Category Archives: Trekking

Winter Activities


There is a pleasant snow falling this morning in Missoula. Other than the salt truck doing its loops around Southridge Drive, the morning is ghostly calm, the visibility low. I for some reason still call the large orange plows salt trucks (the typical Eastern US method employed when I was a kid), though in Montana to protect the fisheries the standard spread is a blend of dust, sand and cinders. There are many rock chipped windshields out and about. The wind is evident as the flakes are fluttering down in a uniform slant. The weather has been a bit atypical of late with warmer temps over the last few weeks coupled with rain. The restoration of the standard February aspect this morning is quite welcome. Well, it being a long weekend and my having not written a post in quite a while, I thought I’d take part of the morning to update the ‘ol blog with a brief blurb.


As one might gather from the surrounding photographs, we’ve been up to some of our standard winter activities. This winter, however, we’ve had a welcome guest visiting with the Thayer household. Mariana, from San Fernando, Chile, has been with us since latter January attending classes at Sentinel High School with her ‘sister’ Erin, and attending a few classes with Todd at the University of Montana as well; at the University Mariana and Todd recently sat in on a two hour art lecture. Mariana indicated during an evening meal the same day that in the US it seemed there was more emphasis on grasping art history and attempting to understand art’s often deeper symbolic aspects. One student’s perspective following a US lecture… Mariana’s mother is an artist; perhaps this will be something to discuss when Mariana returns to Chile.

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Erin and Mariana have been taking advantage of all that Missoula has to offer, going out frequently with Erin’s senior high school friends to local coffee shops, movies, book stores (there are many in Missoula), and restaurants. We’ve done some trekking with Ajax and Koda in the Rattlesnake and other popular sections in the valley. The Bitterroot, Blackfoot and Clark Fork are each layered with ice at the moment, though as mentioned above we did go through a warm spell for a week or two. This weekend we spent some time north of Missoula, visiting Glacier National Park and staying at the historic Izaak Walton Inn. The Izaak Walton is in Essex, Montana, situated just downstream of the bridge and Running Rabbit Mountain where Todd and I like to put in the Rogue canoe and float the Middle Fork of the Flathead. The Rogue has a whitewater keel and is a blast on the local rivers and streams. We’ve not floated the Flathead in quite a while, however. The last time doing so, we saw numerous bears and caught quite a few Cutthroat Trout in the pristine water.


Glacier’s Lake McDonald was mostly frozen over, though where McDonald Creek drains along the Apgar Village to the south, the water was free flowing and not iced over. We took a few photographs while in the area, but stayed away from the section near the creek. Saturday it rained consistently throughout the day limiting visibility; but people were still out and about, including numerous who were ice skating along the Apgar shore. When we returned on Sunday, much of the overcast had cleared and we managed a few photos where the mountains were evident; Mariana was able to take in more of the Park’s splendor. McDonald Lodge was in hibernation, though people were in the area cross country skiing the Going to the Sun road. One fellow clad in a sable aspect decided to relieve himself almost under our noses. I took a few photographs of the snow covered cabins and of a pesky, almost obscure Raven lingering in the Cedars and Firs overhead. The portentous bird blended in quite well with his environment. I needed a better lens. Do we really need better lenses? Or, are things simply there, as evident as the air we breathe? I thought of Poe’s work as I snapped the photos.

My smartphone (one of the old style with a keyboard) recently quit accepting my password. I would reenter it, but for some reason it stayed stuck on the 3rd of 5 attempts. I relented but decided to downgrade to a flip phone. The kids think it’s pretty cool their dad has a flip phone. It works pretty well, though the pictures are subpar and email is an issue. Yet, it works well as a phone, sends and receives texts; there’s a browser, too. What more does one need? We’ll see how long the flip phone lasts, I reckon.

Life at the Izaak Walton Inn was first class. Izaak Walton was a 17th century English writer who wrote the classic work, ‘The Compleat Angler’. The Inn at Essex, Montana, was built in 1939 to help serve the wants of the Great Northern Railway, about which one can learn through the link to the Historical Society. There were many historical photographs, cartoons and stories on the wooden walls throughout the place. Surrounding the lower tavern room’s pool table were many photos exhibiting the travails of the Great Northern dealing with typical winter conditions along the drainage. Mud slides and avalanches were common as they continue to be today. There are many photographs of trains being led by an engine with a great shovel on its mouth to plow the large drifts off of the tracks. There are other photos exhibiting derailed cars scattered among the mountainside and lying in the Middle Fork.

There were many people cross country skiing on the groomed trails. The Inn offered trails with the principal three difficulty levels, black being expert, blue intermediate and green for beginners. My kids have grown up primarily alpine skiing (downhill). Some of us have done a bit of back country skiing (where one skins up the mountain and locks in the heels and skis down), but cross country skiing has generally not been our principal winter choice. That having been written, however, I’ve posted numerous posts of myself XC skiing with Seth and Erin off and on over the years (usually with the dogs). This trip we kenneled Ajax and Koda. Cabins were available in the area and we saw one fellow there on the porch with his dog. The Inn had gear available for rental, but we took along much of our own as well. Todd and Seth rented snow shoes and walked around as the balance of the party XC skied. Though this was her first time, Mariana quickly figured it out and was soon walking along fine and managing well on some of the downhill sections. A large, red snow cat came by at one point grooming the trail. I visited with the driver in an area where he refueled. Nice fellow.


Saturday evening it rained off and on consistently. We managed during a brief dry spell to walk on the trails under the lights. Many of the trails are lighted at night. The kids brought along a small computer which they plugged into a box and used for evening entertainment. Molly and I read books in the opposite room. I’ve recently been reading Dickens’ last book, ‘Our Mutual Friend’. It’s a long tale with a murky cast of characters ‘from all walks’. The Thames looms large in the story. An excellent work. The end notes in the Wordsworth Ed. of the book are well done; but, Marcus Stone’s illustrations are even better. For this little weekend jaunt to Walton, however, I brought along Knut Hamsun’s ‘Pan’. Actually, I’ve picked up a few of Hamsun’s works recently. Some of the psychology in ‘Pan’ is of interest. Glahn, the main character, is a Norwegian outdoorsman who desires the solitary life, spending time with his dog Aesop; but, he winds up in difficult situations governed apparently in some cases outside of his control. At one point Glahn shoots himself intentionally in the foot, but the Doc simply encourages him along. Hamsun, like Dickens, is familiar with the darker aspects of life. ‘Pan’ unfolds during the era of the Crimean War. It was a short, quick read. The artwork on the Penguin cover is of Munch’s ‘Jealousy’. Hamsun, like all writers, is unique; but, he reminds me a bit of London and Hemingway.

The meals at the Inn were excellent. I had an Elk Sausage Omelet Sunday morning and a Beet Salad with Spinach and Goat Cheese for a late lunch. It was my first experience with Golden Beets. Pretty good. On the way up on Saturday, we spent some time at the Huckleberry Stand in Hungry Horse. I enjoyed a small cone with one scoop of Huckleberry. The six of us bought a few knick knacks. Latter Sunday, after skiing and tinkering in the Park, I decided to drive to the Hungry Horse Dam to take a few photos of the Reservoir. From the Dam area, if one looks southeast above the Reservoir he see the Great Northern Mountain, beyond which is the Walton; in driving to the Dam from Essex, one has simply done a short loop. Below the Dam, the South Fork of the Flathead eventually flows into the Middle Fork of the Flathead (at the town of Hungry Horse) and becomes the main Flathead River which at Bigfork flows into Flathead Lake, a large natural freshwater lake.We took numerous photographs of the Dam and the surrounding environment. It rained. The road was a combination of snow, slush and deep water puddles. We did not stay long in the area due to the rain and the poor road conditions. There were not many fishermen ice fishing the lower Reservoir. There were people recreating on Lion Lake, which unlike the lower Reservoir, was solidly frozen over. Lion is a lake one meets as he drives to the Reservoir from the town of Hungry Horse. Following our stop to the Dam, it was a pleasant drive back to Missoula along the eastern side of the lake. The Missions were evident as well as the cloud cover partially cleared along the Ninepipes.hungry-horse-dam-in-snow-meltThis afternoon in Missoula the falling snow has turned to a steady stream of rain. Todd’s on the local ski hill with Kevin and Thomas, two of his buds. I’m glad I’m not skiing today. I will walk the dogs. Ajax is barking.

‘What do people do with them’? I asked the store attendant. ‘They put them in their wills,’ she replied. Earlier this afternoon we were in a local pet store and I was quizzing a clerk. I was amazed about how long the lifespan of a Macaw was. The store only had Parakeets, but for some reason the subject had switched to the larger birds. In fairness, when I was a child, we owned a blue and gold Macaw named Clarence; but at some point he was given away as he was fond of the lead pane in the windows in the solarium.

todd-mariana Chopin’s ‘Nocturnes’ play beneath the external distractions. Calm. Another fine 19th Century figure, Chopin. What is the appeal of the 1800s? Emily Dickinson’s poetry has been at the forefront lately as well. Fine writing, music and artwork – 19th Century.

It turns out ‘Brenny Bren’ (my mom) and Mariana share the same birthday. This was pretty nifty. Bren and Tom gave Mariana a nice UM Griz sweatshirt. It is nice that we’ve all been able to spend some time together between the traveling and the kids’ school and work schedules. Mariana likes books so my gift was a book of her choice from a local shop. Among the other b-day gifts from all of us, I gave Mariana a Missoula Sheepheads lid (some readers may recall these from the mountain bike racing days- I still have a few).gnp-feb-2017We recently visited the Elk Foundation and the kind attendant took our picture. As locals know, there are many Not-For-Profits in Missoula. The Elk Foundation raises funds through local banquets and other methods to provide habitat for elk and other animals. The facility’s displays are educational. In the past, the facility has hosted the local youth hunter safety programs. Erin and Mariana hope to visit the Art Museum before Mariana heads back to Chile.rmefThe computer is acting squirrelly; therefore, good reader, I believe this will be a wrap for what’s been going on of late. Oh, I’ve been dabbling in painting with ink (calligraphy). What the heck, something different to go with learning a few Kanji characters.

The Third Month

GT on Rock Creek

         bending bamboo
                  below snow patches
                           in shadow

         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.Spurgin Lambs

         late winter grass
                  fences and light rain
                           ewes’ lambs

         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
                           the Bitterroot

Bitterroot 2.28.16

Mountains and Water

Seth & Ajax XCThings have been somewhat routine this winter with not much of interest to write about; therefore, I’ve not been posting much to the journal. I’ve taken a significant detox moment from all media of late as well. I recommend this approach occasionally, especially during political seasons. Headlines, photographs, ads, content… adios. I’ve been off of the television for years. Better to read some old books and take a stab at the occasional sketch. I just wrapped up Woolf’s The Voyage Out, an interesting read. I have to admit I liked Woolf’s The Journal of Mistress Joan Martyn.Bonner Mill & Reconstructed Clark Fork in MissoulaAt any rate, I thought I’d post a few pictures today of the general goings on… These are according to protocol, which is to say with the phone and not a stand alone camera – se la vie. I think one get used to using the phone for photographs and the truth is they do a pretty decent job. When the photo is not that great, I simply chalk matters up to ‘Well, consider it an abstract,’ and find myself perfectly content. The photograph is really about preserving a memory of some sort. That is the gist of it, really. If one goes through his day wondering, ‘How will the sharpness of that last one be viewed by folks?’ Or, ‘Gee, I really fouled up the exposure on that one!’ he’s bound to be doing himself a great disservice. Just take a picture of the kids and the dog and move on. Having alluded to the dog, I might as well note that Ajax has certainly been front and center. Is this really a surprise, given that he’s a four month old Newfoundland? He has added a little zip to everyone’s step, truly. Seth, Erin and I were getting in a few cross country skiing excursions in the Missoula area until the latest ‘climate change’ which put an abrupt halt to skiing in the low country. Last night we had a nifty little burst of rain. Todd mentioned seeing lightning in the blowing storm. There is something off kilter about lightning storms in the middle of winter. Weather today is what it is.ET & Ajax XC SkiingI took the upper pano of Bonner and the old Mill site while traversing some of the hills above the river. One can glean the former dam site and the Clark Fork clean up/restoration in the photograph; below the stacks of logs which are lying in the former Mill’s yard. This is the Blackfoot’s mouth, where it flows into the Clark Fork River and where I used to fish for pike behind the old dam. Like most fishermen, I’m glad the dam was removed. Eventually the river system should settle and perhaps the Superfund Site cleanup will be deemed by most to have been a worthy project. It may take a while for some of the down stream residents to agree, however. As long dormant mining tailings were dredged up, some of the toxic debris inevitably made its way with the silt down to the next obstruction. I still can’t understand why the engineers decided to put an interstate bridge concrete piling smack in the middle of the Blackfoot River just above the confluence? Maybe there was no other option, but it looks pretty hazardous to water rec types in its present location.

Jax got his first introduction to the big water today with a trip to the Biterroot and the Lolo area in particular, another one time fishing hole. It was interesting noting people jogging on the east side of the river in the area? Also, there were four hikers high atop the eastern hills, another new sight… The temps have warmed up but the river is still cold and this was something I kept in mind for the young pup. We stayed in the shallow water. Jax did swim a bit, paddling in one of the many back slews. Newfoundlands have huge paws, even at four months. The geese were out and about, honking and carrying on. I thought about getting the canoe out and drifting a section, but decided to hold off for maybe a day with a little less wind.Bitterroot Intro at Lolo

The American Steppe

Antelope Season - MT 2015           When fishing season rolls around in the spring, we usually all purchase sportsmen’s licenses which include fishing, upland birds and big game tags. Erin this fishing season opted out. When I put the crew in for the annual antelope lottery, I neglected to consider that my daughter did not have a conservation license which was needed prior to entering a lottery for a special tag drawing. I went online to check the status of the drawing in the late spring and noted she had not been entered whereas the rest of our party, Seth, Todd, Bill and myself had each drawn tags once again for the annual eastern Montana antelope excursion. When I mentioned this to Erin, she gracefully stated hunting was not a priority to her whatsoever and that she was completely ok with not having a license this season. ‘Last year was a lot of fun, but it’s perfectly ok, dad,’ or something similar she had mentioned. I sensed the reality, which was that there were plenty of other priorities. Indifference. I sympathized.Bird on Stock Tank Post           This was on my brain as Todd, Seth and I plugged along Highway 12 between Helena and Townsend. I was pointing out the antelope that are frequently along the stretch for Seth to observe. He was along this trip for his first antelope jaunt. How nice it is to have Todd driving for part of the ride. I spent the time rereading my annotations in Michener’s work Poland. What a masterpiece. Quotes like ‘Laskarz, tell me one thing. Why do you and your old style friends still seek to revive the liberum veto?’ ‘Because the major problem of any free government is how to protect the responsible few from the pressures of the irresponsible many. Plato knew that. So did Cicero,’ Laskarz responds… The Seym’s liberum veto, one man. Michener allows readers to experience the hardships the Poles have experienced throughout the country’s history and thus understand the average Pole’s deep rooted love of freedom. Religious strife and carnage, the Teutonic Knights, Tatars, battle of Grunwald (Tannenberg), Swedish occupation, rampaging Cossacks, the plight of the serfs, the Turks, the Partitions, on and on… I have a lot of admiration for the people of Poland. One comes away from Michener’s literature wondering exactly how it is that men can behave so barbarously towards one another. Religion is often seen in the picture at some level; yet, also unchecked ambition. America has been fortunate not to have had the historical carnage Europe has experienced. I agree with the average European’s destain for war. All men should stand against war. Truly, over the years, what has Mars accomplished?Stock Tank 2015           After rereading parts of the above, I found myself ordering a copy of Poets and Poetry of Poland: A Collection of Polish Verse, Including a Short Account of the History of Polish Poetry, With Sixty Biographical Sketches while en route. Shortly thereafter I received an email from the bookseller (a third party off of everyones’ favorite electronic bookseller) saying ‘Dear Mr. Thayer: Thank you for your order–but I’m afraid I simply can’t find this book in my inventory. I’ve turned the place upside down searching for it, where it ought to be and everywhere else. I like(d) to pride myself on having an airtight inventory, but this one does seem to have wandered off. Please accept my apologies for the inconvenience–and of course a full, immediate refund. Please let me know if I can find a comparable copy of this book elsewhere. All the Best’. A. Clark. I reckon these things happen… Otherwise, it was a relatively uneventful drive over. Bill had gone over Thursday evening to attempt to secure a spot for his camper. He spent Friday scouting the Block Management property with some other folks from Missoula who are often there as well. The kids had school Friday morning so we got a later start. It’s pretty fancy staying in a friend’s camper. He texted us that half of the plug-ins at the sites were dead, but he managed to find one in working order. When we showed up, I parked in the empty site right next to the camper where one of the outlets was, sure enough, not functioning. Members of the larger Missoula party were on the opposite side, sandwiched between yet another camper behind a white 4Runner. The weather driving over was bluebird and in the high 70s. Saturday was expected to be the same, with rain and cooling temps on Sunday. We went to a joint Friday night called Jailhouse Pizza where I ordered a Caesar Salad. One of the Block Management landowners (whose son not too long ago died of cancer) showed up and was told, ‘Sorry, we just closed’. Bill got up and visited for a bit with Randy. Over the years we’ve gotten to know Randy’s family, having hunted on his ranch often during the trips. Bill has hunted the area for over a half a century. After dinner we visited over a campfire about the next day’s plans and caught up a bit with some past acquaintances. One of the Missoula regulars was not there with his boys this year, suffering with late stage pancreatic cancer. I spent part of the night shuffling gear and getting the packs organized with the boys. I only brought two rifles, not intending to hunt though I had a tag. Last season I had a ball with Erin, our daughter, teaching her the ‘sport’ of antelope hunting.Musselshell Valley 2015            Saturday, when we awoke, it was still warm outside. I actually decided to hunt in an old pair of Levis and a pair of Maine Hunting Shoes. Both light weight and simple. Often in eastern Montana in October it can be frigid on the prairie, with snow and ice accompanying the Prickly Pear and Sagebrush. Saturday, however, I found myself looking for sunscreen and my Glacier National Park billed cap. We had decided the night prior to start the day off visiting the Stock Tank, where numerous times in the past we’ve hidden and patiently waited for other hunters to move game in our direction. Typically opening day the place can be pretty busy; thus, this has been a productive option. Seth and I hiked into the area and sat below the familiar boards. Bill and Todd settled not too far off below to our northeast. ‘Ok, if and when they come, you’ll want to stay down. Don’t stand up. You will take a nice rest on the boards above the tank or on the pack. We’ll sit here and glass the grasslands above us and the farmer’s wheat fields down there,’ I remarked, pointing down towards the few pockets of timber in the area along the Musselshell River. Below the yellow and brown timber are layers of fields and swales. There are a few structures along the bottom, but not many. Hey bales and a few dilapidated old buildings rest on the northern edge of a recently cut wheat field. As we sat there, I pulled out a pencil and field book and briefly sketched the landscape below Old Baldy and Greathouse Peaks to our north. ‘What the heck? I know nothing about sketching, so why not try it’? I reckoned. We were situated between the Big Snowy Mountain Range and the Crazies. We watched two additional hunters creep not too far to our northwest and then settle below a small swale. Further, there were no shortage of ‘road hunters’ driving the area along a fence line below us. At some point, a herd of maybe a dozen antelope came up between the two parties below us and my first reaction was to have Seth duck and cover below the tank itself for fear of other shots heading our way; however, Bill and Todd knew where we were and did not shoot.

           The antelope fortunately were closer to Bill and Todd’s side rather than the strangers across the draw to our northwest. As the antelope approached, I attempted to get a quite excited boy situated so that he might be able to take a shot. The animals made their way closer and we noted a nice buck in the group, lagging near the rear. The small herd made its way safely above Bill and Todd and began to come around the east side of the stock tank. ‘Ok, do you see the buck,’ I whispered ‘He’s a really nice animal, towards the rear of the herd. Do you see him’? ‘Yes, dad’. There was a lot of ‘controlled’ excitement. Seth tried to get settled on the rest. At some point my cell phone started ringing. I think it rang maybe five or six times. I completely ignored it – but it never fails. ‘Ok, Seth, take the shot. Take the shot, Seth…’ I quietly continued as the animals moved now above us and up the hillside. Finally, he took a shot and missed. It was a pretty exciting moment and ‘first time fever’ was clearly evident. We laughed it off and were thankful no one below had initially fired in our direction. ‘I never even heard your cell phone, dad.’ ‘Well, now you know how this works. You need to try and stay relaxed. Don’t wait too long. Shoot while they’re in range, Seth’. I don’t recall all of the comments. As we peeled off a layer of clothing, I hit the dial button to see who had called and not left a message. An insurance company ‘soliciting’. ‘Hm’? I thought to myself. It’s a shame cell service now covers the entire area. Bill and I always recall when there used to be only one odd spot in town, right as one drove over a small bridge north of the football field, where there was reception. For many years the area had no mobile service. Now, everywhere.Antelope Season 2015 E MT           Seth and I had some jerky while I sketched the tank and the opposite direction, up the hillside. The sun was baking. Todd eventually dropped off of the hillside and down to visit with us after he and Bill hiked a loop hoping to maybe kick something off of the top our way. It was quite odd weather, reaching the mid-80s. Both boys were now in in t-shirts. Over the summer I bought a Fujifilm X-T10 with a variable lens to 50mm and a pancake 27mm lens. I had a lot of fun taking some photos of bears in the Rattlesnake and tarpon in the Key West area. It’s was great camera. I liked the many manual settings. I thought I’d use it for this hunting trip as well, but at some point during the latter summer I decided to donate it to the photography class at one of the local high schools. I’m not sure what got into me, but I reckon I realized that photography can get too fancy pants and I did not want to get that involved. So, I bought a sketch pad and a pencil and pulled out my old Elph handheld, and – that’s it. Occasionally a few photos with the phone as well. My truck is 12 years old too. As I told the instructor, ‘I hope the kids get something out of it. I certainly hope they get to use it,’ wondering to myself a bit about what really goes on in such classes. While Todd was over, we visited a bit about his first antelope experience, a year when he shot a doe. I took a few photographs of the boys after which we discussed how to go about the remainder of the early afternoon. Seth and I decided to hike up the hill and over the back. ‘I want to take Seth to where his sister got that one last year,’ I said to Todd.Eastern Montana           Bill was working his way around a section and back to the vehicle, mentioning his feet were hot. Seth and I had a pleasant hike, but were not able to get within range of a few small herds. One was a group of about eight or so which spooked back up the hillside and over the top to the area where Todd was hiking. We also ran out of water, at which point we decided to head back to the vehicle. We heard a few shots in Todd’s area. As we crested the hill, making our way down through some thick grass, for some reason I pulled out the phone and read a text, ‘Call me when you get this,’ Todd. So, I called Todd. No answer – machine. We continued down the field and saw Todd in the distance. Once we got closer we noted he was standing over an animal, his first buck. ‘Nice job. How’d it go’? I said. ‘It was probably part of the group of eight we sent back over the hilltop a bit earlier,’ Seth remarked, looking at the animal. ‘Look at this,’ Todd said pulling down his rear britches. ‘I sat on a Prickly Pear right after I shot him’. So, I pulled out a Leatherman and proceeded to pull out the small needles from upper back of his leg. We admired the sable aspect of the antelope’s mask after which I proceeded to remove the two hind quarters while Bill worked his way up to us with more water. Over the years, Bill taught us a nice method for field dressing an antelope which is ‘paunchless,’ removing all four quarters, neck meat and the backstraps. Bill helped Todd dress the balance of his quarry. We then place the meat in pillowcases and bungee corded it to the packs to hike out. This method gets the hide off quickly.
           One of the items I like about the area of Block Management where we hunt is that there are no motorized craft allowed. Walk in / walk out. No four-cylinder fumes and racket. That having been written, of course, Saturday we noted a vehicle driving a loop into the section where we were hunting. This of course was not allowed, but occurred. We hiked down to Bill’s pickup and pondered the balance of the day. We were parched. It being almost dusk, we decided to call it and see how the others fared. Two of the five in the other Missoula party had not filled their tags; otherwise it had been a pretty productive day.            We decided to attend the local Moose Lodge fundraiser, an annual dinner for the hunting season weekend opener. It’s a nice facility and usually a nice meal. This go round was no exception. Chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, green beans, roll, beats, cole slaw – the works. ‘What do the Moose do with the proceeds from the meal’? I asked the ticket lady. ‘Mostly use it to maintain the facility. We host funeral receptions and weddings. Childrens’ activities, too’. She said over the racket of many other conversations. I decided, given the activities in the facility, to go ahead and indulge. I sat across from a larger member of the group and another fellow who wore a ball cap with Hong Kong printed in large type across the front. Immediately behind these two was the County Sherriff. It was a great meal. I cleaned my plate. Back at the camp while sitting around the campfire chatting I got to see photograph of a mountain lion on someone’s phone. The lion had situated itself directly behind the fellow while he was elk hunting in the Blackfoot. Another fellow pulled out his cell phone and discussed the constellations. ‘Do you see that? Do you know what it is?’ he asked, directing a green laser light beam from the tip of his cell phone towards a clearly moving satellite. ‘Is that the one that transmits back the color of my piss’? I asked, as it moved over head. There was muffled laughter around the campfire. ‘That’s the Space Station. It’s 410 miles away,’ he continued, following it with his little pointer like a professor in a large introductory statistics lab. The classrooms with two hundred and fifty freshmen stacked in an auditorium like facility… ‘Oh, that’s one that gives me hope,’ I said, following his laser beam. ‘It demonstrates that Russia and the US can get along. There’s hope yet for the world,” I continued, somewhat sarcastically, but not entirely. ‘Watch, it will disappear shortly,’ he said as, sure enough, it flickered out. I found it hard to believe it was only 400 miles away, but it was pretty bright. He discussed his phone’s App which details the satellites overhead. We then watched what this fellow described as a meteor shower. I watched one falling star fade into the oblivion as it streaked towards earth. Todd then told to those of us who remained around the fire his story about the antelope he ‘harvested’. His stalk took a little effort, but he managed the job. Once in Bill’s camper, we read for a bit and then set the alarms for Sunday morning to get up at 5AM. For some reason both Friday and Saturday evening I did not sleep too well. It certainly was not the quarters, as we were living large in a full camper. I was sleeping on a bed, no less.Stock Tank           The original plan had been to hunt both Sunday and Monday if need be for the kids to fill their tags. In the past we’d often hunted through Tuesday, though preferring to get out of town typically by Monday evening. Rolling out of the sack Sunday, Seth and Todd were both pretty tired from all of the hiking the day prior. Bill had gotten access to the far south end of the area, a private ranch that abutted the Block Management area where we were hunting. He visited Thursday evening with the son of the rancher who formerly owned the place. The son mentioned to Bill his father had unfortunately recently died from COPD. We were pretty excited the son gave Bill permission to hunt on the property. The son mentioned a former sheepherder with which Bill was familiar was now in the hospital. The sheepherder was a colorful character. One year, Bill and a couple of other Missoula hunters (with their kids) came across this herder. He rode on his horse wearing chaps, boots, a leather vest and absolutely nothing else. Long hair and enlarged pierced earlobes with rings. It was snowing and frigid on the prairie when they crossed paths. Bill says the kids that day along with the fathers were absolutely shocked. Speechless. Nothing was said. They just looked at one another, then he rode off. ‘That Shepherd’s still alive?’ I asked Bill while we were at the pizza joint Friday evening when Bill mentioned getting access to the property. ‘Yep.’ ‘Where is he? In Billings? In a hospital around here? Let’s go see him!’ I insisted. ‘I did not ask which hospital he was in,’ Bill concluded.

           After waking up Sunday morning, I read a passage from a poem in Judith Ryan’s Cambridge Introduction to German Poetry – “Uber den Untergang der Stadt Freystadt” (written in 1637 by Andreas Gryphius). The passage alludes to the horrors of war and its aftermath – the burning of Freystadt during the Thirty Years War.

‘…Doch schweig ich noch von dem / was arger als der Tod/
Was grimmer den die Pest / und Glutt und Hungersnoth
das auch der Seelen Schatz / so vilen abrezwungen’.

‘Yet still I do not speak of what is worse than death,
more horrible than the plague and fire and famine:
that the treasure of the soul has been taken from so many’.

            The poem was an interesting way to start the morning. We arrived at the rancher’s property early. The place was grey and quiet. Desolate, almost. We could hardly open the truck doors the wind was howling so badly. The weather report the evening prior had called for dangerous wind levels and sporadic rain on Sunday. We put on rain coats/shells and headed up into the canyon. Bill went low and to our east. I went with Todd and Seth high along a small ridge line. The straps on the two rifles both broke. On one the screw stripped and pulled out of the stock. The other, the electrical tape had worked itself off during Todd’s crawling through the prairie the day prior. I re-taped the .308 but said the heck with the strap on the .270 after it came out a second time. Of course, I was not intending on using the rifle anyway, hoping to have Seth do the hunting during the morning hike. We took some photographs of the area while sitting on a ridgeline. We could hardly walk, it was blowing so badly. This affected the ability to do much looking through the binoculars as well. Finally I saw a few antelope in the distance with the glasses. We got up on the animals and noted they were both does. We had either sex tags and only Sunday and Monday morning were remained for hunting, so I mentioned to Seth that he may want to shoot a doe for the meat. It would be his first animal. As it turned out this consternation did not matter as we were not able to sneak up on the wary animals. Antelope are extremely observant. They have large eyes and great eyesight. Great awareness of their surroundings and environment. Also, a great sense of smell. Hard to sneak up on. During these hunts there is always a lot of crawling across the countryside. After these two animals spooked, we laid down on a ridge and watched three hunters across the valley try to sneak up on a second group of a half dozen or so. Up a distant hill the antelope rapidly went, easily outsmarting the three hunters. The critters were headed towards the Stock Tank area where we had hunted the day prior. Bill managed to locate us finally after we yelled into the phone over the great wind gusts. After a brief nap on the prairie, we decided to head off of the private ranch. We decided to drive the county road, glassing some of the western border of the Block Management area. As soon as we started driving a small group of antelope bounded across the road in front of us and onto some off limits property. ‘Hey, stop by that wind mill. I want to take a picture of it on our way around,” I mentioned, while simultaneously watching the lope bound off in the distance towards where we had earlier watched a brush fire to the south. ‘What do they use those for, anyway’? I asked. ‘It’s a well, for water,’ Bill said. So, I took a few photographs.Windmill Well           We then drove by a school owned section of land which is public accessible with no school structures. I guess the school system gets revenues from leasing the property. We noted a large herd to the west on private ground standing in the middle of a rancher’s field. The animals were completely calm as the wind rocked the truck while we glassed. Finally, we arrived back to the stock tank are on the Block Management. Driving in, I noticed one antelope in the distance on the hillside. ‘I can’t believe they’re standing out in the wind like this,’ Bill mentioned at some point. It was odd. Seth and I got out and discussed how to go about sneaking up on these animals. It was pretty open, with a bit of broken ground in places. We both took packs, Seth the rifle. I could not hold still to glass the small herd with the binoculars. There were maybe seven lying down and on two there were horns. We bent over and hiked in. When below a swale, we decided to try to go over the top to see if the antelope were still there. I did not see the animals, so, frustrated, I stood up looking in all directions. ‘What the hell? Where’d they go’? I asked myself. Then, I saw they were still there, further off than I realized, all wisely lying down now. I dropped back down to the dirt and brush, and motioned to Seth to come up. ‘Ok, stay behind me and do what I do. Okay’? Crawling on all fours while looking for cactus and other such things, we made our way in the howling wind closer to the antelope. We were not able to get very far, however, as the antelope all got up and stared at us. Seth took a rest on the pack while I attempted to help brace the rifle stock with my right hand, this while simultaneously sticking a finger from my left hand in my ear. It was just blowing too much. Seth took a shot, but missed and followed with one more, again missing cleanly. Somewhat dejected, we walked back to the vehicle. ‘Don’t worry about it Seth. Todd has been out here 6 years and killed two antelope. It’s not easy. We then saw a large herd in the lower grain field area and pursued them to no avail as well..Sagebrush E Mt            It had been a great weekend. My youngest was fortunate to have seen many animals and gained many new valuable experiences. He learned about antelope and their peculiar behavior. He learned about the American Steppe – the antelope’s environment. He learned a bit about sheep and cattle ranching, both of which are abundant in the area. He learned about the great wind farms on the surrounding hillsides managed by the Hutterites. In short, it had been another wonderful trip to eastern Montana. I will conclude, however, with the remark that similar to the odd weather patterns, animal behavior seems to be almost in a non-natural state. It is perplexing to see how animals behave today. The birds and deer in the backyard. Magpies, Dogs. Pick an animal. This is evident not just in our ‘neck of the woods,’ but in other parts of the country we travel to as well. It’s not something explainable. One day while elk hunting a few years back, a friend of mine remarked, ‘Now why is that elk standing there, alone in this place’? It was an interesting question which I’ve thought about more than once. Perhaps the elk was simply just there, browsing as elk do. I do wonder, though, is nature somehow in a controlled state today? Can there be such a thing? Even the fishing feels canned on some days. If this somehow is the case, it will only be temporary. My faith in nature remains strong. I’m moving towards a sketch pad and maybe writing, gradually away from the hunting rifle. I can’t explain why, but it is the case. We’ve had a great deal of fun in the field over the years. There will probably continue to occasionally be a hunt trip or two as my children take up the heritage that’s been passed down. That, however, will be up to the kids.

The Ninth Month

Fall 2015           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.

           It seemed there were an inordinate amount of folks walking their dogs, which usually is not the case along the upper sections. This was a bit odd, but stimulated me to go ahead and write a quick journal entry. September is a favorite time of year, the ninth month. The cool morning temperatures indicate seasonal change. Harvest. Renewal. September was the month my father and brother were born. I thought about those two as I made a second ascent. I also thought about our most recent three labrador retrievers, two of which had passed away a while ago, their ashes in containers resting on the home office window sill. Recently Wen, the third, was put down. Things are odd today, but I’ll type that age and senility, perhaps a small dose of madness, had found their mark. Humaneness. Recognizing what is proper and listening to one’s innate sense. Occasionally one has to wade back to the origin. Wen at times wandered around lost when we walked in the woods. Finally, without a great deal of pain, she could no longer get up in the morning. Walking became difficult. It was a proper decision, but putting her down was painful. Two hours after doing so the sky in Missoula darkened. A violent thunderstorm blew into the city. As hail pelted the town, the strong winds caused trees and power lines to to snap. Our shingles were scattered in the neighbors’ yards. It was three days before our power was restored.
           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.           In 1992, my parents came out for University commencement. I managed some time fishing with my father in the Kelly Island area (confluence mentioned above) during that week. It was a special memory, casting hoppers into the bank while a young Black Lab strolled along as well. Dad caught quite a few trout using a live presentation. We gave the large Rainbows to my neighbors at the time. The dog we fished with that day was accidentally shot and killed later that fall by one of my University classmates during a pheasant hunt on his sheep ranch near the North Dakota state line. A terrible tragedy. We buried the dog on his property.
           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.           Not long after the Eagle, we watched a red raft came through the area, shortly followed by a blue one as well. One solo fisherman’s silhouette was seen casting line not too far below where a small creek feeds into the main channel. We recalled fine trout fishing with the dogs along the water below the steep bank, fighting the willows and slippery talus. After spreading some ashes in the area, we then hiked into the fields below Gold Creek Peak, not too far below the Flathead Reservation and Mission Range. Another favorite spot filled with special memories of times spent with the Canadian Lab grouse hunting years ago. “One year, Seth, I came rapidly around the bend on my mountain bike while riding on a gated logging road just above this place and immediately before me was a large brown sow and two cubs,” I explained as we walked along the narrow creek and through what was at some point someone’s homestead, now an old cabin roof and two other rotted structures. “Both cubs bound off the road and down the mountain. Somehow, I managed to slow the forward momentum and turn the bike around. Peddling rapidly in the opposite direction as the sow chased me, gradually I could only hear her loud growls throughout the canyon.” I sprinkled some of the residue in one of the small holes I used to fish with Bead Head Hare’s Ear Nymphs when the main river was off color and high during the spring runoff. This wrapped up the day. Everyone seemed to hold it together.9-5-15 Miller Dog Dy           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.Autumn 2015