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.
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.
Guns are a hot topic. I used to be of the mind that regulating them would be ineffective. I own a shotgun. Burt has several shotguns and a rifle. We have no hand guns. Hand guns are for killing people. I think they are too dangerous to have in my home. But time and experience have caused a shift in my thinking. I now favor tight regulation with registration, education, and insurance requirements just like we have for motor vehicles. The incidents of mass shootings in the United States is one reason I favor these changes to our laws, another is the lack of care I’ve seen in managing guns by owners. Add in our Stand Your Ground Laws and it’s just way to easy to shoot somebody for no good reason. You can get away with murder just by claiming you were scared for your life.
Here’s the scenario that I keep reflecting on: Burt and I have had more than one client that left loaded handguns out on tables in their homes at all times so they were ready. Ready to defend themselves with deadly force at (supposedly) all times. First, I’ve got to say, why would anyone chose to live in a state of constant readiness to kill? If you’re so scared you need therapy or you need to move. Fear is a horrible life companion. Secondly, a gun in the open can be mishandled by anyone in the home. Say your friendly carpenter just happens to pick it up and accidentally shoot themselves or you? Kids come by for a surprise visit? And, P.S., a gun on the table when you are taking a shower or dump will do you no good if somebody breaks in and gets to it first. You need a holster for constant readiness. A gun on a table is a constant threat to its owner and their friends and neighbors and trusty carpenters. We do not work for people make a habit of leaving loaded weapons on their kitchen tables. I do not take it as a sign that you trust me. I read it as a sign you are willing to shoot first and ask questions later which leads me to Stand Your Ground.
Too many people are being killed by scared persons for no good reason. The numbers for Montana are sickening. It seems juries here are willing to believe it’s okay to shoot a fleeing robber in the back when the purported robber is in the front yard. How do we even know the ‘robber’ was even a robber? I quake at the thought of a disgruntled client refusing to pay us and the ensuing altercation as we approach their home seeking payment. A raised voice and suddenly we are assailants and the shooter was afraid we meant them harm. (Just a side note: we’ve never had anyone refuse to pay us).
So the other day when we came across an unattended weapon in the back of a golf club’s maintenance vehicle all of these thoughts were churning in my head. This was the Stillwater Golf club in Columbus, Montana. Here was a person that most likely was thinking about something else and forgot there was a firearm in the vehicle. Maybe it’s always there and it sort of feels like any other tool of the job. Gophers tearing up the golf course are managed with a quick shot from the .22. Upon first seeing the firearm I was shocked. Then I was scared. I was scared because I didn’t know what to do. There was a loaded weapon without a human sitting in the bed of a golf cart at a campground adjacent to a golf club. Children play nearby. Vagrants frequent the free camping areas. Joe Schmos like us walk by. We did not see the driver of the cart. Should we wait for the person to return? Would they be amenable to our feedback? Would the situation escalate? I took a picture because I knew I wanted to report the situation to the club’s manager. I was too frightened to do the confrontation in person with the gun there. Then we left as quickly as we could. Cue the music of bad decision making. Something in a minor key. This I have decided was not the right thing to do.
A while later I realized we had become complicit. We had abandoned a loaded firearm in public. By leaving this gun in public the owner made us responsible for anything that might have happened in between our seeing it and their return to take control of it. What if it had been picked up by a kid in that gap of time? In hind sight Burt and I realized we should have waited with the gun until its owner returned. In addition, we probably should have called the police. I guess. Then I started thinking what if the owner felt like we were threatening their job by confronting them about the lapse in judgement? What if they were carrying a sidearm and caught us trying to secure the gun? What if the police arrived after the gun’s owner had returned? Burt suggested we could have waited a safe distance away to make surethe guy came back. But what then? A safe distance away means we wouldn’t be able to stop a child from picking up the gun before we got to it. The moral ramifications of what might have happened are astounding.
What would you do? I’m making this public because we need a real change in how we think about guns in this country. Look how we all can become complicit in a situation when they aren’t handled properly.
My efforts to hear how the situation was managed by the club were unsatisfactory. I had to post to social media before they responded to my notifications. They only said, “This is unacceptable and it will be addressed.” I presume they meant the abandoned firearm and not my complaints.
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.
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.
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.
This week Burt and I drove from one end of Montana to the other. Jardine on the edge of northern Yellowstone National Park first and then Kila, just west of Glacier National Park a few days later. It is green out there. Signs of life and death are all around. We’ve eBirded a heap of locations and I feel like I have no idea what is happening out there. Bird song is everywhere and almost all of it is incomprehensible to me.
On Memorial Day we took a short break on our drive back to Helena at the regular put-in for the Dearborn River. There is a popular 19 mile float that launches from a highway bridge right of way. The place was loaded with shuttle vehicles. This is a special river for Burt and me and we hope to float it soon. The area is known for rattlesnakes and I gave a hearty scream when a four foot gopher snake came right at me and slithered by my foot. A friend commented on my photo and asked why I got so close. I was just standing there. The snake came at me.
Another day I found mating spiders. Jen, Robin, and Burt all came running when I told them spiders were having sex, so I am not the only oddball in this family. The male and female caught my eye when I saw them end to end in a web. I initially presumed it was either a meal or a molt. Spider molts often look like dead spiders. I took a close look and scared them apart but they were so into it they immediately regrouped. The male spider passed golden globules of semen from his palps to the female’s abdominal orifices. Right, left, right, in and out. On and on it went. Shining globes disappeared one after another. For hours. I found three more pairs of the same spider species doing the same thing nearby. Love was in the air. The next day it was over. No sign of the male. I fear they were eaten.
The rivers are up and the grass is green. Montana is in full glory this week. Burt and I are getting some miles in and catching the scenery. Yesterday we delivered the cabinets to Jardine, MT on the edge of Yellowstone National Park. Next year we will be living and working in Jardine. It’s pretty remote and spectacular. It’s a tight alpine valley with views into the northern tier of the park. We had a pleasant visit and I’m already looking forward to walking in grizzly country. I’ll have to add bear spray to my binoculars and phone on the mandatory equipment list.
On our way home we took a walk in Headwaters State Park near Three Forks, Montana. Headwaters is where the Gallatin, the Madison, and the Jefferson Rivers come together to form the Missouri River. With all the water it was pretty swampy in spots. The birds were a twittering like crazy and we spotted some new sparrows. I found a porcupine skull. Here it is below. I knew it was a porcupine because I saw its spines. Without that clue I would have guessed beaver. Check out those chompers.