A fresh batch of huckleberries to the beginning of a new year and especially to all those who help make First Night celebrations in Missoula such a fun, festive, safe tradition. An annual labor of love organized by Arts Missoula, First Night offers a slate of family friendly options – from art activities to live music to jazz and folk festivals and dance performances – from noon to midnight on the final day of 2017. Buttons to attend the festivities will increase in price from $15 each to $18 on Dec. 31, but as always, kids 10 and younger are welcome to participate for free. Here’s to a huckleberry-filled new year in 2018!

A delivery of chokecherries to Montana’s enduring reputation as home to the worst drivers in the nation. In 2014, 2015 and now in 2017, the car insurance website CarInsuranceComparison.com confirmed what many Montanans had already suspected concerning their fellow motorists’ tendency to speed, drive dunk and flout traffic laws. Indeed, the rankings (which relied in some cases on data that is several years old) found that Montana had the highest rate in the category of “failure to obey,” in addition to the second-highest fatality rate. Montana also rated in fourth place for drunk driving, sixth place for speeding and 29th place for careless driving, according to the website.

Well-trimmed huckleberry bushes to Karen Sippy, the City of Missoula’s 2017 Neighborhood Volunteer of the Year, for launching an important effort to help save Missoula’s urban forest. Sippy’s new nonprofit, Trees for Missoula, has raised more than $60,000 so far and trained more than 25 volunteers to help tend to the city’s aging trees. The group’s Volunteers in Pruning program has trimmed more than 600 trees already – something to remember as wet, heavy snow builds up this time of year, increasing the risk of broken branches and snow-felled trees. The nonprofit has also helped the city buy electronic imaging devices to track tree health, as well as protective water bags for young trees and educational material for private tree care.

Chokecherry cough medicine to the reappearance of the influenza virus in Montana, with 200 cases reported over a two-week period this month alone and at least 40 hospitalizations. Not surprisingly, the flu tends to show up more often in places with lower vaccination rates; so those who put off their flu shot this year should take note: public health officials say it’s not too late to get one, and in fact, the benefits of doing so will last through the end of the current flu season — still at least a couple of months away.

Huckleberries to father figure and unfailingly positive influence Geoff Birnbaum for providing guidance to countless youth over the course of his four-decade career as the head of Youth Homes. The organization provides essential services to children whose families have experienced abuse, neglect and substance abuse, including emergency shelters, therapeutic group homes and counseling. It also offers family services, as well as foster care and adoption programs. Over the course of his 42 years with the organization, Birnbaum saw it expand from a single shelter to nine group homes, and a single foster program into a comprehensive organization that tackles the problem of family trauma from a number of angles. More than 10,000 children in western Montana have benefited from Youth Homes in some way since its launch in 1971, and Birnbaum, who came to Montana in 1972, played an important role – often directly – in the lives of nearly all of them.