Grizzlies on my trail

The hills around Jardine are prime grizzly country but this summer there’s been hardly a sign these giant beasts that live amongst us. Bears are on the increase all over western Montana and with that there are more reports of bear/human contact. Nearly every walk beyond the confines of our yard I strap on the orange and black canister of bear spray. I admit on a couple of occasions I have absentmindedly left it at home and it always made me queasy when I realized it was just me and the small dogs if we had a chance encounter with Bruno. The bear thoughts were there on every walk despite only one scat and two footprints for scores of hikes. I had those dreadfully lovely feelings of wanting to see a bear but only far away or from in the car. I’d started to feel like I wasn’t getting the full Yellowstone experience if I didn’t see at least one fuzzy butt running away from me before we left.

Proper self-defense requires physical skills and mental preparation. Even though I no longer actively participate in a martial art or self-defense training I still frequently think of the things I’ve learned. Many skills are hard wired like riding a bike. Knee to groin, fist to face…those will come out without thought. I also had the privilege of some hand gun training from a federal law enforcement instructor when I ran in law enforcement circles. For a few years I practiced drawing, aiming, shooting even though I never owned or carried a hand gun. Gun safety when there are guns around is important and so I was given the knowledge. So pepper spray…as a fairly knowledgeable person on these matters it always troubled me that we’re just supposed to pick up a can of spray and know how to use it properly. Since I couldn’t spray without wasting my expensive gas and, most likely, causing myself great physical discomfort (I have been hit by both a leaky canister and a ditz with mace in a restaurant, so I know) the only way to prepare was read and visualize. So I did and do. Remove safety. Wait until the bear is very close. Fire. I practiced removing the safety. It’s tricky with my arthritic fingers. My friend Sue had the chance to practice at one of MT FWP’s training seminars. Faux charging bear and all. I watched the video. That bear moves fast. She told me she learned this helpful hint: Aim for the feet because the gas rises. Also bring soap to clean yourself up afterwards. Because you will get it on you. I’m not going to carry soap. I’ll suffer. Of course, before any of this you want to try to avoid meeting a bear and failing that try to scare the bear away.

Yesterday Burt decided to walk with me. We’ve only shared a handful of walks this summer. Burt’s been very busy working. So it was unusual to have him and Elvis along. Normally it’s just me and the Chalive. The three of us alone are no good at making peremptory noise to give bears the chance to leave and Burt added to the equation is no better. When Burt and I hike we are usually a quarter mile apart. And Burt talks everywhere but on a walk. He’s a creeper in the forest. We try to talk but we just can’t sustain it. We’re natural hunters. So there we were: Olive and Chava twenty feet ahead of me, Burt and Elvis a few hundred yards behind. We were only 10 minutes from the trail head, 15 minutes from the gNash. The trail is a persistent but not steep uphill cut into a steep hillside. The land drops away on one side and the other side is a steep upwards slope. Passing other travelers (horses, anyone?) can be awkward because there’s little land to move. Generally there are no other travelers. It’s very quiet up here.

I rounded a curve in the trail with the Chalive and heard some gentle rustling. There’s a lot of gentle rustling up here. Juncos and ground squirrels are the norm. Not yesterday. Just ahead and slightly above me, maybe 40 to 50 feet away was a great grizzly. A superb grizzled silvery sow was right before my eyes. The dogs didn’t see her but she saw them and she saw me. And then I saw her two yearling cubs. Yearlings are nearly as big as mom this time of year. I was face to face with three big bears. I was relieved to see the cubs were on the same side of the trail as momma bear. We were not caught in the most dangerous situation between mom and cubs. As the sow turned to look over her shoulder to see where her cubs were I began yelling and that canister of spray was in my hand with the safety off aimed right at her. I did not pull the trigger. I knew she was too far away and that she would likely flee.  She turned her ginormous moon face back at me and gave me a good bye glance and headed up hill with the kids on her ass. It was so steep they hardly got a start before the dogs realized they were there. With the bears’ sudden movements Olive and Chava caught on and took off in pursuit. I switched from yelling from BEAR BEAR BEAR BEAR to NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO. And I thought why did Burt have to tell me about dogs turning bears around and leading them back to their screaming owners? What was going to happen?

Burt quickly arrived and I was still screaming. The bears had just ducked over a small flattish area above our heads. The threesome was heading in the direction we had come. Olive and Chava were just reaching the spot where the bears had disappeared from view. Would it be an ambush? Was this the moment the bears would turn and come back our way? Now Burt and I were both yelling NONONONONONO. The dynamic duo stopped at the edge. There was a dramatic pause and then they came back to us with no bears in tow. What changed their minds? Was momma on the other side of the lip glaring at them? Or was the hill too steep and they too lazy? They aren’t talking.

With the bears headed towards town we decided to continue our walk only now we walked as a compact noisy quintet. I sang songs loudly and poorly. If the volume didn’t ward off the bears the missed notes would. While I was not scared during the face-off, the walk home through the area where we knew the bears to be was nerve wracking. I jumped out of my skin when a junco flew out of some grass at my feet. In fact, nearly 24 hours later, Olive scared me just by rearranging herself on the bed as I write this. No walk today. I’m telling myself it’s because its 40 and raining.

It was thrilling to see the bears. I can leave this area satisfied. It was also thrilling to remove the canister and have that safety off without a conscious thought. Be prepared. And, no, there are no pictures. All eyes were on the bears. All hands were on the weapon.

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Before and Now

VYFE1114
Addition going up

I hardly documented this job. We demolished a kitchen, bath and laundry room and popped the place out about 11 x 16 feet. Burt built the foundation for the addition. Other people came for electrical and insulation. Another person is roofing.

IMG_9383
TnG ceiling and walls
IMG_9384
Cabinet installation
Demo done
Demo done
More of the original walls.
More of the original walls and floor.
moving stuff
moving stuff out during demo
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Summer is winding down

Wolves chowing down on a bison. An army of magpies and ravens hovered.
Wolves chowing down on a bison. An army of magpies and ravens hovered.

Jardine never provided us with summer. The cool and rainy season we enjoyed up here was spring and now fall. A cool, smoke-free season. It reminded me of the early 90s in Helena when we couldn’t plan outdoor trips before the 4th of July and it snowed regularly in August. It used to rain in June. Summer was an idea. We always had a winter coat within reach. Thank you Jardine for the reminder.

The Gypsy Carpenters are pulling out of Montana at the end of next week. We’re planning a trip to the Goshute Mountains for raptor migration as we make our way down to Portal for the 9th Annual Portal Irish Music Week. You can read about the raptor migration HERE. Burt with very little help from me has nudged our client’s project further than he committed to back in early July. When we arrived here the simple remodel we were expecting had morphed into a high end upgrade: beverage fridge, two sinks in the kitchen, a hot tub, tile through out, etc. I always counsel clients that costs and times are driven by the finishes. Tile and tongue and groove walls are way more costly than laminate and sheet rock. More time consuming, too. This job was now out of reach for the two months we had planned because client dream of their dream home. Everyone does it. Add to the dreamy dreams that we are in Jardine. Jardine is a full hour from hardware and lumber. Subs do not want to come to Jardine. They charge a Jardine tax. Things get drawn out even when everyone shows up for work. Day one we gave them the bad news. We could not tile. We could not install subfloor heating. We could not finish in the time alloted. We offered to leave so they could hire someone else. Given the scarcity of workers in the neighborhood the clients did not want us to leave. Everyone regrouped and Burt proposed to frame and dry-in the addition. That included the foundation for the addition. The clients took what they could get. Burt did what he promised and a whole lot more. At the cusp of departure the siding, walls, ceiling, and cabinetry are in plus a floor lift. All of that more than promised. Roofing, tile, finish plumbing, and finish electric remain.

Lower angle lighting means winter is on its way.
Lower angle lighting means winter is on its way.
Rocks on a rock
Rocks on a rock. My theory is a Yellowstone naturalist guide uses these rocks for a lecture.
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Three-Toed Woodpecker

Three-toes
Three-toes

 

Apologies to those following along on Facebook. Life in the gNash is a rural life. Mostly woods and weeds. We stay with clients that have room for us to park. Over the last nearly 10 years we’ve picked up a few creatures along the way. There was a gecko that made it from Mexico to Montana. Presently there is a yellow spider egg sac incubating on our ceiling. Something died in the truck vents once. The aroma took years to clear.

This month we’ve had a momentous family event. Some dear little field mouse boarded the truck and made a nest in the glove box (Compartment?). In NJ we said compartment. Somewhere, I think the south, I picked up box. I digress. Up at the Dearborn campout a few weeks ago I discovered the empty nest of shredded napkin and Elvis hair. Only Elvis sheds. It was empty and there was no sign of droppings. Being an optimist I removed the nest and didn’t give it another thought. I presumed the nest was made but we’d left the occupant behind. A week later I opened the box again and found a new nest. Still no sign of the critters. No droppings. Just a ball of shredded napkins and more Elvis fur.

Mice are a hazard. They do not creep me out. If I could I’d say, “The more the merrier.” But mice have diseases. Mice eat wires. Mice attract rattlers. Mice must disembark. So Burt got serious this week.  He caught six mice in 24 hours. The last a two-fer. These two ate their trapped sibling so no sympathies there. One pup was flash crushed in the box door. Mom was trapped. A third pup was trapped and eaten as mentioned above. The fourth a pup also flash crushed by Burt’s lightening quick reflexes while its siblings scurried from the canibalistic buffet. And now these two. Are we done? No we were not. Two more caught over two more days. Grand total: 8 mice in the glove box. Three days and a few hundred miles have passed with no new victims. Perhaps this episode is over.

In other news I got a lifer bird the other day. I spotted a three-toed woodpecker. I wondered why the three-toed name? Silly me. It has only three toes. Most birds have four. You can see in the photo above there are only three toes. This was one of the easier IDs for me. I’m jokingly called it Burt’s spirit animal since he’s short a toe and woodpeckers are called carpenter birds in Mexico. He wasn’t amused. It’s better than the three-toed sloth, I lobbied. Still not amused.

Also in the news, get your skin checked. This is your annual reminder. I had two biopsies this year. Both bad but not cancer. This style of biopsy is a punch. They drill out a cylinder of skin. Sadly, even after two solid weeks in stitches my wound did not close. It’s a nuisance but it beats cancer. I try to remember these little pains are life saving interventions. Each one is removing something that might someday cross the line. Perhaps the skin cancer I was going to get is already gone? Maybe we’ll catch it early if I do develop a melanoma. Chances are extremely high. Melanoma in the family and a blue eyed, moley skin with waaaaaaay too much childhood exposure. I remember trying to get tan. Year after year. Ahhhhh…

Two for one.
Two for one.
This is a nuisance.
This is a nuisance.
Ollie with her big bad heart is chugging along.
Ollie with her big bad heart is chugging along.
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A Night to Remember

Full team
Full team, thanks Sue for the pics.

This morning Barb asked, “Are you going to write about last night?” I hadn’t gotten that far in my thinking. This morning I’m sapped and stunned. Then Barb added, “I miss so many of the older folks and it would be something I can have to remember.” Talk about pressure.

This summer the Gypsy Carpenters found an artistic home and last night we were able to bring a lot of pieces together in one place to create something much bigger than us. Years of friendships, and gigs, and open hearts made for a magic night. Here’s how it started.

Firstly, Zondra. The Z grew up here and has been a part of the Gardiner music scene since she could walk. She is carrying on her father Wayne’s legacy as an ambassador of live music and a community builder. Wayne was a master of getting th emusic going and going and going. Zondra has inherited that gene. Zondra came with a venue and a weekly slot and a pile of musical talent and energy. Zondra rocks that bass and is game for anything, anywhere. Let’s play! is her motto and nothing we do is too difficult of weird. She gave us the energy and the desire to get out of our trailer and commit to playing regularly for fun and practice. A regular gig does wonders for the skill, relaxation, and repertoire. Which leads us to the Wonderland Cafe.

Stacy and her staff, everyone of them, make us feel like we are exactly where we belong when we show up to play. Last night I asked for a cobbler after the show and when it looked like they might have forgotten it they said, “No, don’t leave. We want you to be fully satisfied!” That Flathead cherry cobbler showed up 2 minutes later. We’ve been told we can play whenever we want. We can play whatever we want. We can invite guests. They can eat, too. And the food is good. The clientele are mostly tourists looking for a good time and they tip generously. We give them a night to remember when we play a favorite song or bless them with good wishes to see their dream animal in the park.

Cody. Remember, Cody? Refresh yourselves HERE. In brief, we picked up Cody hitchhiking in Texas nearly 10 years ago. He and his bike were pinned down in a vicious wind. Cody is currently working seasonally in Gardiner. He’s a percussionist living an improvised life like us. We’ve been pestering him to sit in with us all summer but his job intruded. Last night he finally showed up with his cajon to beat out some support for us.

After a couple of gigs in July we knew this was a place to settle in and have fun making music. I texted our former bandmate Barb Piccolo and asked if she wanted to come down and visit and play a night with us. I knew she’d be in the area for other events and hoped to loop her into one of our shows. Barb has been a steadfast friend and mentor to me through thick and thin. In the beginning she was the thoroughly skilled and knowledgeable player that encouraged me to keep at it. As my skills grew she kept encouraging me. There was always positive energy  from her as I developed. Barb has never wavered in her support and kindness to Burt and me. There was a dark time in our lives when very few people would associate with us. Barb stood by us and played music with us. All that and she loves the stuff we play and kills it on accordion. I really hoped Barb would join us for a gig but we saw her plenty at various Montana jamborees and did a lot of tunes together. Last week Barb said she was going to come and see us. Then she wasn’t. Then she was.

In the midst of Barb trying to find time to play with us we ran into Johnny at the Dearborn music campout. Johnny is a long, lean boy of 16 that is coming into his own on the fiddle. Two years ago when we met him I would not have invited him to sit it. This summer he played a couple of tunes with us and I found out he lived about 30 minutes away. He had not played a public gig. I said, “Johnny, you want to play with us?” I didn’t even check with Burt. Johnny said yes. The logistics nearly ruined it for him but despite his confusion on locations and dates and missing our one practice he made it to the gig.

Magically, Zondra, Johnny, Barb, and Cody all convened on the same night with the Gypsy Carpenters in the Wonderland Cafe. We had never played all together at the same time. But the solid foundation of the Gypsy Carpenters was perfect for these dynamic players to build upon. The house was full of tourists and friends. In another bit of kismet several folks that had wanted to see us were finally able to make a show. I took advantage of knowing the house was friendly and boldly compelled the restaurant to near silence as I announced to the audience that they were in for a special night. I told them they were lucky and we were lucky. Burt and I were surrounded by players and listeners that loved us. Johnny was here for his first gig. Barb and Zondra had played with us for years. I gave everyone’s back story. I opened their hearts to us as a ragtag group that had miracuolously come together. And then we got going.

We almost always start with I am a Pilgrim. It’s easy, it’s upbeat. We can warm up the harmonies, and our hands. In a masterful move, Burt gave Johnny the first break in this first song. A song Johnny had never even heard before. That’s how we do it around here. Stay loose and ready. So the music was good. It was fun. It was unpredictable. And we were off. Johnny fired off some fiddle tunes. Barb and Zondra sang a duet. I’d never heard Zondra sing in twenty years. A man named Alex showed up with an ukulele. He was playing along on the sidewalk outside. I invited him in. Then he said he had a trumpet. We sent him home to fetch his trumpet and we had everyone in the place singing ring of fire while Alex blasted out the iconic trumpet bits.  And I had my dream come true of a horn section. People were having a ball on and off stage. The tips were huge.

And then it was over. Many people think playing music must always feel good, it must always be fun. Those people are not musicians. It’s our job to make it look fun and easy and look as if we are enjoying ourselves. But we’re often hot, tired,  or we can’t hear ourselves, or we are annoyed that nobody is listening, annoyed that they ARE listening, annoyed the tip jar is empty, annoyed the restaurant has cruddy food and they made us move the tables. Last night was the kind of show we dream about. It was fun and joyful. We got to share the love with everyone. The show ended and we sat for an extra beer and a cobbler. A group of men from Seattle came up and told us they enjoyed our singing. They wanted to know how long we’d been practicing together. I explained it was our first time playing as a group but Burt and I had been a duo for ten years. I asked if they were musicians. One man, they grew up in Southern India, said he studied Indian singing. As we sat in the nearly empty restaurant he sang us an Indian folk song. I tear up recalling it. What a gift it is to inspire people to share their music.

This morning as we grew teary missing Wayne and Tom and all the other musicians that led us here I said to Barb, “But look at the first gig we gave Johnny. It was joyful, generous, good, fun…The crowd loved us…We’re doing it right bringing up the next kids. He will always have that to remember.”

We convinced Johnny to give up the chair.
We convinced Johnny to give up the chair.
Friends
Friends before the show.
Cody
Cody and Burt post music.
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We live in a KENNEL

Mad marmot
Mad marmot

Somebody called recently and asked how summer was going. All I could say was dogs. Burt nailed it when he said, “we live in a kennel.” The Olvis was an 8 year masterpiece. No squabbles, high compliance rate, no teething. Cholvis. Chava plus Olvis is an entirely different universe. Olive is a bitch. Elvis is doing things he hasn’t done in years. Chava is determined to eat everything. Berries off of bushes, cigarette butts, all excrement, anything plastic. I found my ear plugs in his poop. I regularly go online for therapeutic readings on how to deal with a teenage dog. Chava is 7 months old and this is exactly when most puppies are given up for behavioral problems. It’s literally a full-time job to raise a healthy, happy puppy. Best advice so far: Never leave them unattended. All activities come with Chava attached. Leaving a curious puppy to his own devices results in destruction and heartbreak. If Chava can’t come it’s the crate. So far it’s all minor stuff but the list is endless and mysterious. We lost some apples. They turned up in Chava’s bear like poop. $20 of heirloom tomatoes? Eaten in 5 minutes. I caught him before he swallowed the paring knife he stole from the counter. Burt’s crocs remain mostly unmolested.

With every outing requiring a minimum of one and up to three dog companions certain activities have been entirely curtailed. I have not birded in a month. Music weekends have been spent with Chava lashed to our chairs. They say this phase will pass and pass quickly since Chava is a small dog. He’s holding steady at under 50 pounds. Maybe even under 40 pounds. I can still pick him up. Meanwhile I’ll keep reading dog therapy articles.

While we strategically manage the mouth of destruction we also face the normal rebellion of a teen. Chava sits. It just takes a staring contest and 2 to 3 minutes for him to execute. He can heel. As long as there are no sentient beings within his view shed. Same with come. Chava comes like a champ. As long as Elvis isn’t telling him to ignore us. Elvis can’t hear or see so he ignores all commands. Chava has noticed. Now Olive is noticing that Elvis and Chava are ignoring us. We’re fighting a mini-insurrection, a mutiny, if you will, of the canine crew. Dog therapy? Clamp down and reiterate all house rules at all times. Random sit and stay patrol. No food without performance. It’s all very exhausting after years of well mannered pooches. But both and Burt and I are united in the face of this challange. We cannot have obnoxious, ill-mannered dogs and live this lifestyle. Safety and sanity demand compliance. I’m hopeful that fall will find boot camp tapering off to just the chaos of life with 5 individuals.

And so now you know where I’ve been. It’s also kind of boring.

Burt
Burt
Theme of the era
Theme of the era
Dogs are everywhere.
Dogs are everywhere.
Blue Agave for our Baja counters.
Blue Agave for our Baja counters.
Music
Music
Giant silk moth caterpillar. It eats up to 85,000x its body weight in under two months on its way to moth conversion.
Giant silk moth caterpillar. It eats up to 85,000x its body weight in under two months on its way to moth conversion.
Dog. This guy is showing signs of not being an idiot or an ass.
Dog. This guy is showing signs of not being an idiot or an ass.
Olive is the top dog.
Olive is the top dog.
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On the Move

Bison bathing in dust.
Bison bathing in dust.

The kennel our three dogs let us share with them is on the move. We are out of work while the electrician and insulators get down to business. If those subs finish before we head south fo rthe winter we’ll move back to Jardine to advance the project but we will not finish. Our clients had a case of mission creep and the job was too big for us to do in one season so they’ll be on their own to get it done over the winter. Day one a couple months back Burt said, “I can’t do it all. I’ll get you started or we can leave.” They opted for us to get them started. So it’s framed and we are on the road.

First up was three days on the Beartooth Plateau. We are all suitably worn out by our high elevation hiking, fishing, and bird seeking. Olive and her puny heart did very well. Elvis managed a 5 mile day. Chava was a poop finding, dead animal eating machine. Free on the range and all he did was eat whatever he found. It came out as fast as it went in. One day we observed 8 defecations. I have to wonder how many we missed. He also seems to have grown a few more inches over night. His teen rage is subsiding. He recalled on command and is dropping food is we catch him in time. Yesterday I got him to expel a maggot filled rodent the size of a NYC rat. Chava is even considering heeling. He thinks about it but after about ten steps he rejects the idea. Soon, Chava, soon.

Today we’ve landed in Columbus for the fiddler’s weekend. We’ll head over to Town Pump for showers soon and then settle in for five days of tunes. We’re on the banks of the Yellowstone, under the cottonwoods. Swing on in and join us if you’re in the area.

Trying out the fish eye on the camera.
Trying out the fish eye on the camera.
Beartooth Plateau
Beartooth Plateau
White crowned sparrow.
White crowned sparrow.
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sTuCk in the MuD

Calle sin nombre
Calle sin nombre

Up here in the mountains we’re experiencing a microclimate of cool weather and copious rain. It’s buggy but nice. Yesterday we pulled in from a trip to the BozOne for plumbing supplies and sushi and a movie and as Burt attempted to position us into our spot under a tree we got stuck. The good news is were in a safe spot and sort of level. Bad news is: How and when are we getting out of this? I’m in the passive school. It will dry eventually. Burt is gearing up for an active response. I need a place to hide. If your wondering why we pulled the trailer to Bozeman for errands, there’s a three part answer. Elvis, Olive, Chava. It’s easier to drag the trailer and spend the night than try and keep the dogs safe and us unindicted in the truck cab. We live in a kennel and it goes where we go.

Check out the road sign above. A few times a week we wander the surrounding forest service roads and the other evening we found ourselves at the same address we use in Mexico. Calle sin nombre. The street with no name.

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Things happening

Western tanager and meal.
Western tanager and meal.

We had a gig this weekend at the Gardiner Brewfest. It was early in the day-long event so it had a low key vibe. Technically it felt like we did our job and we were assisted by a marvelous sound engineering team but it was sunny and hot and people were in the shade a long way from the stage. It was a long distance concert and so not nearly as fun as our Wednesday night shows at the Wonderland Cafe. There people are right with us and they’re on vacation and ready to have some fun. We ask where they’re from and what they’ve seen. Bears! Buffalo (bison)! Elk! We take regional requests and everyone gets in the spirit of the night. That is our kind of show. Come and see us if you are in the area.

After our set we hung around and had a beer and listened to the next band. A former co-worker of mine had come down to catch our set so we sat and chatted with him in the grass while listening to the next faraway band. After a while we realized our dogs needed saving and so we had to go. I wanted to see the headliners (they were our kind sound team) but three dogs need more attention than I could previously have imagined. It’s always something.

And then it was something. Gardiner is the most diverse place I’ve lived in Montana. There are tourists from all over the world here to see the most famous national park anywhere. And there are also seasonal employees from all points of the compass. Park concessionaires recruit and hire staff from all regions of the US and the world to fill housekeeping, hospitality, and maintenance positions. There are people of every color and diverse cultural backgrounds, languages, accents walking the streets of Gardiner.

Burt and I loaded our instruments into our former but now borrowed 1994 Subaru Legacy and headed up the hill to Jardine. Just at the corner we noticed an altercation between a white man and two black men on a corner in downtown Gardiner. I yelled stop but Burt was already slamming on the brakes. I jumped out of the car as I dialed 911. Now my cell phone is having a hissy fit these days. Sometimes people can hear me and sometimes they can’t. Now I can’t be sure if this screaming match between these men was racially motivated. Here’s what I saw: A white guy screaming and gesticulating wildly. He was stationed on the steps to a porch. He had a couple of friends on the porch behind him. The black guy standing was street side just inside a pole fence on  grass acting like he wanted to tangle. His body language said, “Bring it.” There was another man outside the fence. I’m not sure if he was trying to get his friend to exit the property or if he had his back. There was another man, older and white, on the opposite side of the black men.

As I approached the white guy was threatening the black guy. I was screaming the address as best I could into my phone and I yelled at the white guy, “Get back on your porch. Leave him alone.” Nobody was happy to see old white chick get in the middle. Glares all around. One of the ideas of my martial arts school was if you could protect yourself or somebody else, you are not just saving your own life, but you are also saving your attackers life. You are giving them a chance to not harm you and maybe there life will end up differently. So there I was yelling into the phone and yelling at the white guy cause he was the one going bonkers when the white guy does what I ask and goes to the porch. And he comes back with an axe. As he brandishes the ax he yells, “This is Montana and I’m white. I can kill you and nothing will happen to me.” Okay. This is a racially charged incident. No doubt now.

The man on the other side of the black guys is saying, “It’s not worth it. Get out of here.” And I am yelling, “Get back!” to the axe man. He turns towards me. The 911 dispatcher is yelling at me to leave. The dude is on one side of a fence and I am on the other. He’s 20′ away. We make eye contact. I am not one bit afraid. His racist, stand your ground, all too true statement has made me feel invincible. I meet his stare and he can’t face me. He looks away and turns towards the porch, swings the ax into a porch column and puts it down. Burt is now out of the car. The guy comes back towards us and the black men have crossed the street. The dispatcher is yelling leave, the police are on their way. The guy starts yelling at Burt for looking at him. Burt tells him it’s a public street and he can watch if he wants too. Since the danger has passed and the cops are headed over I slip into the car and we make our getaway.

Soon after a park ranger came to the gNash to take our statements. Gardiner is the wild west. Law enforcement here is a patchwork. We were told that the white guy was angry at the black guys for cutting through his property. His rental property. Apparently it is very common for local workers to take this shortcut. We also learned that none of the parties is a resident. They are all seasonal workers and they’ve had words before. The ax was hidden by the time law enforcement showed and the guy’s buddies denied he ever had an ax. Our word against theirs. Today I learned that nobody has been charged.

I find myself ambivalent regarding prosecution. If our intervention prevented a tragedy than that’s enough for me. And maybe it did. On the bigger, global scale I am pissed. Montana is a stand your ground state and that asshat was almost certainly right that he could have murdered that black man and gotten away with it. Maybe not after that indiscreet announcement of his intentions and bias but I agree he could have claimed he was reacting in fear and that he thought his life was in danger and the jury would have bought it. Black vs. white has a miserable record in this country. And, hell, in Montana you can shoot a fleeing white person in the back and still successfully claim self-defense.

It’s important to me to bring this up but it’s a little awkward. Please remember when I waded in there was no ax. I just saw some men heatedly arguing and thought I can stop this. My own bias led me to believe it was a race based altercation. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. How could I know from my car?  The ax and the vile racist utterance came out within moments of my arrival. It confirmed to me that stopping was the right thing to do. If only because I got to say to that guy in my actions NO, WE ARE NOT ALL LIKE YOU. It is our duty to call out racism and to do what we can to stop it.

Someone on Facebook metioned it’s probably easier to confront an ax wielding asshole than your sweet 80 year old neighbor. I think that person was correct. Personally I’m going to try and channel the power I felt in the heat of the moment into pushing back and educating friends and family.

Avocets on the Yellowstone River.
Avocets on the Yellowstone River.
Avocets in the leaves.
Avocets in the leaves.
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Emotional stability hard to find

We're playing full steam ahead with Zondra on the bass.
We’re playing full steam ahead with Zondra on the bass.

I’m not sleeping much. I don’t think it’s the incredibly vile political commentary coming from above or the horrific things happening to refugees on our border so much as it is the hot flashes. The hot flashes plague me at night. The other stuff haunt me during the day. I feel profoundly powerless on so many levels. I can’t work much due to general old lady-ness. The elevation, my back and the heaviness of the work have rendered me nearly useless or worse, a liability. I started physical therapy this week and we decided the trouble I’m having is the super laxity of my joints. I’ve always had hypermobile joints and it has served me well in many ways but as I get older and my muscle tone naturally diminishes things move way too much. So my PT boils down to a simple enough maneuver that is hilarious. It’s an belly button lift and a kegel any time I move. After months of this my PT says it will happen automatically and I won’t have to think about it every time I move. If I felt old before I feel really old now. Lift and squeeze, lift and squeeze. That’s it though. No other exercises just lift and squeeze and go about my business. That’s the plan for the low back. The moveable rib in my mid-back that comes and goes with shocking pain has not got a plan, yet. The PT says I might learn how to pop it back in over time. Meanwhile it’s still muscle relaxers and pain killers if it goes out again.

So feeling all decrepit as I am I decided it was time to replace this shoddy mattress. Amazon Prime brought us a top rated memory foam queen right to the gNash door for $450. I feel guilty patronizing the huge worker abusing corporation but have you ever tried to buy a mattress? Add to that experience living 2 hours from the nearest mattress store and you can see why the big A is irresistible. That and the thing cost half what I’ve paid for a mattress in the last twenty years. Sometimes I think these are the cultural issues that divide us. Walmart and Amazon have made life much easier in the rural areas of our deeply divided nation. I’ve been derided for shopping at Walmart and I respond with, “Where are we supposed to go? It’s all that’s left in rural America.” Luckily here we can pick up essentials at an independent store 5 miles away or head an hour up the road to my favorite grocery in all of Montana, also employee owned.

On the up side of the general negativity we are playing a weekly gig and it has been good. The tourist based crowds love to interact and shout out where they are from when I ask. Canada, Brazil, West Virginia, Spokane…Given our wide variety of tunes in our repertoire we have something to please everyone. Weeven got a rousing round of Wheels on the Bus for a kid filled night. Tips are adequate, too. The Wonderland Cafe has tasty food and a supportive staff but the best part is we get backed up by the flexible fingers and groovy beats of Zondra Skertich on bass. Z happens to be our client and the reason we are here working so it’s very convenient to have her in the band this season. If you’re in the area come on down.

Saturday we’re opening the Gardiner Brewfest. Music starts at 3:30. Pop in and have a beer.

Down below you’ll see my latest experiment.

I'm experimenting with my own hair conditioner.
I’m experimenting with my own hair conditioner.
This is the first batch.
This is the first batch.
New sunnies. I was hoping the purple mirror would be more obvious.
New sunnies. I was hoping the purple mirror would be more obvious.
My diamond encrusted glasses.
My diamond encrusted glasses.
These dogs. Harrumph.
These dogs. Harrumph.
Conditioner worked but not suave.
Conditioner worked but not suave.
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