coffee shops around my home in the Bega Valley [Red cafe and Evolve cafe were two I noticed] started using rich Jersey milk from Tilba Real Dairy to make their lattes and cappuccino’s.

Using fresh, non – homogenized milk makes a delicious difference to a latte, creating thick foam, which is pretty hard to do with 2% milk fat, as is commonly used in coffee shops here.

When we were in Missoula a few weeks ago, I noticed a jug of Kalispell Kreamery milk in the fridge where we were staying.

Pasteurized but not homogenized, the milk had the same sweet taste and thick cream on top as Tilba milk [and the dairy says on it’s website that if a cow has mastitis, they dry her up to allow recovery instead of using antibiotics].

Kalispell is two hours drive from us, and Missoula three hours – a bit far to go for milk, but I hope local suppliers will want to stock this excellent local product soon.

In the meantime, if you are  searching for the fluffy and creamy texture that whipped topping offers, please try my chocolate mousse recipe: it only requires opening a few packages [a carton of cream, some eggs, and chocolate] and the flavor and texture are off the scale.

Chocolate Mousse

4 eggs, separated

10-12 oz/ 300 grams of bittersweet or 60% chocolate chips [or a mixture]

1 small carton whipping cream [half pint, or about 235 ml – I think small cartons of cream are the same size in Aus and US]

 

Melt chocolate in a heat proof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Whip cream and mix in yolks.

Add melted chocolate to cream and yolks mixture and mix well.

In a separate bowl, with clean beaters, beat egg whites until soft peaks form.

Then – carefully fold the egg whites into chocolate mixture. You want to incorporate the whites, but not deflate them – they are what gives your mousse its ethereal texture.

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Spoon mousse into pretty little cups, glasses or ramekins and chill at least 4 hours. The texture continues to improve if left overnight, but do eat it within 24 hours.

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I recently tried sandwiching thin layers of chocolate cake with the mousse and chilling the whole four layer cake for 8 hours and it turned out beautifully. 

 

 

I found information about Robert Rich, Henry Ford, Seventh Day Adventists, Ellen White and milk contaminants at these sites.

Ministry, international journal of pastors: https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/1989/02/milk-has-the-time-come

Soy Info Center: http://www.soyinfocenter.com/books/170

Obit of Robert Rich: http://articles.latimes.com/2006/feb/17/local/me-passing17

Bovine Tuberculosis factsheet: http://www.cfsph.iastate.edu/Factsheets/pdfs/bovine_tuberculosis.pdf

 

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are disabling our girls

I found the last few months of each of my pregnancies frustrating because I couldn’t pick up a box of groceries on my own, or carry my three year old very far, or even pull on my own shoes naturally.

Pregnancy has been the closest I’ve come to being disabled, and it was obviously temporary and ended in a pretty terrific way. But I was thinking about disability, and self inflicted disability this morning as I walked with Callie and her friend to the store.

The two were a magnificent sight – they had each tied ratty-haired dolls on to their fronts with scarves to mimic baby carriers. Callie was also wearing a pink tiered dress that used to belong to her older brother.

Callie tried to put on her shoes, but couldn’t see over the tulle. She tried to balance on the kerb, and couldn’t see over the tiers to put one foot in front of the other –  temporarily disabled by the dress.

We live in rapidly changing times for women. Thanks to Google’s COO Sheryl Sandberg, Google headquarters has priority parking for pregnant employees [but what about the rest of the world?]. I have friends who tell me that Disney has come a long way since my brief forays into its media in the early 90’s. I’m sure it has, and yet –

Callie’s friend brought over a favorite toy to play with today, a pony called Princess Cadence. Princess Cadence has a recording that says “today is my wedding day,” and “my dress is SO pretty.”

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I’m looking at this bloody pony [and no, it is not wearing a dress, so it’s a lying pony too] now and wondering how I’m going to stop Callie from consuming too much of this girly crap.

Over lunch, I told Haakon about the pony.

“It could say anything, any neutral statement, like ‘I can fly so fast,” I said.

“Yeah, or it could say ‘I have wings but no cloaca,” he answered.

The pony also giggles. This reminds me that a few weeks ago, Atticus’ best friend, a six year old girl, was at our house for a sleepover. In the morning, over pancakes and a conversation about water vapor, she turned to him and said to him in an unnaturally high voice “you’re so smart, I will NEVER be as smart as you!”

The bombshell was followed by a high giggle which ended in a question.

Kids are always testing out new ways of being. So I tried not to over react [but I probably did] and explained to her that there are different kinds of smart and to never let anyone tell her she wasn’t smart. 

I told my friend about what her daughter had said, and she commented that no one at the school had ever told her that her daughter was smart.

“What do they say?” I asked.

Staff apparently tell my friend that her daughter is cute, and distracted.

It’s not that I believe that schools are ultimately responsible for how a child sees themselves, but they are a place for equalizing. In our small, rural community, not every kid goes home to food in the fridge, but at school, all kids qualify for free lunch.

Atticus and his friend have an advantage when it comes to gender equalizing – a strong and positive female principal, and a kindergarten teacher who, in her mid twenties, has already partially lost nine toes to frostbite after a grueling ascent in Nepal.

And yet – when my husband and I go in on alternating Wednesday to help with math groups in the kinder classroom, I can’t help but notice that the girls are distracted.

They are distracted by silky blue sashes, scratchy lace shoulders and ribbons in braids.

Are we really here already, in kindergarten?

At 14, I picked up a copy of Naomi Wolf’s ‘The Beauty Myth’ and read it in one sitting. 

A recent re reading showed Atty’s friend in new light – shivering in leggings, pretty in red velvet, stopping to cry and dump snow out of her boots while Atticus, snug in snow pants, clambered happily over snow banks on the way to school. 

“The beauty myth is always actually prescribing behavior and not appearance,” Wolf writes.

After reading Wolf’s book the first time as a teenager, I went right back to rubbing weird smelling fake tan on my legs and being concerned about looking hot at school. I occasionally took detentions instead of wearing our school uniform, and convinced my parents to write me notes excusing me from wearing it.

But I was a teenager.

My parents had already gifted me a childhood with very little emphasis on looks. Until I went to school I wore track pants and dirty ugh boots and skirts with no undies so I could easily pee outside.

I had a heart to heart with my friend in which she argued that dictating her daughters clothing choices would stifle her creativity, and I argued there was a time and place for creative dressing and it was not school or physical activity.

Or – dress as creatively as you like, as long as it’s weather appropriate and won’t stop you from joining in on an activity. So long as you can still embody the ditty the kids sing on the way home from school: “a verb is a word, it’s an action word!”

Soon after our discussion,  I watched both kids one afternoon after school. It was cold out, because we live in Montana and the school year fits neatly into the nine months of  cold. 

Atty suggested climbing a big tree in the neighborhood they had never climbed before.

His friend, wearing stretchy jeans, a sweater and a warm hat, agreed and as I glimpsed them out the window, I saw her – a glorious pink and blue monkey, climbing higher and higher and leaving Atticus far behind.

So next time she asks I will tell Callie she can not wear fluffy dresses to the store. She might cry, and I will explain that I want her to be able to move her body naturally and climb on stuff if she wants to.

There can be times in a woman’s life when femininity presents some form of disability, but there is no reason for that to happen during childhood.

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Hunting culture, guns and the rural Montana town I love.

When Americans think about increased gun regulation, probably what they don’t think about is this – my Australian dad, strolling through a paddock with his 22 rifle. My Dad’s name is Ian and he is likely wearing short shorts and a worn wide brimmed hat. There is a herd of kangaroos under a big eucalyptus tree on the hill and he is heading straight for them.

My dad had the rifle before the notorious 1996 gun laws passed after the Port Arthur, Tasmania massacre which killed 35 Australians.

And he has it still.

Right now Americans can easily purchase the kind of gun used at Port Arthur, but most, like my dad, need only one gun.

Here in Troy, Montana, where I live with my American husband and our two kids, September brings hunting season and our tiny supermarket is packed with people wearing camouflage, toting rifles and buying fried chicken under the watchful eyes of taxidermied deer and elk.

Even after 12 years of living in Montana, the visibility of gun culture is a shock. I’d never directly asked my 900 fellow townspeople about the guns they own, but with a son in kindergarten and the frequency of school shootings, it was time.

I chose to talk to people I don’t know well.

There was a feeling of breaking social barriers when I asked how many, and what kind of guns people owned – one of the reasons gun violence often comes as a surprise, especially in small communities like ours, is because like sex, money and politics, guns are a taboo subject in American culture.

We don’t know who has an AR-15 in their closet next to the yellow umbrella, because it would be impolite to ask.

But according to our chief of police Katie Davis: “almost everyone [in this town] has a gun.”

A gun – yes – but how many own just one?

According to a 2015 study, three per cent of American adults own half of the civilian guns, an average of 17 each, to hunt, defend their homes, or protect themselves from government takeover.

Just two blocks away from me lives Mike Peterson. Peterson is in his early 50’s and has the average 17 guns in his collection, including some assault rifles.

Peterson and his wife have a strong Democratic lean, and support gun control, but Peterson said he loves how easily he can buy and trade guns now.

Jennifer Meyer is 34, and not your average gun owner – she was shot when she was 12 by a peer and shows me the mottled white scar above her right hip.

Despite her shooting, Meyer is a passionate advocate for gun rights and is currently petitioning our school district to arm teachers.

I have a rifle in my truck,” Meyer said, “and a pistol in my purse. It’s not loaded but I have the clip in there with it.”

Meyer, like so many in our town, uses her weapons to hunt. When I ran into Meyer last fall, she told me she had shot a deer from her car while on the school run.

I saw this nice buck in a field and I knew I could take the shot,” she said, “so I did and then I thought: ‘what now?’.”

Mayer laughs as she tells me she hauled her baby, strapped in her car seat, into the field where she gutted the animal and called her brother to help lift the animal into her truck. And then this badass mom picked her kids up from school on time. 

Gary Britton, a retired military man, will not disclose how many, or what kind of guns he owns, but said he owns “multiple” weapons which would be sufficient to exercise his second amendment right to hold off the government.

But for now, his gun collection is used only for putting meat in the freezer, and on any weeknight, he and I, and hunters everywhere open our freezers and take out packages of meat to thaw.

I could tell you what it’s like to live where it is inconceivable that my kids would experience what Meyer did as a 12-year-old: “I woke up on the ground, and my ears were ringing. That sound is so loud when it’s coming right at you,” Meyer said of her shooting.

But how do I explain the absence of fear?

Let’s legislate for what people use guns for every day, not for that faraway hero scene – hiding from the military with a cache of guns. This image is used in Hollywood but nowhere else. Hunting culture, on the other hand, is something to cherish.

On the hill, my dad lifts the rifle and brings down a kangaroo. The meat is lean and dark like venison and he needed only one gun to provide for his family.