Sree Padmini showed up at Portal Irish Music Week as the companion to her husband Sree Hasha. She was reserved at check-in and seemed very timid. Little did she know that she would have as much or more fun than her husband. Sree Hasha plays mandolin and takes lessons from Marla Fibish so it was natural for him to come to PIMW for a week of intensive lessons. He brought his new wife along hoping she would have fun, too. Sree Padmini wondered what she would do while her husband played music. She thought she’d be lonely in a desert with nothing to see. At the first night’s orientation meeting we told her about the bird walks and the afternoon hikes. I might have seen a twinkle in her eye.
The second morning Sree Padmini showed up for our bird walk with a camera nearly as long as she is tall. We took her to Dave Jasper’s backyard feeding station. She silently sat and clicked. Once in a while she’d ask the name of a bird. We saw 24 species of birds in 45 minutes.It was a jaw dropping morning even for our experienced Portal visitors.
Both Srees are recent immigrants to the United States from India. Their marriage was arranged by their parents. Sree Hasha had not found a love match on his own and his parents offered to help out. After a few lonely years in the U.S. Sree Hasha agreed. So his parents (back in India) started the search. They found a nice young woman from a similar background and negotiations began between the two families. Sree Padmini asked for a nice man that liked music, nature, and animals. I do not know what Sree Hasha asked for in his wife. He does like all the things Sree Padmini wanted her future husband to like. As an added bonus, Sree Padmini wanted to come to the United States because she loves wildlife but especially hummingbirds. There are no hummingbirds in India. It’s hard to remember that hummingbirds are only found in the Americas. They’ve been married a year and it seems like Portal might have played a special role in their new relationship. It was a place of joint discovery and mutual joy. I loved seeing them alone and together fulfilling their dreams.
I found all this out when Sree Padmini asked me to show her the owl during my afternoon break. I showed her the great horned owl perching over downtown Portal and then we sort of fell into a whole afternoon of birding by ourselves. I felt liberated to leave PIMW behind and do something spontaneous. I took her to a couple more yards where she clicked at the birds. That’s what she calls taking pictures. Clicking. She’d say, “I want to get a click here.” Soon all of her previous reserve fell away and I was under her spell. We sat under the trees and she told me how she wound up at PIMW while she applied henna to my hands. Henna temporarily dies the skin and its use is part of traditional Indian culture. I used to dye my hair red with henna in my thirties. As we sat there I felt the warm and calm feeling you get when someone is tending to you with care and love. It was wonderful.
Another chance to make a friend from across the world brought to me by Portal Irish Music Week. Who would of thought?
Our largest and most successful ever Portal Irish Music Week is done and gone. Fifty students and staff converged on tiny Portal, Arizona for five days of music and walks and birds and we had a great time. Every year I feel more and more blessed to be a part of this event. Pete and Will and I had a dream of starting a camp where inclusivity and love were the main themes. Somehow we’ve succeeded. Our staff and students come together and they make a space better than any of us could imagine. Mitch and Lonnie and their Portal Cafe staff are a big part of it, too.
This year we had a man come and learn despite his brain cancer and looming experimental surgery. Tim is living every day like we all should. Fully present and pursuing his dreams. His experimental treatment begins today. Let’s send out some positive vibes for Tim and his family and friends.
My friend and former colleague, Betsy, invited me out to fish the newly rehabilitated stretch of Prickly Pear Creek as it passes through the former Asarco lead smelter in East Helena. Last year Betsy took me on a tour and showed my the stream work in progress. This year it’s already coming back to life. Fish! Birds! Vegetation!
This was a weepy moment for me. Way back in 1997 Asarco entered into a consent decree with the U.S. EPA that was the result of a multi-year and multi-state investigation requiring the cleanup of this plant and many other things including cold, hard cash. That investigation was successful because EPA and the Department of Justice had a team of young, driven, and excellent investigators and lawyers. I just happened to be the investigator that discovered the original violations that got the whole ball rolling. It was not an easy push. I had to convince many people that our long culture of giving the mineral processing industry a pass on waste management was a misinterpretation of our laws. Unbelievable to me today was that I succeeded. I’ll spare you the details but suffice it to say neither the State or the Feds were in the habit of asking lead smelters to do anything to manage their hazardous wastes. It was because they were misinterpreting something called the Bevill Amendment in our Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Or at least, that’s what I thought. From my remote outpost in the Montana Office of the 1990s I was able to convince or cajole management to let me try. Through the course of the work I found other like minded people and together we changed the face of the mineral processing industry.
Many further developments have happened. That first Consent Decree started a cleanup process that twenty years later is showing real results both above and under ground. Teams of contractors and EPA staff (Looking at you Chuck and Betsy) have wrangled the site into a pocket of beautiful habitat. All of us feel lucky to have seen this from start to success. Soon the general public will be able to access the area and catch their own fishes. This is the good that government does.
My friend Kristi Ann Larson took me on a bunch of walks this summer and I was a good girl. I did not roll in poop once. The same cannot be said of our other companions. KaL and I started running the surrounding trails with our friend Linda when we were in our mid-thirties. Now we walk and Linda is dead. A lot has happened in the last 20+ years. We miss Linda. She was the most steady, kind, and thoughtful of us. I mean we can be those things but she could do it all at once and make it look easy. I feel like it’s a juggling act for me. She was kinda normal in the best normal way. Kris and I are outliers on the bell curve of life. I’m so glad I still have kAL around to just be with in the woods, walking. I hope to be able to keep up next year and do a bigger walking adventure with her. Call me crazy. She’s an important person for me even though we hardly see each other anymore. It’s the way it is with some people. Drop in and out, get along or not, but they are still true. Other people not so much.
The painting above is by a Helena artist, Dale Livezey. Kris and I took a landscape painting course with him a long time ago. Kris gave me the course as a present. She likes to spread art and nurture other people’s inner artists. Every time we paint with the kids in Mexico I think about that class and those evenings sitting on a hillside in Montana watching the sun go down and the sky colors change from horizon to moon. See them HERE.
Thanks, Kris. Reconnecting with you was the bestest part of this pretty good summer. I’ll spare you the tears.
When Burt called Mary Louise and asked for permission to hunt her block management area she asked him not to knock on the door too early. She didn’t want to have to get dressed before 8 AM. To avoid an awkward pajama party Mary Louise suggested we hunt first and then come by her house later to fill out the permission slips. So that’s what we did. We’d met our hostess two years ago and had landed several turkeys that trip. This year the turkeys were few but we had more fun. When we finally arrived on her doorstep to fill out the MT hunting slips Mary Louise confessed she’d just gotten up after a night of dancing at the local bar until 2 AM. She wanted us to know this was not a typical activity for her. When I spotted a birthday card I asked her if she’d just had a birthday she confessed to being 95 years old. Burt and I know a lot of seniors. So far Mary Louise holds the crown for fittest. Next we spotted playing cards and she told us she plays Bridge, too. She learned at 84. Be like Mary Louise. She still mows her own lawn (it’s a rider, but still.) She’s living on her own in a remote town of about 60 people and welcoming all kinds of strangers to hunt her property. She drives to a nearby community to play Bridge once a week. She still drives.
Despite our best efforts and our team being an average of 50 years younger than May Louise we only got one turkey. The wily birds did not cooperate. The flock in Mary Louise’s front yard scattered behind an anti-hunting landowner’s adjacent fences as soon as Mary Louise exhorted us to go and get them out of her yard. Much to Mary Louise’s chagrin. She hates all the poop in her driveway.
Today I am writing from the gNash parked in Helena. The truck has been successfully repaired and returned. The massive oil leak was just a bad gasket and hose. Olive picked up some GI upset on our hunting trip and had to spend last night at the vet on an IV and anti-nausea medications. Normally I’d take a wait and see approach on Olive and her digestion but I noticed she had pale gums so I worried it might be serious. I have since learned that pale gums are a sign of dehydration and, while it was very expensive, seeking medical care was the right thing to do. Meanwhile, I got my second shingles vaccine yesterday and feel like i have the flu. Body aches, headache, no appetite, kinda like Ollie-belle. They say the younger you are the more pronounced the side effects as your immune systems learns to fight the shingles virus.
More interesting news is my dad is in the path of hurricane Florence and is ‘sheltering’ in place despite mandatory evacuation orders. I am not happy about this. He is not listening to a gaggle of friends, relatives, and government officials. This could be the source of some of my stomach upset. I told him to fill his bath tubs while I drain his bank account. A little idle threat to get him laughing but it did not get him to move inland.
Turkeys are thriving in Montana. After years of tight controls where a person could only get two turkeys in the entire state you can now harvest up to twelve in a year but there’s a catch those turkeys have to come from different places andin spring and fall. You’d have to be determined and lucky to find twelve huntable turkeys in a year. We’re happy to be able to try for the two we have time to chase but if we were here year round I’m sure we’d be devising a turkey extravaganza strategy. I love eating turkey.
Today we’ll head up to Kila to meet Burt’s daughter and her boyfriend and the four of us will try for an early and wild Thanksgiving. We have the next four days to get it done. Wish us luck.
Yesterday we had a goal of reaching the Southfork of the Dearborn River and fishing our favorite stretch of stream back to the car. We didn’t make it. A late start and earlier evenings left us with too little time to walk 4 miles in and then fish five miles of stream. Despite that it was a grand adventure. Large bear turds and perfect weather heightened our enjoyment and attention to detail. I saw sculpins swimming everywhere and a couple of garter snakes, too. I also had not one but two epic battles with fish. I lost the 18″ brown trout just as I tried to land it despite Burt’s help. It broke the line and made off with my hopper. I landed a 14″ rainbow with Burt’s help but not before falling to my knees. In the gravel. Those knees were not happy flooring today.
Have you read a graphic novel? How about a memoir? Roz Chast, the New Yorker cartoonist, captured the last years of her parent’s lives in her book Can’t we talk about something more PLEASANT? I read this book a little while ago when I checked it out of the library. This month, thanks to the National Endowment for the Arts, the Lewis and Clark Library is giving this book away and sponsoring a month’s worth of events on aging and dying. Roz Chast herself will be here to discuss this book. I picked up our free copy today. Our society’s refusal to face the facts of life must change. Where all headed down the same road. Let’s stop pretending. The book comes with a calendar of events and they all look interesting. Burt and I plan on attending several. Firstly there’s Roz’s meet and greet. Then there’s a talk on home funerals and green burials. And finally we hope to make it to the death cafe, a tea and cake event where we gather with strangers to talk about the one thing we all have in common: Death. There are also talks on hospice and Alzheimer’s disease and fitness events. We’re gonna skip the work outs. Laying flooring and setting tile on top of fishing and tennis has us whipped into shape this summer.
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.