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.
In the Galapagos every place seems far away and everything in Montana seems close. When we visited the famous mail box of the Floreana Island I happily snatched up three post cards from our area and thought it would be fun to deliver them to the addresses. The post box is a three hundred year old whisky cask and has been in use since 1793. For over three centuries people have left their mail in the hopes that other travelers would help it get home. The system is easy. You drop off a card and subsequent passersby look through the addresses and take any letters they can deliver.
In my enthusiasm I grabbed Livingston, MT, Idaho Falls, ID, and Stevensville, MT. Two weeks ago we were driving through Idaho Falls and I couldn’t find the post cards. What a loser. Idaho card looms over my head. Luckily we drive through there nearly twice a year. The cards are now in the glove box ready when we are. This weekend we barely found the address of the Livingston card. Google Maps had us looking for a home deep in open country. Luckily the nearest house was the place. It was only a mile away from the GPS dot. Sadly nobody was home. I hope young Sam still lives there. I found him on Facebook and sent him a message after we dropped it but so far no response. The location could not get more stereotypical Montana. A historic ranch, a shovel with the house number, an antique table on the porch. It was all so green and idyllic. Too bad the young cowboy was not there to complete the montage.
Stevensville card weighs on my mind. Why did I pick this one? I never get to Stevensville. I think the note was called to me. Mom sent a sweet words to her daughter. Maybe this week on our way home from Kila we will take the hour detour and deliver the card. Maybe not. Maybe some other time.
District 3 of Montana’s Old Time Fiddler’s Association had a gathering in Pony, Montana this weekend. Burt and I went along because Mike and Barb asked us to back them up in the show-me-what-you-got concert after the workshops. These fiddler events are held all over the country and they are an important part of old time music fiddle culture. This particular event is special because they offer a few classes and host a huge potluck dinner. Young and old, great and mediocre, all take their turns on stage for a tune or three.
I enjoyed the workshops I attended but Burt hadn’t much to do. While I was practicing my shuffle and some improvisation Burt was wandering around and catching up with friends. The WMDs finally got on stage around 8PM for our 10 minutes of singing and playing. At Mike’s request I sang Cancion Mixteca and none to soon as it turned out two women were being detained in Montana by ICE for speaking Spanish. The agent says he wasn’t racially profiling these 100% American bilingual woman but I’d bet you everything I own he’d never detain me for speaking Spanish. These women happened to be brown and speaking a foreign language. I find this current xenophobic climate horrifying. There are more Spanish speakers in the United States than there are in Spain. Get over it mono-linguists.
I give the Pony Fiddle Fest a big thumbs up. Burt says he’s good for about 15 years. Pony, Montana is a former mining town where 1000 or 5000 people called home depending on your source. Today it is a mere shadow of its former self. The scenery is spectacular (on a sunny day) and there’s a natural hot spring nearby.
We are lucky. We have food, shelter, love. I wish I knew how to bring peace and love to the rest of the world. What happens out there does take a toll on all of us. I’m trying to stay informed and well balanced. It’s very hard. After a slew of medical tests all is well, so far. One more test to go. I’m calling what appears to be a psychological malady Trumpitis. Stomach pain caused by fear and worry. Meanwhile I’m going to focus on the good I have and hope to share it with you and take my prilosec.
Over there in Montana we were fishing and cliff jumping and eating well. It was a nice break after a solid three weeks in Seattle. Today we are back in Alpine, OR. The Gypsy Carpenters are back at work and gearing up for the solar eclipse. Our trailer is parked at 99.67% eclipse totality. I read that the edge effects of the moon blocking the sun are glorious and mysterious and that we should make the effort to get to the 100% edge. Unfortunately that edge varies depending on your elevation and we just can’t be sure. In general calculations we need to be three miles north on Monday. For weeks the big debate has been should we make the effort and if we should, how? ‘Officials’ everywhere are predicting an epic micro-migration of the population and warning that we should shelter in place. They say the interstates will be immobilized and the markets will have no food. The Gypsy Carpenters are thinking we are pretty stout. We could walk 3 miles. We could float three miles. We could find our Gazeteer and drive three miles of back roads. What should we do? Stay or go?
I have my locally famous chorizo turkey meatloaf cooking while I contemplate all this stuff. That’s a way to focus on the good. Cook. Given the predictions of traffic and food shortages and the proximity of North Korea’s missiles, Burt indulged my paranoia and let me hoard some food. Part of the deal is I have to cook the food. Day one done. The rest of the menu is beans, lentils, peas. We’re going to get our fiber.
I saw my doctor today. Blood was drawn for the hemochromatosis check and we scheduled a barium upper GI lookey loo for Friday. Meanwhile I am to continue taking prilosec. No news to report. I did re-throw out my back again this morning playing tennis. What a nuisance.
Mimi, after a few days of hand feeding chicken and canned cat food in bed, has rallied again. She even got a little feisty this morning. We had a tummy rub wrestling match. As usual, Mimi was victorious.
Our agenda for the remainder of the building season is quite diverse both geographically and project type. After the family, friend, medical visits here we will head back to Alpine, OR for the eclipse and some more decking. Then to Templeton, CA for a house remodel. Eventually we head to Portal, Mexico, and the Galapagos. Time is flying.
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.
The Gypsy Carpenters are back in western Montana, taping and mudding the new bedroom at the kid’s place. Rainy weather made all non-paved roads in eastern Montana impassible gumbo pits. Our two-wheel drive Dodge was no fit for the backroad miles needed to get to good hunting locations.
The big news here is we are now officially internationally known musicians and nationally working carpenters. The western U.S. was pretty tied up with regular, loyal clients from Arizona, California, Oregon, and Montana. This fall we’ve landed a project in Alexandria, Virginia. Burt and I are looking forward to returning to work, seeing the DC area, and east coast family and friends. The job came about from a happy Helena client with property in Virginia. It was a big enough but not too big job. You can follow along here.
In the meanwhile we have a couple of turkeys we found yesterday. Our shots brought out the local game warden. Recent bear activity made him worry we might have been shooting at the bear. That was kind of funny. We’d never shot a bear unless it was self defense and maybe not even then. Best to play dead is what I’ve always heard. A little bird shot will just piss them off. The warden was delighted to see we had shot a couple of perfectly legal turkeys and there was no bear in sight. We think we might have scared him out of the brush while we were stalking and he was out ahead of us. Out of sight for us but in plain view of the local neighbors when he ran across a road.