This year’s Musician’s Rendezvous in Columbus coincided with a spike in the local temperature. Sitting under the cottonwood trees while playing tunes with your buddies is a great way to spend a summer day. The campground where we all gather is on the Yellowstone River. If you want to cool off you can take a dip in its chilly waters. The Gypsy Carpenters had been looking forward to this weekend since last winter. Sad to say gNash life and an erratic heart and temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit do not mix. So Burt and I came up with a mix of music and alternate cool activities for the weekend.
Day one we arrived at Itch-Kep-Pe park and found a spot with some shade. It was Wednesday and all of the really deep shade was already occupied in anticipation of the weekend’s activities. Musicians come from all over Montana and the best spots fill early. Burt and I played a few tunes with each other and went to bed when the bugs started biting. The next morning we took a walk and did some birding before the day warmed. We found the nest of a Cooper’s hawk and watched the recently fledged youngster fly all about and beg food from a parent. We also found an unattended firearm in the bed of a maintenance cart for the nearby golf club. I sent a few emails and posts around about the gun safety problem. Burt and I thought in hindsight we probably should have called the authorities instead of walking away from a loaded gun. Ethical dilemma. Personally I was afraid to confront the owner face to face. Stand Your Ground is a bad law. My fear of being shot for having harsh words with someone overrode my desire to stay and make sure the gun was properly handled.
After our walk we did what all smart people looking to avoid a hot day do…we drove to Billings and played Bridge. An air conditioned day of cards. What could be better? That evening we headed back to our superheated trailer and pondered the next day’s survival plan. We debated simply leaving and heading to the high country but the lure of tunes was strong. People we only see once or twice a year were on hand and eager to play. Luckily, Montana still cools off over night. We decided to play music until noon then get in our truck and head for the hills for the late afternoon and evening, come back after dark, sleep, wake up and play more morning music. It worked out perfectly.
Friday we played tunes in the morning and then drove an hour and a half to the Beartooth Plateau. We looked for the black rosy finch, a high altitude bird, but only found white-crowned sparrows, solitaires, and gray jays. The altitude (10,000′ or so) was easier to take than the heat. Burt and I and the pooped poopies returned to the gNash at 9:30. Things were just starting to cool down. Burt took a dip in the Yellowstone while I lay on an ice pack.
The next day we decided to head to electricity so we could run our air conditioner for the 104 degree spike. So after a few hours of fiddling with Barb and Zondra we pulled up and headed to Emigrant to do some maintenance on the client’s property we built 6 years ago. We arrived safe and sound but we have also learned our truck has sprung an oil leak. We fear it’s the end. She’s got a gusher.
It’s August. In Montana we’re expecting to break 100 this week. The birds are quiet. They’re resting up after the hectic breeding season and they are molting in new feathers for the long migration next month. It’s not an easy time to bird. I kind of want to rest up myself. All year I’ve been participating in eBird’s citizen science challenges trying to earn myself a free pair of binoculars or a spot in an online bird course. So far no luck. August’s challenge is to provide eBird with fifty photos or recordings of birds. I am not enjoying this challenge. I find it bothersome. The birds are hiding, I am hot, I can barely take a descent photo when I’m not trying to count birds and fifty is just a lot of birds. On the upside it doesn’t have to be fifty different birds. So I came up with a plan to make this as productive as possible. I take photos at the bird feeding station every few days.
A native Helenan has a new movie out. It’s called Dark Money and it is about the effects hidden powerful donors are having on Montana politics. The movie has been met with enthusiastic reviews. Helena will be hosting several events with the director/producer Kim Reed this weekend. Sadly, we’ll be out of town otherwise we would be there to show our support for this hometown hero.
Just a few days ago I heard some tennis players making vulgar comments about a person they happened to know that had transitioned from a man to a woman. I heard of few details that made it clear this was someones they all knew. Famous or local, I wasn’t sure. They were laughing and saying disrespectful things about a person that had bravely and openly changed their gender. I was offended. I could have pretended not to hear them. I could have ignored their ignorant and hurtful comments but I didn’t. Hate breeds in these situations. Bigotry must be called out. I don’t want anyone to think they can spew racist or sexist or xenophobic comments around me. Silence is complicity. I cut through their laughter with the following comment, “So you’re all transphobic bigots? Charming.” They cut the crap and got down to playing tennis.
Yesterday, I heard that Kim Reed was coming to town and I put it all together. The tennis players were former classmates of the Helena High School star quarterback and valedictorian Paul McKerrow. Paul was voted ‘Most Likely to Succeed.” Paul is now Kim Reed. There’s a documentary that covers her return to Helena after she transitioned to a woman. Check out Prodigal Sons HERE. I think Kim is living a very successful life. True to herself and, with her new documentary, telling truth for all of us.
Meanwhile, if transgender issues make you uncomfortable I suggest you read a few things on the natural occurring diversity of gender in nature. Human genetics are very complicated. Gender is a spectrum. If you feel all there is in this world is male or female and nothing in between or that genitalia defines who you are you’re seeing the world through your own eyes only. As my life goes on I have come to know many people in many places on the gender spectrum and I feel lucky to know them.
The new kitchen is nearly done. The modern cabinets are installed and we are waiting for the counter and appliance delivery. After that it’s just a faucet and touch-up paint. Work continues in the master bathroom. This week we’ll install a heated floor and finish laying tile. Soon after it will be time for the vanity install and counters. After all that we’ll be on our knees for a few too may days installing the engineered flooring in the living room, master bedroom, powder room, entry, and laundry room. I’m going to need a tylenol.
Last night we hiked with a friend at Priest Pass just southwest of Helena. The pass is so named because 19th century Jesuits left behind a stone cross embedded in the hillside. I like going up there to see the remains of the narrow gauge railroad that served as temporary route over the continental divide while they built a tunnel. There’s also an old adit and miner’s shack. Mine and railroad spur were abandoned before the 20th century started. The trestle has stood strong for over 100 years but now time and beetle killed trees are conspiring to bring it down. Yesterday we found ripe huckleberries and whortleberries and a trio of through hikers. The through hikers had started at or near the border with Mexico and were only a week or so away from arriving in Canada. Our friend John shared some homegrown cherry tomatoes and pea pods. He works for Helena Food Share so he knows how to share food. I ate my snack of cold fried spaghetti and dodn’t offer a bite to anyone. That’s how I am.
I hope your summer is full of excursions and interesting people, too.
gNash living hasn’t been too hot for too long this summer. Ninety degree days haven’t piled up side by side and the nights are still sub-sixty. Aside from a dramatic increase in my nocturnal hot flashes it’s been pleasant. Speaking of hot flashes, I know you’re interested, how can one get so hot so fast and then suddenly be cold? I wish there was a magic blanket that would go on and off as needed. I could sleep through the night if I didn’t have to keep adjusting the covers. Mid hot flash I can’t tolerate a sheet on one square inch of my flesh. Then just as a fall back to sleep I get cold and have to get under the blankets. It’s very strange. Some people say hot flashes are psychosomatic. I say those people are idiots. I couldn’t make this up. I had no idea. My favorite way to describe them is like fifteen to twenty minute bouts of the flu. If I have one during waking hours I prefer to stop everything and lie on an ice pack. Mostly though I have to gird my loins and keep driving, holding up a cabinet, or some other tedious life event. Luckily day time flashes are rare.
The other day Burt took us up to the top of the Occidental Plateau just south of Helena. We drove some twisty, single lane roads through a part of the region’s historic mining district. A swarm of ATVs barreled by with no apparent caution. The penultimate guy came at us head-on and downhill in a hairpin turn with one hand holding a beverage, swerved, and flipped his rig. We were moving so slowly uphill we heard the crash and managed to stop within a few yards. Burt and approached the scene with dread. I was going through first aid protocols in my head silently hoping for no injuries or no chance. The guy popped up from behind the bend before we cleared the bumper of our Subaru. He seemed unhurt and he apologized for freaking us out. We were mostly silent with relief and shock. When his friends arrived (the last quad) and said they could attend the situation we left. I failed to take a photo. We were only too happy to depart as quickly as possible. I was sick imagining other scenarios and also wondering how this would have played out if the guy was seriously injured or dead. Would people believe we were not to blame with nobody to take our side?
Up top we found a gray jay and some horned larks. It was cool and clear. The peaks of the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the Big Belts and the Elkhorns were all around. We wondered why it took us so long to visit this scenic spot just outside of Helena.
I have a boat. Her name is Stella. Stella was my maternal grandmother’s name. I no longer recall why I named a boat after her. Rumor is little grandma was pretty tough. She had a mean fast ball but mostly my memories are of her lamenting the fact that she was still alive. The last few years my dad would take me over to visit mid-week and we’d find her sitting in the dim dining room with her hands clasped begging for the lord to end her misery. I must have been thinking of earlier days when I thought of christening my boat in her honor. Stella is also a fun name to yell and use regularly. See A Streetcar Named Desire. Stella has been in storage for nine years. She’s made four trips down the Grand Canyon (I went once without her and it was not a good trip). Together we’ve covered thousands of river miles and uncountable rapids. This 15′ Aire Puma cataraft is the bomb. I love this boat. I am captain on this boat.
This weekend we took Stella out of storage and after a test of her air holding capacity we took her for an overnight trip on the Dearborn River. Burt’s daughter and family friend McKenzie joined us. The weather was hot, the water high, and the grass plentiful. It’s a summer of lushness we haven’t seen in many years. Many people had the same idea but it wasn’t a problem. We launched very late due to a classic Mittelstadt mis-communication. People were waiting for each other at different bridges. There was no cell service. It all worked out. All the other boaters were gone and we enjoyed a calm evening float in solitude.
Olive and Elvis came along, too. They both has mishaps. Elvis tangled himself in the ours and was knocked from the boat. Olive jumped off once and was left behind on shore. I cat-grabbed Elvis and drug his sogginess into the boat. It was a tough lift. We made Olive swim for us. That would have been light work. That’s the difference between an accident and an intentional screw up. People are happy to help when you make a mistake but when you’re purposely rude people aren’t as amiable. Olive knows not to leave a vehicle without permission.
It was a perfect overnight outing, nineteen river miles and a sleep under the stars, family and friends with fresh trout on the side. I felt a little decrepit since it had been 9 years without rowing and my technique was sloppy. Stella took a few hits on the nose but it didn’t matter. Today I am a happy sore.
The only ugliness on this trip was an incident at the take-out that I feel compelled to share. I hesitate because I’m not sure I’ll capture the nuance of the interaction and I don’t want to complain just for the sake of complaining. Here goes:
Burt left the truck at a really steep take-out and the Missouri was flowing high so I suggested he get out and drive down to the next take-out while we three girls float on in our two rafts. The Mid-Canon take out normally has a wide beach and ample room for trucks and trailers and the scores of holiday boaters. We three ladies arrived at the campground just upstream of the designated take-out. I paused there to suss out the situation. In times past I’ve used the campground for a less crowded access point. There were no cars and we quickly deduced the campground must be closed due to the recent high water. We could see standing water in the road. We moved onward.
It is very important not to pass your take-out spot. Logistics become nightmarish if you miss the take out. So we crept down the shore and hugged the willows looking for a take-out I had not seen in 10 years. It should be obvious. Indeed, it was obvious. There was a large parking lot and a boat in the eddy. In the boat was a man. We said hello. He did not respond. I looked around and thought, “Wow, this place is empty. I wonder where everybody is?” I looked at the guy in his boat. It was empty of gear. He was obviously waiting to be picked up. This must be the spot. We started de-rigging our boats. I saw the guy smirking. I thought, “Is this not the spot? Wouldn’t he tell us if he knew this wasn’t the take-out?” Everything was off my boat and the lasses were about to start deflating theirs. Just as I was about to disassemble Stella Burt came running up. He was yelling. “Stop, stop, stop. This isn’t the take-out.” I looked at the guy who had been watching us from 10′ away. He smirked and turned away. Jen, McKenzie and I shrugged our shoulders and started reloading the boats. Burt asked the guy and said, “Why didn’t you say something?” The guy averted his eyes. He already knew the entire normal take-out was closed due to road flooding and people were using a makeshift spot just downstream. It was a very crowded spot. He was waiting his turn. Since the dogs were in the truck and it was 90 degrees Burt ran back to the take-out and we finished re-rigging.
We three ignored the man. McKenzie was pushing off their boat when a second man ran up to the other guy and asked us to stop. He said, “Would you please let us go first? Our trailer is in the way down there and I’d like to get our boat down so we can move.” I looked at him and his friend. I was suddenly very, very angry. I said, “I’d feel a lot better about helping you out if your buddy there had been kind enough to tell us that this isn’t the take-out.” AWKWARD silence. Look up awkward and you’ll see Jen, McK, and I staring at these two mouth breathing men. I waved them on since this was a classic time to turn the other cheek. Just then the first man’s wife and very young daughter emerged from the willows. The men pushed off. We waited. Then this silent eye-averting SOB starts screaming at his daughter from the safety of his boat. He hadn’t a word for us and now he’s screaming at his kid. I couldn’t see the mother so I got off my boat to make sure the mother had eyes on the child. She did. I heard the dad make a derogatory remark about his child’s intelligence. I got on my boat and waited in silence.
After about five minutes Jen and McK floated down. I waited a few more minutes. I came in to the tight spot and made a perfect landing. These two men and several other giant friends were there. They all tried to help me. (An aside here, my cataraft cannot be lifted out of the river like a raft. These men would not have known that. But by trying to help me they risked seriously damaging the boat.) I still have some serious verbal defense skills. I said, “Do not touch my boat” and they disappeared. I mean evaporated. They were gone so fast I had to ask my people if they had indeed just tried to drag me and my boat out of the river. Jen told me this morning I was sending out some heavy DO NOT MESS WITH ME VIBES and I scared them all away. Fine by me.
So I asked Burt what he thought would have happened if Burt had been there as captain of Stella and I was away running shuttle. Burt agreed this man would not have ignored Burt’s greeting nor would he have smirked while Burt de-rigged, nor would he have failed to share valuable information with Burt.
So here I am again. I thought I’d be sharing a nice trip report and instead I’m thinking about the ugliness of sexism.
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.
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.