We drove down here with a 5 pound bag of bird food. Burt was feeling tolerant of my whims. Usually he says, “Too much. Buy it there.” I only bought it because I was afraid I would forget to buy some here. As soon as we were situated I put out some seed. It was a cheap bag of food and nobody came. I tried a couple of locations. Nothing. All the other bird features were busy but sugar water only attracts a subset of feeder birds and I wanted to see more varieties. I despaired. Maybe my food was spoiled or just not to their tastes?
Last week our friend Bobbi asked us to come to her place and help her identify her birds. It was on our way to her house that we spotted the pair of cara-caras sitting in the dead palm. As we sat there on her porch and watched a veritable flock of birds dining ten feet away I realized my mistake. It wasn’t the food. It was the location and type of feeder. The bowls were too exposed and the table was too close to our trailer. I made one small change. I placed the food in a piece of driftwood and hung the driftwood on the fence. The feeding station is two feet further away from our trailer and higher off the ground. The next day there was a seed eater on it. A very shy cardinal flitted in and out taking a seed at a time. The day after that four new species of birds were in the yard: Black headed grosbeak, house finch, phainopepla, pyrrhuloxia. Yippee skippy!
Moral of this story, same as all the rest: Don’t give up.
Yesterday our friend and guide Esteban took us up to his sister’s ranch. The rustic farm is about an hour from El Pescadero and located on the edge of an arroyo. This trip materialized the way so many things happen here. Esteban stopped by to say hi. Burt said let’s take a trip to the mountains. We think Esteban said, “Do you want to see my sister’s ranch?” I think we said yes. We are not entirely sure if he asked or if we asked or how we wound up agreeing. Turkeys were mentioned. We made a date for an excursion.
Yesterday we arrived at Esteban’s house a few minutes late. He was surprised. We were very punctual according to him. This was after we called to say we would arrive an hour late and we arrived an hour and ten minutes later than originally agreed. Oops. We try so hard not to be prompt and we always fail. We are continuously arriving before our hosts expect us all over the world. This fashionably late thing is beyond our skill set. We couldn’t even start our show fifteen minutes late as all musicians are expected to do.
The journey to the rancho was full of words for trees and birds we happened to pass. Esteban used to be the forest ranger in the Sierra de la Laguna Biosphere Reserve. He knows all the local beings. What we could not understand was where we were going. Eventually we wound up at a very nice, brand new country getaway. There were two workers watering the plants. The yard was nicely landscaped. I pondered how a walk in the woods brought us to some rich person’s cabin in the mountains. I have no idea what transpired but the conclusion was that we were free to visit this spot and camp anytime we liked. I conclude Esteban was introducing us to the locals. I could be wrong. It was a very nice spot. Elvis peed on everything. When I said is Spanish that he had to mark everywhere we go the men all laughed. We piled back into the Exploder and headed back out to the highway. WTF. Are we going home already? Was that our trip? During all our visits Esteban and Burt and I have a three way dialogue that meanders and is very amorphous. I am never certain if we are going or coming, leaving or staying. His manner of guiding is similar. He takes us to a trail and says, “I’ll see you later.” We walk away wondering where we are going. We always get there, turn around and walk back. Esteban is where he left us. Everybody is happy.
At the highway we headed away from town and took another ranch road towards the mountains. At the end of this road we arrived at a ranch filled with animals. Cows, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys…The local lady of the house was working her butt of making cheese and doing laundry. The men were sitting and talking. I headed to the kitchen and chatted with another visiting female while we watched Lupita do her chores. Burt hung with us. There were wild birds in cages singing in the kitchen. I could hardly stand to look at the starling, grosbeak, sparrow and orioles but they are well loved by this quiet woman with few visitors. The woman was Esteban’s sister. She is also very comfortable in the wilderness and trapped all the birds herself. Now I know the whole family shares our love of birds.
Eventually Esteban takes us to a trail and say, “I’ll see you later. There’s water up there.” Burt and I and the Olvis walked until we found water. It was 4:00 PM. I could have spent the night there on the sandy bank with palm trees swaying and water trickling by. There were heaps of birds but we forgot our binoculars. Both of us. We returned to the ranch. There was Esteban waiting. I asked if we could buy a turkey. How much? $400 pesos. Muy caro, I thought but worth it to reward Lupita for all her hard work, so we agreed. They asked if we want it alive or dead. I envisioned carrying a live turkey back to town with Elvis and Olive and decided dead is best. One of the men caught the turkey while Esteban filled an enormous pot with water to boil. The unlucky dinner is caught, its feet bound, and it is hung upside down. Burt cut its throat. The bird was then plunged into boiling water and plucked and gutted. Both Burt and I have done this many times but it made us nervous doing it with a cross cultural audience but some things are the same no matter what language you use. Lupita gave me some much less expensive eggs. Finally we headed home.
I’ve been neglecting my duties as bloggess of Gypsycarpenters.com. Last week I snagged my index finger on the cut edge of a can of cat food. It was a darn painful and jagged injury. The cut was just on the part that hits the keyboard keys. The same part I use to run the phone. It was pretty inconvenient and required frequent bandage changes. There are two new boxes of band-aids in our truck and trailer. Since the accident I haven’t played music or done dishes. Well, I rarely do dishes but it’s nice to have an excuse. I did cook and continue working. Shopping at Home Depot is an index free chore.
Thanksgiving turned out to be just a grand day. First off Burt and I visited a patch of wilderness ten minutes from here. Huntley Meadows Park is a swamp bordered by hardwood trees. I’d seen the park on my mapping app and it looked like a very large patch of green worth exploring so I looked it up and decided to visit. The park features an excellent boardwalk used by both human visitors and the animal residents. Everyone appreciates a good walking path. So Burt and I left the dogs in the car (no dogs on the boardwalk) and did some birding. We saw the rusty blackbird, apparently a rarity, thanks to other birders we met on the walk. We also spotted some lovely blue-winged teals and the red-bellied woodpecker.
From the calm, grounding bird walk we headed to brother Christian’s home for the day. Christian and Kernan and my nephew Parker and niece Izzy were no where to be found when we arrived despite a text 5 minutes earlier saying they were ready for us. Welcome to the Zazzalis! Turned out Christian was out back using an industrial leaf blower and Kernan and Izzy were dressing. Parker, as is usual for teenagers, was sleeping and would not be seen for hours. Eventually we all gathered around the cheeseboard and gorged. Ahhh it’s good to be amongst the family and have no dietary restrictions on the scene. Boy do we love cheese. To prepare space for the non-traditional feast we were planning we headed out for another walk.
Bacon Ridge is a new section of trails squeezed onto an undeveloped plot of land between a defunct madhouse and an interstate. Back in the colonial era this land was cleared and farmed. Remnants of the farm’s fencing and tools and vehicles could be found among the serpentine paths through second growth forest. There was also distinct erosion gulleys formed when the land was originally cleared. There’s a certain common feature of small spaces where we try to maximize trail length: The trails are convoluted and full of figure-8s. This particular area had no defining landmarks. Leafless trees and leaf filled gulleys all looked the same to us. We got lost. Not lost as in where are we, but lost as in how do we ever get out of here? Kernan took charge and used her iPhone to find the car and we headed cross country using our keen wilderness skills. All we had to do was keep the roar of the interstate to our left and we would eventually find the car. And this worked but not without me stepping into quick sand and all of us losing sight of each other in the deep gullies. The leaves were twice as high as Olive’s head and she had a time of it in the bottom of the trenches, too. So dinner was a little late.
Back at the house Parker had not gotten dinner started but did rouse from his bed. We arrived back home and set in to make risotto, chicken cutlets, and brussel sprouts. Nobody wanted turkey so we did the family favorite. It was madcap. The house is large but the kitchen work area is cramped. Everybody played a revolving roll at the stove. Dishes were washed as soon as they were dirtied by Lalaura a family friend. Nobody got hurt. The patriarch of the family was called and we took turns touring him around by Facetime. Christian shucked oysters and Parker ate them. I forgot to mention that Parker had an ear ache. I hope oyster eating cures ear aches.
Over dinner Christian and I shared the different details we remembered from watching our grandmother and/or uncle cook the same meal in an even tighter space. It was a lovely family time remembering that those people long gone gave us the desire to still eat this food.
With the gNash parked mere feet from the front door of our current project Burt takes full advantage of his early mornings and the accessibility. Recently he’s been going in as early as 3:00 AM. Now back on the west coast that’s midnight. I’ve been pondering what this means for Burt’s internal clock and our lark/owl interpersonal relations for weeks and then this morning happened. Burt woke up and misread the 11:00 PM as 1:00 AM. Our clock is two hours behind. He thought oh, it’s 3:00 I might as well go to work instead of trying to sleep. But it wasn’t 3:00, it was 1:00. Got that? So Burt showed up for breakfast at 8 AM after putting in nearly a day’s worth of work. In the meantime I was sleeping soundly in the spacious bed. We were both awake for breakfast of pea soup. Now it is 11:55 AM and Burt is sound asleep. I’m doing computer updates and backing up writing and photographs.
I made a pumpkin pie but I can’t bake it until Burt wakes up and lights the oven. As of yesterday we have been living in this 22′ box for seven years and I still can’t light the oven. Co-dependency is what they call it. We’re off to my brother and sister-in-law’s place for the holiday. We haven’t settled on a meal plan. I was supposed to bring my pie but Christian won some pies in a raffle and so I get to keep this one. There’s no such thing as too much pumpkin pie in this trailer.
Lest you think it was all sad last week in Murrell’s Inlet, it wasn’t. We walked the beach and ate, fished and ate, sang a few songs and ate, watched TV and ate, played tennis and ate. My Carhartts are nearly unwearable today. Bobby and Cara came down from Bryson City and helped out a bunch. And, of course, they’re just plain old great to hang out with. I’m hoping we can swing into Bryson City when we head south for the winter. It’s all weather dependent. Say no to snow.
It’s fall in Montana. Leaves are turning. Trout are hungry. Stickers and burrs abound. Olive is caught in a Catch-22 of freeze or collect stickers. To take her outside with us with long hair is to invite a coat full of needles. To shave her is to guarantee hypothermia. Since we have no plans to head south soon we are debating a shave and a new coat or do we spend more hours cleaning her fur. Burr removal is a thankless chore. Olive hates it and resents every minute of our work. Yesterday we went fishing at the confluence of the Dearborn and Missouri rivers. There was an abundance of those football shaped burrs and some hound’s tongue for variety. After 2 hours of fishing we spent 40 minutes of de-burring. The fun to work ratio is pretty low. Anybody have advice? Should we shave? Should we keep up the removal? Mall walk? Leave Olive home?
Below is a raspberry tort I made for a dinner we had with Sue and Jay. Pea soup, salad and tort. The tort was from a recipe for Italian plum cake. The NY Times says it’s the most requested recipe in the history of the newspaper. I find that hard to believe since prior to this summer I have only known my grandmother to regularly make plum cake. I made one once a decade or so ago but I found the recipe on-line. I loved my grandmother’s plum cake but it was a rare seasonal treat. We probably got one piece a year. Burt’s daughter made one last week and like learning a new word the recipe was everywhere I looked. Facebook and the NY Times were filled with it. The benefit of the flood of commentary and news articles is I found the suggested variations. This cake is ready for anything you can throw at it. Since we had a bunch of Sue and Jay’s raspberries in our freezer we went that route. Soon I’m going to try the canned Portal pears. It’s simple and tasty. Give it a go. I used a casserole dish. The gNash is too small for a springform pan.
Also below is a helpful Public Service Announcement. Clean out the grooves on your log splitter before they fill with a rock hard debris. This log splitter had filled to the point that the splitter could no longer split. It took heavy application of hammer and chisel to remove the pressure hardened splinters from the groove. Team Gypsy Carpenter and Sue got the job done but we all agreed preventative cleaning would have been easier.
Today Burt and Jen are finishing up the bedroom wall texture at the Kila cabin. I was going to go but I didn’t have any work to do so I decided to stay here and catch up, read, shower, and veg out. Everyone has caught the last summer cold of the season or the first winter cold. I can’t be sure which. The cold caused work delays so here we are still parked in Whitefish working on a cabin on a hill in Kila. Tomorrow we depart towards but not to Helena. We will stop first in Seeley Lake and go grouse hunting with Pete. Friday we will resume what is the start of our southward migration to Portal Irish Music Week. Music camp is pretty much full this year. There’s been some last minute cancellations but they were fully paid and we (as do all viable travel businesses) have a no refund policy within 60 days of the event. I promised to refund the money if replacements were found but so far no luck. I kind of feel bad and I kind of realize this is a feeling I must deal with if the camp and my finances are to survive.
In between snotty heads and ceiling work we made a trip out to Glacier Park. We’d heard the remote Polebridge entrance is frequently unstaffed so we thought we’d take a peek at Bowman Lake. Unlucky us. The gate had a toll collector. Since it was $30 just to drive in and see an alpine lake we decided to walk around the free Forest Service side of the North Fork of the Flathead River. Burt is just 9 months away from his $10 lifetime parks pass so we’re going to try and hold out until then on paying anymore park fees. Next week will be the last one. $30 to get into Yellowstone and Grand Teton. That will be a worthy one. Now that I write this I realize we will be surrounded by National Parks in Alexandria. Maybe we will buy one more annual parks pass. Writing as thinking.
Anyhoo. Burt fished and I stumbled along the log laden shore. The North Fork of the Flathead is a famously log chocked stream. Every year it seems somebody is caught in a ‘widow maker’ trap of logs blocking the channel. In fall the water is low and the logs are on shore. Burt caught a huge fish. He was pretty sure it was a Lake Trout but I had just read the warnings about the endangered Bull Trout looking a lot like a Lake trout, also called a mackinaw. When in Doubt Throw it Back. We discussed and we could not come up with the identifying features for one or the other fish. We were outside cell range so the internet was no use. Burt threw it back. That stung. No trout for dinner. Then Burt caught another. I informed him it was statistically improbable to catch two endangered species in 5 minutes. Not impossible but highly unlikely. That fish shook the hook as soon as we decided to keep it. Further research proved Burt right. It was a Lake Trout. The two are very similar looking but can be distinguished if you know what to look for. Now we do.
The Polebridge Mercantile is famous as an eccentric general store in the remote north woods of Montana. For 25 years I have heard rumors of its extraordinary bakery. I have been by on many occasions through the years but mostly in a rush to get somewhere else or in winter when services are reduced. Burt had never stopped. He hadn’t even heard the rumors of the bakery. Now I take good bakery rumors with a grain of salt. Good is relative. In general, the farther you are from civilization and the closer you are to a major tourist attraction the lower the quality of food. There’s a handicapping system. People will say food is good when it isn’t when they are far from home. Also, many people say that the Wheat Montana Bakery has good stuff and I think they are mediocre. The packed parking lot defies my understanding. Yesterday was the first time I ever had the chance to stop in and sample the wares but I was not expecting much. I have a healthy suspicion of all baked good recommendations. I was wrong. Again. I am glad I do not live near this bakery. I’d be a blimp and broke.
Burt and I, showing massive restraint, shared a Flathead cherry and chocolate turnover. What a delight! Buttery, flaky puff pastry filled with a thick slab of not too sweet cherry filling drizzled with real dark chocolate. “That’s the best turnover I have ever had!” exclaimed Burt. It was true for me too. It boggled the brain because it wasn’t just a one hit wonder. The bakery was filled with tempting delights. Savory scones, macaroons, huckleberry turnovers, chocolate croissants, warm sandwiches…We had to leave so I could still buckle my pants. We will never fail to stop in here for a snack again. Best bakery in the universe.
I never thought much of Havre when I made my twice yearly trips through the town. From Highway 2 it seems like an ugly railroad town that time passed by. Empty storefronts. Howling wind. A never ending horizon. No trees. Past hunting trips we’ve stopped to buy Red Wing boots from the authorized dealer. I always thought it was a boring place. I was wrong. I admit it. Just off Highway 2 are lovely treed neighborhoods. There’s a college. A great dive burger. At the edge of town just behind Holiday Village Mall is one of the finest hands-on museums I’ve visited. Whakpa Chu’Gn Buffalo Jump was discovered by a twelve year old kid in the early 60s. This boy was out rabbit hunting when he spotted something shiny in the dirt. John Brumley made a very important archeological find. Between the town of Havre and the railroad tracks was a buffalo jump used by pre-conquest Native Americans for some 2,000 years. Several different cultures used the area in that time. I’ll spare you those details because I am poorly equipped to accurately report on history. You can read about it here. In summary early peoples chased bison off a cliff. Some bison died, others had to be dispatched at the bottom. The meat was butchered and cooked and dried. The people moved on to the next campsite. Different layers reveal different time spans and cooking techniques. What I was blown away by was the interpretive work offered to a pair of people like us. We could touch real bones. We could use an atlatl (a devise that propels a spear) into a fake bison. During school group trips they cook bison using rocks and the kids eat the bison they cook. The museum sets up a rock filled fire pit and nearby they fill a bison skin with water. The heated rocks are placed in the water. Just 8-10 rocks can bring the water to a boil in a matter of minutes. Put your bison strip in the boiling water and it’s cooked in a minute. Our guide called it the Native American microwave. That was too much work for just us but it was great to know. This spot really let’s you get the feel for how the buffalo jump worked and how the bison meat was processed. Our guide was enthusiastic and informative. Plus you get to take a super exciting trip in a golf cart down a very steep hill. It was well worth the $9 entry fee.
This week we popped in to visit a pair of musician friends in Seeley Lake. Pete and Rachel are naturalist types and musicians. We have a lot of common friends. They are also considering building a home so we had professional reasons for the visit to. If you are considering using our services in 2017 now is the time to contact us. We are busily consulting with several possible clients on some jobs in interesting locales.
I have never spent much time on the west side on Montana’s continental divide. It’s heavily wooded and reminds me of the eastern seaboard. I always miss the open desert but I am quickly liking this shady summer weather. This week was cool and rainy. My main impression is there are a lot of leaves in the way of any birds I am trying to identify. After many years of mainly desert living this is a difficult adjustment. On the up side there is water everywhere and the dogs are having fun wallowing in mud and staying hydrated on our walks. The other difficulty to birding is the change is species. Even a robin proved confusing when we first arrived. It’s been a while since we’ve regularly seen robins. Pete and Rachel are avid and much better birders than us. Rachel is a bigwig in the USFS so she had to work but we went wandering with Pete and he taught us some of the local calls. It is even more apparent here that you must learn the calls of the birds to have success. I am doomed to be mediocre.
Morrell Falls is on the west side of the Swan Range. It is a wide and gentle mile and a half to a dramatic cascade. On our way Pete pointed out the strange mono-tonal call of the varied thrush. It sounds just like a dog whistle. In fact Pete’s dog whistle confused both Burt and me. We sat at the foot of the waterfall and watched a dipper and pondered the sad state of American politics. All three of us are horrified by the anti-science factions. Sometimes I wonder if our society will become like Cambodia and round up scientists and kill them.
Aside from appreciating the dampness and fecundity we ate well and played some music. We even did a micro-gig in the rafters of a lodge for a trail organization.
The pipessewa flower pictured below was pointed out by Pete. It used to be used to flavor root beer. I think it is darn pretty.
A couple of days ago we played some Bridge with Norm and Howard. Norm is the guy that started us playing. We’re grateful to him for taking us on as a project. To thank him for his help Burt made dinner. Norm’s a bachelor this month. His wife is visiting her 93 year old mother in Sweden. Roxanne does most of the cooking. Norm says she left him a bunch of pre-made meals but he can’t find them. Talk about helpless. After a few hours of cards Burt whipped out some fish Vera Cruz. The cards were okay but dinner was very good. A fresh fish in tomato and orange and olive sauce over brown rice. Beet salad was on the side. Immediately after eating Howard, Burt, and I bade Norm good night. It had been a long day. Half way down the driveway we heard Norm yelling. “Wait, wait…I forgot I have dessert! I have a danish, and a half a donut, and a piece of cake with three bites out of it.” Unable to resist such a tempting offer the three of us turned around to see. How could we resist such salesmanship? Much to our surprise Norm had accurately described his dessert offering. There it was. A half a donut. A danish. And a piece of cake with three bites previously removed. The fork marks were still visible.