below snow patches
Last night I noticed the nubs of the first Daffodil shoots emerging in the backyard. Over many years I used to take photos of their progress during this early period, including when they stoutly withstood the blankets of snow that frequented the months of March and April; once the first patch bloomed (there are many patches throughout the yard), I typically posted a photo and something like “and the blooms are on…” or “forth they burst” followed by Wordsworth’s ‘I wandered lonely as a Cloud,’ one of my favorite poems. I had to give it up in the last five years or so though, as only the surrounding neighbors’ Daffodils have bloomed while we’ve had simply the protruding green shoots. The Glacier Lilies always seem to come through, however, spreading their lovely yellow hue throughout the surrounding mountains and river bottoms. This reality, symbolism at its best, gives me hope in nature’s ability to retain some level of relevance in the modern era. In Montana there are countless wildflowers to view in May and June, spring being a special time of year for such activity.
the Third Month-
a ghostly Heron probes icy pools
Robins resting in a Willow
During the unseasonable weather, I’ve made it out to the local streams a few times with the kids and occasionally a rod. Caution has been somewhat exercised with the dog given the cold water this time of year, particularly in the Blackfoot and Rock Creek. The back channels along the Bitterroot have been a warmer option for Ajax (almost five months old now) to slowly begin to acclimate. It seems strange to worry about such things with a dog that has such a heavy coat, but pups get spooked from large bodies of water, particularly if the water is frigid.
late winter grass
fences and light rain
I took a photo with the phone of a resident’s field after pulling out of the Kelly Island area. This was not too long ago. I enjoy watching the wary lambs this time of year, another simple pleasure sometimes taken for granted.
The rivers are slightly up and chalky at the moment, although things have cooled a bit during the evenings again and it’s not been raining quite as much. There’s been no cross country skiing to speak of, though the kids are talking about maybe getting in a little downhill while there’s still the option available. I’ve not had much to write about lately, so it’s been pretty quiet. I’ve spent a little time in the UM gym to attempt to maintain some level of fitness and picked back up writing a book. I’ve compiled four or five chapters thus far, but it’s been touch and go as the enthusiasm has been a little off. I’ll call it the mid-winter doldrums. One’s principal occupation takes priority, though the financial world today is a circus. It’s cabbage and potato soup for dinner tonight. Maybe I’ll throw in some dried cranberries.
pale cold waders
unwilling to ford
Yesterday, Labor Day, I decided in the crisp September air to take out the Big Sur and ride to the Windsock from the house. This is an old favorite mountain bike ride of mine that I’ve done often over the years. The Windsock is a simple little indicator the Missoula hang glider crowd placed atop a tall Ponderosa not too far above the “M” on Mount Sentinel. It is a lovely overlook of the University campus and the river valley. Soon it will offer locals one of the few autumn foliage sites that includes colors beyond the surrounding forests’ Tamarack yellows; old Maples surround the clock tower and oval, lining Arthur and the other roads about the campus. Crazy Canyon was busy with many Missoula outdoor recreation types, most hiking up the trails or riding their mountain bikes. Many were wearing shells.
For a Lab, Wen had lived a long life. Her days were filled with countless adventures. The prior two Labradors had many days afield as well and at the house with the kids. The first one I bought for field trialing; a dog from BC, she had a seizure. The second, an English Lab, sadly died of cancer. The field trialing did not last long with the Canadian dog as time and commitment became an issue. I’ve never owned a dog with such energy, however. Non-stop go… The English dog had a great upland nose, but was not too excited about the ice in the Flathead River during waterfowl season. I picked her up from a former colleague. A litter from Susan Scales’ labradors. Susan, from the Essex/Suffolk border, wrote a retriever training book, Retriever Training. While in Missoula, she signed my copy “To Garland, Sorry I was so rude! Best Wishes, Susan Scales.” I enjoyed visiting with Susan and picking up a few pointers about her training style, a bit less harsh than some of the other methods. I keep her book on the shelf next to Tom Quinn’s The Working Retrievers, another excellent work.
At any rate, all three dogs were wonderful bird dogs; but, as happens with retrievers, each also became principally great family pets. Labrador attributes, obedient and excellent with children. As dogs will do, these animals found their way into our hearts. Companions, friends. Trustworthy, no grey. It would have been impossible to spread their ashes in all of the spots they had frequented, so we stuck with a few of the local mountains, the three main rivers and a few feeders. “This is to be a celebration,” I remarked to Todd, Erin and Seth as we drove along to a section, the confluence of the Clark Fork and the Bitterroot. “Think of New Orleans without the brass,” I went on… They weren’t quite buying it, but managed to hold it together as we tossed ashes into the river below Cottonwoods that were showing early signs of turning. Many old duck hunting and fishing memories flooded my mind. I told a story about a Raven harassing one of the dogs one day as I sat half frozen in a makeshift blind. While the dog was on a retrieve for a drake Mallard, the Raven swooped down and flapped its large black wings over the dog in a menacing way, as to say, “This is not where you should be, girl. Go back to your master and tell him to find a different area to spread his decoys. Now go, or on the next retrieve, I’ll fly down again and harass you with my long beak.” The Raven made for entertainment that day while I quietly sipped coffee from the thermos, observing the solitary bird as it scrutinized the occasional whitetail deer wandering through the green fields below. Great birds, Ravens.
As we walked upstream along what was once a rail bed, we watched a Bald Eagle circle over the large dark green pools of the Blackfoot. Not too long prior, Seth had seen his first bear in the same area. Also, not too long prior, Wen, Seth and I had found ourselves stuck on a rock in our canoe in the middle of the river. We sat there serenely that day as the clear river flowed by and had a calm discussion about what the best approach might be. I decided to simply jiggle us off of the rock and press on down stream. I’ll never forget Wen’s expression that day though as we sat there motionless. Dogs have a keen sense of awareness, and she knew that the old man in the stern had somehow for the first time screwed up while navigating the canoe. The section’s pretty boney in spots and the glare that day got the best of me. It wasn’t much of a production, but it sure made for another great memory with family and a dog on a Montana river. A few days prior, Todd and I drove up one of the local canyons where we’ve often grouse hunted. It was pouring rain as Todd drove his small Toyota up the bumpy dirt road. “I miss the old days of listening to the ball games on the AM while driving off of the mountain after camping and a couple of days of bird hunting,” I mentioned as we plodded along behind some fellow in camo with a circle on his rear plate, slowly driving a new silver Ford pickup. It was bow season, so I figured that was his story. We drove through one section where my rear derailleur on my cross bike unexpectedly and for absolutely no apparent reason exploded as I peddled up the mountain road one day. I had a pretty significant tantrum in the woods during that episode. A good reason to ride in the woods. Fortunately it was simply a coast off of the mountain to the bottom that day, where my wife picked me up.
Todd and I parked just below where the kids had camped and/or hiked with the dogs numerous times in the past. It was now hailing and the sky was black with a low ceiling. There are numerous old logging roads and skid trails that we call “fingers” which stretch along the mountain side above and below one another. Excellent high elevation habitat for Mountain Grouse. We began walking out one of the roads while I zipped up my shell as the weather was now blowing snow and sleet. We reached a section where the roads become paths and merge. The roads are old and eventually appear as paths with small Douglas Firs growing throughout. Hands in our pockets, and attire now wet, we decided to walk along an upper section.
Kaboom! I’m not sure how else to put it other than that. I was walking on the left, the uphill side of the road and Todd next to me on the right, just below. Out of the corner of my left eye, not 35 yards above us, I just glimpsed a great white flash and felt the percussion as the explosion occurred. We kept walking. It was that simple. I don’t even think we stopped. Immediately afterwards we heard thunder not too far above us in the distance, but it soon abated and simply snowed. “I reckon that was lightning,” one of us concluded, though it smelled a bit like sulphur. I mentioned the story of my father getting knocked down by lightning while on a green golfing in West Virginia. Other than that, we simply didn’t say much, deciding we’d check it out on the way back. Our ears were ringing, but we pitched the dogs’ ashes in some of the favorite spots in the area and took a few photos in the sleet with the phone. This was a pretty tough spot, given the great memories of the dogs working the area with Todd in particular. We decided not to make a production of where the explosion had occurred, simply looking to see if there was a fire on the upper hillside just above us – which there wasn’t. As we drove out, we stopped and I showed Todd how to lock the differential and what that meant in cases he ever needed to use the feature. The fellow in the Ford was nowhere to be seen. We watched one Grouse on the side of the road scamper off nonchalantly as we crept by. “We heard it down here,” Molly said when we got back to the house. “I heard it though the headphones, Dad,” Seth echoed.
It was decided at about three o’clock this afternoon to go do something outside. I reckoned a quick trip out Highway 12 to Fish Creek would do the trick – if for no other reason than to simply get the dog out of the house. As Erin and I drove west past the Woodman School, a favorite area filled with excellent cycling memories, we made a last minute decision to take a detour to the south. I had brought along a rod for Fish Creek or perhaps Lolo as at the moment during the afternoons the only options are the smaller streams; however, we decided to nix the fishing idea and trek into Idaho up the scenic Elk Meadows road.
When gentlemen deal sincerely with their kinsfolk,
then the people are stimulated towards humaneness.
Summer is rapidly clipping by in Missoula. The temperature during today’s evening jog was 32 celsius, a cool spell given the sweltering heat over the just ended weekend. Once again there are regional forest fires sending their smoke into the valley, just in time for the county fair in a few weeks. Our proxy is once more in place to buy a lamb during the 4H auction for a local pantry. Over the years this has become a tradition. Hopefully the Western Montana Fair will have clear skies and nice attendance.We’ve been paddling a bit in the canoe. We recently canoed a favorite Blackfoot River section down to Whitaker Bridge. During the brief shuttle, just following a climb which Seth and I cycled last year shuttling ourselves on the bikes, a large tan black bear bounded across the dirt and potholed road right before our eyes. Molly, Erin, Seth and I watched the animal bound up the hillside at a pretty full stride. “That’s the first bear I’ve seen,” Seth said from the access cab. This was surprising news to me. I still don’t believe it, really. Maybe so. Molly shuttled us this trip since we had Wen, which meant Molly got to learn a bit about one of my favorite areas.
There were a couple of fishermen at the put-in, one of whom was fishing. We visited briefly and then shoved off, Seth in the bow followed by Wen. Just above the first rapid there were two fishermen. One fellow, who had a full white beard, appeared familiar. I think he was using blue fly line. As I write this, I realize that is not something one sees too often on the stream; however, I believe as I watched his line roll across the water, the color was indeed blue. From the far bank, as to stay out of their hole as much as possible, I said hello to the bearded man’s fishing partner as we floated by. I managed to steer us through the rocks, which were poking up through the section. The water is “boney” with plenty of obstacles, especially during early August when the streams are running lower. A fun challenge navigating as long as the boy in the bow does not shift in one direction at the same time as his four legged best friend. I pointed out an eagle that flew over us. We simply watched the magnificent creature’s large wing span glide upstream. I pointed out a Bald Eagle hiding in the top of a Lodgepole, perching behind green branches obstructing our view. Eagles are great fishers.
A large bear, eagles and no pike caught. A fine and somewhat typical day in the Blackfoot area. Our put-in on the river was pretty late in the morning. The mandatory hoot period is two o’clock, after which the local rivers are closed to fishing due to the warm temps in the afternoons and accompanying low oxygen levels. Weather patterns today are not easily understood, but they are what they are… Well, to augment the summer reading, I’ve once again taken to Mark Twain and in particular, Huckleberry Finn. Classics are occasionally required to be dusted off and reread. One does not hear much about Twain today. Does he still makes the freshman high school summer reading list? Hard to beat Huck and Jim’s river adventures.
Todd piled in with some of his new found summer camp councilor friends and hightailed it over to south of Bozeman for some camping. Erin and I decided to take in the northern Selway-Bitterroots by driving up to the Saint Mary Peak trailhead, west and high above Stevensville. It’s a popular local option for quick access to the wilderness, following a ten mile or so drive. The hike from the trailhead winds its way up to the old forest service lookout, which, I noticed this trip in, has a nice new coat of white paint on its upper outer deck. The views on top are spectacular. The last time I was up, I sat under a section of the empty lookout during the late afternoon as low clouds and an accompanying storm set in. It was spectacular and unnerving as lightning cracked that day over the Kootenai, wind and rain pelting below the low dark canopy. Storms in Montana quickly blow in and seemingly almost as soon as they hit, they’re over; during the dry summer months, typically leaving fires in their wake. Wintertime clappers are pretty rare, but when they occur, they’re pretty awesome. The mountains are alive and always part of the system.