Tomorrow is my first screening colonoscopy. I am three years late for this party. Between our travel schedule and Helena’s former shortage in persons that probe I couldn’t get this classic right of passage into ‘you’re over the hill’ scheduled. Here are some flood photos in honor of my personal flush.
My 53rd birthday has come and gone since I last posted. Burt and I have been taking advantage of the extra long days and wandering far and wide taking in the Montana scenery. The old saw of “If you don’t like the weather in Montana…just wait 15 minutes” is proving itself true. We’ve had balmy, warm. sunny days interspersed with snow and gilded with rain. Three solid days of rain reignited the local flooding and sapped our solar power batteries. I keep telling Burt that we’re reducing our carbon footprint by refusing to fix the furnace and going without power when the sun stays away for too long. It’s helped me toughen up.
On my actual birthday we birded, played Bridge, went to a new restaurant and took in a show. It was all enjoyable but the Bridge. The Thursday crowd is a tough one and Burt and I were shredded. Proverbial ribbons or mincemeat or chum. Pick your favorite ass-kicking analogy. Our pictures will be in the dictionary next to chump.
Two days later we rejoiced in helping Montana celebrate the 25th anniversary of its first Pride parade. I remember the first event and it gives me hope to see how much has improved in twenty five years. There is so much wrong and too much work still to be done to secure human rights for everyone but I was uplifted by the energy of Saturday’s event. Despite heavy rain and frigid temperatures the parade was well attended and local business were busy. Our spirit of love kept us all warm.
There’s a very special bird visiting Helena right now. While common in much of the US, Mexico and Central America the green heron is a rare visitor to this part of the country. This is the same species (or not) of bird found in the Galapagos Islands. Out on the remote islands it can be seen in two distinct plumages and is called the lava heron or striated heron or green heron. Depending on your predilection. Burt and I saw many many many green herons on our two trips to the Galapagos. Today we will not discuss if we should lump or split this lovely bird and it’s kith and kin. We shall marvel at the fact that this individual said, “I’m gonna check out a new place.” My ebird research reveals the closest record was from 2016 up in Cascade.
How we found this bird is a testament to doing science every day and the motto of “every bird counts, count every bird.” The book Lab Girl certainly has been on my mind as I consider all the work volunteers around the world are doing to count birds. Almost every list is mundane. Robins, house finches, starlings, Eurasian collared doves…blah bland blah. But the science is found in the mundane. Data is boring but must be collected so we can see the meaning in the big picture. Each individuals list is meaningless but together something is learned. Our lone green heron is a blip. He’s meaningless to science but he’s a juicy reward for us.
Burt and I had both had long busy days. He worked on the remodel job. I walked 4 1/2 miles to town and then spent two more hours cleaning an older friend’s home. At lunchtime Burt and I met for Bridge. The unit game started with a free lunch and a commotion. The director and her minions were out of sorts. There was yelling, a kerfuffle over the wrong movement. Boards were seen by the wrong people. More yelling. I kept my head down and mouth shut but I was rattled. Then I had a long sequence of missed heartbeats or palpatations. I became confused and couldn’t remember what I was doing and ruined a couple of hands from complete brain fog. My mood was dour and my head and chest ached. Burt wanted to leave. I told him I’d rather die playing Bridge than go through another endless round of tests in the ER. He let me stay. It is clear that emotional stress with a mix of physical exhaustion is my main trigger. With my new meds just getting underway I want to just wait a bit before heading to the doctor again. Bridge wrapped up with us not in last place. That is the best we can hope for on a good day. Considering I couldn’t remember if aces were out in any suit of any hand it was a great day.
Afterwards we had an hour and a half to pass before meeting friends for an early birthday celebration. I suggested we take the dogs to the new Ten Mile Creek Park. Elvis and Olive could enjoy the new off-leash area and we could see some birdies. And that’s how we came to spot a rare visitor in the jungles of Helena. Burt said, “I see some kind of heron over there.” I peeked and thought, “It seems very familiar. It reminds me of the striated heron in the Galapagos.” Well, that’s because it was the same species of bird (if you’re a lumper). A quick look in iBirdPro revealed that we had found a green heron in an unusual location. What an improvement over bridge. Calm brain on a gentle walk. I felt like I was firing on all cylinders again.
Here’s a fact about the green heron that I should have known but didn’t: Green herons are tool users. They use bits of leaves or bread or other fishies to lure in fish to eat. They are bait fishermen. No wonder we like them.
I just ate a book. I mean I that. I consumed it and it is now in my DNA. Hope Jahren has written a memoir of beautifully melded failure and success, helplessness and victory, science and love. I found it so relatable that for the first time ever I thought, wow, I’ve got to write her a letter and say, “Thanks for writing this book.” So I did. And I’ll tell you, this book is worth your time.
I came by this book accidentally when a friend handed it to me and said she couldn’t get going on it and maybe I would like to try. I had no idea what I was getting into. Apparently this book is the rage on the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math education) for Women circuit. I was out of the loop. Dr. Jahren takes us on her journey from a lonely childhood where she worshiped science through her education and onto career in academia. She even landed at Georgia Tech for a few years. Meanwhile she shares in crystal clear and devastating detail the hurdles of sexism, mental illness, and the difficulties of a career in scientific research. She’s quick witted and to the point. Meanwhile there’s a bunch of cool tree information interspersed that makes you see the world of trees in a whole knew way. Trees as nurturing communities and cunning competitors. Trees as vital to our survival. It all relates back to how we as humans live.
In some way I feel less along in the world by having read her story. I once stood on the precipice of a career in academia. I was approached by two professors to consider continuing on in grad school as their student. It was flattering but I was sick of it all. I felt like they needed to fill the female quota and I was just standing there looking malleable. I certainly didn’t have the drive for a life in engineering research (structures or soils). I needed a job. This book reinforced to me that I made the right decision and also let me see just how it might have been. It also felt kinship with the constant struggle to be taken seriously as a woman in science. There’s a paragraph in the book, only one, that covers it head on: Women are always too this and not enough that in constant contradiction. Not womanly enough, too manly, too direct, too circumspect, too good looking, too ugly, too fat, too thin.
Read this book
We had a garage sale and it was a success. The clients got rid of a ton of things and now the garage is available for work space. Meanwhile I’m continuing on my medical checklists. Mammogram done and all clear. Heart monitor off, we’re waiting word on the results. My blood work was fabulous. I started a new heart medication. I got the first shot of the new shingles vaccine. The long delayed colonoscopy is scheduled. My night guard to protect my teeth and jaw is under construction. I’ve been walking many miles counting birds and practicing my fiddle. Burt has been working diligently.
Olive has become my main walking companion. It’s tough to leave Elvis home. He’s a trim and healthy looking 12 year old but he has lost his get up and go. He’d rather sleep in the trailer than walk, especially if the walk is uphill. I give him happy pills for those days he does too much but mostly I leave him behind. Olive seems pleased to be doggy number one. She minds very well and likes to get out and see the world. I sometimes wonder if Elvis and Mimi are in a battle of the wills to see who can outlast whom.
This week Burt and I drove from one end of Montana to the other. Jardine on the edge of northern Yellowstone National Park first and then Kila, just west of Glacier National Park a few days later. It is green out there. Signs of life and death are all around. We’ve eBirded a heap of locations and I feel like I have no idea what is happening out there. Bird song is everywhere and almost all of it is incomprehensible to me.
On Memorial Day we took a short break on our drive back to Helena at the regular put-in for the Dearborn River. There is a popular 19 mile float that launches from a highway bridge right of way. The place was loaded with shuttle vehicles. This is a special river for Burt and me and we hope to float it soon. The area is known for rattlesnakes and I gave a hearty scream when a four foot gopher snake came right at me and slithered by my foot. A friend commented on my photo and asked why I got so close. I was just standing there. The snake came at me.
Another day I found mating spiders. Jen, Robin, and Burt all came running when I told them spiders were having sex, so I am not the only oddball in this family. The male and female caught my eye when I saw them end to end in a web. I initially presumed it was either a meal or a molt. Spider molts often look like dead spiders. I took a close look and scared them apart but they were so into it they immediately regrouped. The male spider passed golden globules of semen from his palps to the female’s abdominal orifices. Right, left, right, in and out. On and on it went. Shining globes disappeared one after another. For hours. I found three more pairs of the same spider species doing the same thing nearby. Love was in the air. The next day it was over. No sign of the male. I fear they were eaten.
Just be glad I didn’t do a selfie at my mammogram this morning. Those things are so painful I can’t even bring myself to look at my own boob crushed in plexiglass. My mind imagines a 2-D version kind of like a topo map versus the landscape. Veins, moles, stretch marks instead of roads, mountains and rivers. No thanks. Our relative stasis in our hometown means it’s time for catching up on all medical procedures. I’ve done the eye doctor, the dentist, the internist, the cardiologist. I have to still do a colonoscopy and follow up on new heart medications. Stay tuned for the colonoscopy selfie. Presuming all goes well I should have this wrapped up in a month.
Being in Helena is uncomfortable and wonderful. I don’t have a place in the most of the relationships I used to have. That’s the price you pay when you live on the road. Plus my old friends are all still working. They can’t just go for a walk any time. Then summer is manic in Montana. Even if people want to see each other it can be hard to find time. Everyone is trying to get outside and hike or boat or camp while they can. On the great side my best friend is next door and there’s twice a week Bridge and music lessons. Next up I’ll share some pictures of what we’ve been up to for fun.
The rivers are up and the grass is green. Montana is in full glory this week. Burt and I are getting some miles in and catching the scenery. Yesterday we delivered the cabinets to Jardine, MT on the edge of Yellowstone National Park. Next year we will be living and working in Jardine. It’s pretty remote and spectacular. It’s a tight alpine valley with views into the northern tier of the park. We had a pleasant visit and I’m already looking forward to walking in grizzly country. I’ll have to add bear spray to my binoculars and phone on the mandatory equipment list.
On our way home we took a walk in Headwaters State Park near Three Forks, Montana. Headwaters is where the Gallatin, the Madison, and the Jefferson Rivers come together to form the Missouri River. With all the water it was pretty swampy in spots. The birds were a twittering like crazy and we spotted some new sparrows. I found a porcupine skull. Here it is below. I knew it was a porcupine because I saw its spines. Without that clue I would have guessed beaver. Check out those chompers.
It’s a fine time to be wandering in Montana.
In the Galapagos every place seems far away and everything in Montana seems close. When we visited the famous mail box of the Floreana Island I happily snatched up three post cards from our area and thought it would be fun to deliver them to the addresses. The post box is a three hundred year old whisky cask and has been in use since 1793. For over three centuries people have left their mail in the hopes that other travelers would help it get home. The system is easy. You drop off a card and subsequent passersby look through the addresses and take any letters they can deliver.
In my enthusiasm I grabbed Livingston, MT, Idaho Falls, ID, and Stevensville, MT. Two weeks ago we were driving through Idaho Falls and I couldn’t find the post cards. What a loser. Idaho card looms over my head. Luckily we drive through there nearly twice a year. The cards are now in the glove box ready when we are. This weekend we barely found the address of the Livingston card. Google Maps had us looking for a home deep in open country. Luckily the nearest house was the place. It was only a mile away from the GPS dot. Sadly nobody was home. I hope young Sam still lives there. I found him on Facebook and sent him a message after we dropped it but so far no response. The location could not get more stereotypical Montana. A historic ranch, a shovel with the house number, an antique table on the porch. It was all so green and idyllic. Too bad the young cowboy was not there to complete the montage.
Stevensville card weighs on my mind. Why did I pick this one? I never get to Stevensville. I think the note was called to me. Mom sent a sweet words to her daughter. Maybe this week on our way home from Kila we will take the hour detour and deliver the card. Maybe not. Maybe some other time.
District 3 of Montana’s Old Time Fiddler’s Association had a gathering in Pony, Montana this weekend. Burt and I went along because Mike and Barb asked us to back them up in the show-me-what-you-got concert after the workshops. These fiddler events are held all over the country and they are an important part of old time music fiddle culture. This particular event is special because they offer a few classes and host a huge potluck dinner. Young and old, great and mediocre, all take their turns on stage for a tune or three.
I enjoyed the workshops I attended but Burt hadn’t much to do. While I was practicing my shuffle and some improvisation Burt was wandering around and catching up with friends. The WMDs finally got on stage around 8PM for our 10 minutes of singing and playing. At Mike’s request I sang Cancion Mixteca and none to soon as it turned out two women were being detained in Montana by ICE for speaking Spanish. The agent says he wasn’t racially profiling these 100% American bilingual woman but I’d bet you everything I own he’d never detain me for speaking Spanish. These women happened to be brown and speaking a foreign language. I find this current xenophobic climate horrifying. There are more Spanish speakers in the United States than there are in Spain. Get over it mono-linguists.
I give the Pony Fiddle Fest a big thumbs up. Burt says he’s good for about 15 years. Pony, Montana is a former mining town where 1000 or 5000 people called home depending on your source. Today it is a mere shadow of its former self. The scenery is spectacular (on a sunny day) and there’s a natural hot spring nearby.