Campfire Culture lake
February 18, 2017

PROPER ATTIRE FOR ELEVATED FUN

Our plan was to take the Peter's Ridge Trail up and over the crest of the Swan range to hook up with the Alpine Trail to Strawberry Lake. From there, we'd follow the Strawberry Lake Trail to the roadhead. Two vehicles, a short drive between, and eleven miles of scenic alpine country to traverse. What could be finer?

It was shortly after intersecting the Alpine Trail that we detected the aliens.

We heard them long before actually spotting them, but spotting them wasn't hard. As it turned out, they were in full Buck Rogers regalia—multi-colored suits of vivid blue, slashing red, and showy yellow. They wore helmets with enough blue and red stars on them to change one's concept of the Milky Way. And their garments were so form-fitting Jane later claimed to have spotted a dimple on one of the three biker's knee.

Naturally their boots were of a size for effective lunar strolling and helmet visors were of reflective polaroid. I guessed their gloves might've came directly from a Camelot jousting tournament.

As mentioned earlier, we heard them coming and dutifully stepped off the trail to allow them passage. Then all fell quiet as they followed the trail to a switchback. I looked to my companions and they looked to the ripe huckleberries clinging to bushes surrounding us and cared not a whit whether the off-road bikers came our way. Or when.

Ten minutes passed and our fingers and lips turned as colorful as the bike rider's ensemble would later prove to be. Then they started their machines and accelerated, whizzing past where we sat just a few feet off the trail, without even knowing others were in the same county. Doug and Jane shielded their eyes from their clothing's colorful glare. I stared in open-mouthed amazement—it was the first time I realized what well-dressed trail bikers wore.

While things were quieting and my jaw still tried to close, Doug said, "They ought to be at the controls of a rocketship, with afterburners kicked in."

"Can you imagine what those uniforms cost?" I muttered to Jane. "More'n both our trail bikes cost back in 1960."

She still stared after the bikers. Then she shook her head and said a little plaintively: "They looked like they were having more fun on theirs than I ever did on the one you bought for me. Do you suppose it might be the clothing?"

I eyed our own outfits:  hiking shorts, short-sleeved shirts. "Oh, I don't know. We're all in uniform. Are we having fun?"

Doug popped another handful of hucks. "Give me a few more minutes in this berry patch and I'll see."

We met four more motor bikers that day, none of whom were as well-attired as the first. So we asked if they might have more fun if they were better dressed. They only stared at us their faces masked, curious about the question.

We also met a mountain biker pedaling up that trail, muscles standing out like innertubes. He wore only shorts and tennis shoes. There were also eleven other hikers in several different groups. Two elderly gentlemen carried, of all things, ice axes. A young man cuddling a babe in arms also packed a 30-30 carbine slung over one shoulder; I assumed it was his wife (or significant-other who trailed behind.

What does all the foregoing mean?

Only that on that day, twenty three people weren't lying on a couch watching TV.

* * * * * * * *
February 11, 2017

TEN TIPS TO VALENTINE TRANQUILITY

Here are ten important tips for ye poor abused and downtrodden masses who've heretofore failed all efforts at domestic bliss. I speak of man, of course. Men. All men. Everyone knows they are the ones with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, low esteem, and screaming nightmares.

The tips I'm passing along have been developed over decades of involved and, yes, dangerous research, tested amid the terrors of household hostilities. Roland's Rules for Rectitudinal Restoration of St. Valentine's Bliss follows:

1. Grovel shamelessly. It's okay if you do so with fingers crossed. The mere sight of you in grovel-mode is usually enough to restore her pecking order place to your chief domestic antagonist.

2. Sit when told to sit, fetch when told to fetch, roll over when told to roll over. The benefits accruing from following these simple procedures seem sufficiently obvious without further elucidation.

3. Never, never, ever let anger take root, and certainly not show. The best facial expression is nothing at all. Except....

4. When it's permissible to express pleasure in the presence of your life's partner. Then you should always demonstrate complete and overwhelming puppy dog joy. As long as she seems pleased, you may leap and bounce about, clap your hands, and shout exuberantly to your heart's content. Guard against overdoing this procedure, however, as might be indicated when she goes to bed with a migraine.

5. Order Valentine flowers. Do not stop with a boutonniere for yourself—in fact, don't even think of a boutonniere for yourself. (If she wants you to have a boutonniere, she'll pick up a boutonniere). What you want is a corsage that can, if chosen wisely, wash away a lot of previous sins. What's wise? Experiment with something besides dried teaselweeds from the back forty.

6. Limit your couch activities to polite visits with your partner's doily club. That means no Saturday football, no Sunday football, no Monday night football. You may, however, adjust the doily club routine by lovingly admiring your spouse watch her morning soaps. (Do not, under any circumstances, try to peek at the svelte leader of her afternoon exercise program, however, or get caught dead staring at a Victoria Secret commercial.)

7. Eat your brussels sprouts.

8. Resign your golf club membership. Come straight home from work. Do not stop at the Happy Hour Saloon, or Dunkin' Donuts.

9. For vacation purposes: fight shy of California's nude beaches, rent no Sky Boxes at Las Vegas's newest Adult Entertainment nightclubs, and don't get caught looking at catalog lingerie.

10. If the previous nine tips failed to turn the trick toward domestic bliss, simply tell her you love her. This single tip has been the most thoroughly researched of all. Those three words composed of but eight total letters have poured oil on more troubled waters than can be recounted. 

(If there's still no harmony, mumble "I love you" while also groveling.)

* * * * * * * * * * *
January 28, 2017

MAKING SENSE OF EQUINE TRANSPORTATION  

Once upon a time near, near to home, debate raged over whether horses should be allowed on wilderness trails. Some hikers flat didn't like the ponies; some horsemen returned their opinions in spades. Fortunately calmer heads prevailed. And today the only grumbling about whether horses and mules should be permitted in our wilderness country heard from California visitors or, in moments of vexation, the horsemen themselves.  

Having engaged in my share of both hiking and horsepacking, I'll presume to summarize problems inherent to each:  

If there are hikers out there who think horse packing is only for the leisure class, all I can say is they haven't tried it. Mantying packs, slinging same, and keeping them atop a horse takes the strength of Hercules, patience of Job, watchfulness of Odysseus, and memory of Homer.  

Even if aficionados of backpacking must trudge for miles up steep switchback trails with 50 pounds upon their back, backpacking is still easier. Consider that the horseman is out at three in the morning running ponies in from a forty-acre pasture in order to load them into a dilapidated trailer hitched to an underpowered pickup to pull for five hours in low gear through a boulder-strewn pass. Then he must unload ponies and somehow turn a trailer and pickup around on a narrow cliffhanging road, then find a place to park so his rig won't be shoved over the side by the first 18-wheeler to roar past.    

Then they must grain and brush and saddle and pack and trail out a bunch of rangy, half-broke, four-year-old packages of dynamite, nurse them through shintangle that would balk an elephant, and somehow guide them for twelve hours along a trail infested by—in the ponies' eyes—rock bears, tree bears, and brush bears.  

The lucky backpacker, mind you, left home after a leisurely brunch and wheeled his sport car into a trailhead after a speedy drive along macadam highways. He parks his Porsche, locks it, shoulders his backpack and strolls to camp, stopping and resting or taking pictures, or drinking from streams wherever he wishes. By mid-afternoon, the lucky backpacker shrugs from his pack, pops up a tent, rolls out his sleeping bag and his work is largely done.  

The poor horseman, on the other hand, arrives at his campsite after dark, weary to the point of exhaustion. Now he must unload and care for his ponies, set up camp, gather firewood in the dark, cook, nod off to sleep while eating, and otherwise enjoy a leisurely evening—all the while worrying that his ponies might recollect some better bunches of grass along their backtrail.  

To tell you the truth, using horses in the big lonesome is not everything it's cracked up to be. If you're not committed—if you're keeping animals you don't like and don't care about in order to take that once in a lifetime wilderness trip, why sell 'em and use the money to go with someone who knows the ropes.  

However, if you like the creatures, like to care for them and be around them; and if it pleasures you to ride a pony amid the prettiest land over which God ever waved a wand; and if you don't  care about hard work or long hours; and if you can say hang the expense—then keeping nags behind the woodshed makes sense.

*************
January 21, 2017

NOT THE ORDINARY LOVE STORY

(This really did happen)

It was a classic perverted sort of love story, like those cranked out by the bushel in Tinseltown, U.S.A. But, though poor-little-beauty-queen-meets-lonely-old-rich-guy might be ho-hum fare for Hollywood and Vine, finding two of the three triad participants in a remote Bob Marshall hunting camp is not exactly common.

Let's call the men Ken and Bob, and the lady Dawn. Even though there's not a whole bunch of innocence anywhere in this tale, we still have an obligation to substitute names. Dawn was a beauty queen who was actually on her way to the Miss America pageant representing her home state. Ken was a successful computer software maker worth millions. Bob was Dawn's father—a short-fused, feisty guy who was not at all averse to punching out a bigger man upon the slightest perception of insult. To better explain, Bob was a drinking buddy of Billy Martin (who set some sort of pugilistic record as the Yankee second baseman in years of yore).

Ken and Bob were also bosom drinking buddies of about the same—say—fifty-ish age.

Dawn, a coquettish dark-haired lass of eighteen-going on thirty-five apparently set her sights on Ken. Ken, who was the one to tell this tale, admired the beauty queen's ravishing loveliness. Flirtations advanced the attraction until Ken could no longer stand it. He asked Dawn for a date. The catch was Ken didn't want to pick Dawn up at her home because he feared a scene with Dawn's protective father. 

Dawn, though seemingly smitten by her filthy-rich suitor, would not consider dating Ken unless he had the intestinal fortitude to pick her up at her home. A stand-off ensued. But this is the possible next Miss America, right? So the gutless Ken finally agreed to come to Dawn's home to begin their relationship.

"Of course she wasn't ready," Ken said as he peeled an apple while sitting in a Bob Marshall forest glade, his gleaming Weatherby magnum leaning against a nearby tree. The man actually chuckled, but watching closely, I also saw him shiver. “I was met at the door by Dawn’s mother, who welcomed me inside.”

"Dawn will be just a few more minutes,” she said. “Why don't you go on into the kitchen and say hello to Bob?"

“Actually, knowing about his short fuse, that was the last thing I wanted to do," he said. "But how could I refuse?” Ken told me the house was rambling ranch-style and the suitor could look through the living room and dining room, into the kitchen where Bob sat with his back turned, reading a newspaper. "It was a long walk into that kitchen. Here I am, fifty-three years old, coming to date my best friend’s daughter, for God's sake. What am I supposed to say?"

Dawn's mother took Ken's coat, then disappeared up the stairs, ostensibly to hurry her daughter. There was nothing else for Ken to do. He hesitantly shuffled into the kitchen, preparing for the worst. "Hi, Bob."

There was no answer.

"I, uh—I guess you know I'm here to date Dawn. I hope it's all right. She agreed."

Bob continued to read his paper.

"She ... she's very beautiful," Ken blurted.

Bob ignored the sweating suitor for several long seconds, then thrust out a hand in what Ken supposed was friendship. With a wave of relief, Ken seized the hand. But what's this? He dropped Bob's clasp to discover a .44 magnum slug rolling around in his own palm.

“I damn near went to my knees!” the man said.

(I may continue this tale in a future "Campfire Culture")
************
December 24, 2016

INCREDIBLE PERSONA

Like me, the guy grows long in the tooth and he's a tad on the pudgy side. Like me, he peers nearsightedly over the tops of his glasses and his cheeks are perpetually flushed by spending lots of time outdoors in all kinds of weather. Unlike me, though, the guy has hair—lots of hair. But like my little, his lot is white.

He laughs often and smiles a bunch and if you ran a popularity contest, he'd win hands down in any land on earth—with the possible exception of the ayatollahs' Iran.

But the queer thing about this bird is his popularity is based on no known public relations script. He employs no Madison Avenue advertising agency, no political advisors, no Gallup or Yankelovitch polling service. Yet his popularity consistently exceeds that of the Pope, Newt Gingrich, and Beavis and Butthead combined.

He does have a hammerlock on the media, though. Word of him builds steadily to a crescendo, always reached in each year's waning days. He's celebrated in song and verse; stories are written about him; his profile is considered favorable and is often visited by artists of all stripes. Yet he wears atrocious clothing that is gaudily colored to attract attention. His public appearances are pompous and dictatorial. Kind of “Trumpian” if you ask me.

Refreshingly, however, the guy eschews corporate giants or politicians with influence to treat with the commonest of commoners who stand in line, sometimes for hours, to sit on his knee and spill their woes. Wisely this man with no talent for diplomacy slants his appeal to the young, assuring a consistent cadre of support into perpetuity. Still, his popularity cannot be well understood for he keeps his tradesmen in bondage and uses animals harshly and without relief.

He, himself, works but one evening per year. And while it cannot be argued that the guy in the red suit works like a Trojan when he works, one cannot but wonder how Santa Claus supports the missus and himself during the rest of the year? Is he on public dole?

Certainly there must be a horde of creditors in pursuit of the guy. I mean the heating bill alone for a tawdry shack in northern climes would break J.P. Morgan . . . before taxes.

Think for a moment the cost of mail delivery to the rest of us taxpayers. Gearing up for hauling tons of mail to the frozen North must cost the U.S. Postal Service an arm and a leg—our arm and our leg. Without mail delivery to the North Pole, we could probably return to the 3-cent stamp. Or at least the 29-cent stamp.

What prompts this tirade?

The very best reason of all: I received poor treatment. It all began while recently passing through a shopping mall on my way to an ice cream stand. While entering I was accosted by bell ringing, red-suited Santas exhibiting forced smiles. To top that, I had to fight my way through more tinsel-draped trees than abounds in a snow-laden spruce forest. What's worse is the line I thought led to the ice cream counter, wound to the knee of a union-suited, white-haired and long bearded fat old guy who exhibited a cheer he could in no way realistically possess.
 
I know this because all his exuded charm disappeared like a July snowbank when I reached the head of the line and took my place.

I asked, "Does this mean I won't get my Zeiss 10X20's again this year?"

*****************
December 10, 2016

STOPPING A GRIZZLY

Here's a Christmas gift idea for the outdoors person in your life: a can of  bear spray deterrent. There can no longer be any question: bear spray, used properly can and most often will drive an aggressive bear away.

What does "used properly" mean?

Like all aerosols, the spray works best when the can is held in the upright position while in use. (Whether such geometric nicety is always achievable while being batted around by a grizzly bear may require a modicum of additional analysis.)

Elemental, of course, is that one must use the spray only while the bear is near enough to be affected. This means mere feet instead of football fields away.
 
Also there must be no wind. Or it must be blowing or drifting to the bear. Although if a nasty grizzly is in full charge, making any sort of cool appraisal of wind direction seems hollow advice to me.

Don't panic: like did the lady who heard something snuffling around her camp during the night and emptied her can of Counter Assault inside the tent! Posterity has not disclosed whether the bear was frightened away. But there's reliable evidence it was some time before the lady cared one way or the other.

What sort of information is out that bear spray works?
 
The best: actual encounters. Here are a few excerpts from incidents reported in Glacier Park:

            "1986 (Grizzly) Self Defense. Began spraying at 18 ft. Bear cont. to 10 ft. Sow appeared to attempt to avoid spray & circle to right. Aimed at her for a "crucial couple of seconds" before can emptied. Bear woofed a couple of times. All bears disappeared.

            "1993 (Grizzly) Self Defense. A charge deferred by spray. Sprayed direct hit on face & head.  It retreated.

            "1993 (Grizzly) Self Defense. Charge. Sprayed by person other than injury victim. Bear retreated & not seen again.

            "1994 (Grizzly) Self Defense. Person turned & ran. Did not note bear's response.

            "1995 (Grizzly) Self Defense. Sprayed directly into bear's face at 3 ft. range, while bear attacking another person. Emptied whole can. Bear's face had wet appearance. Bear was growling. It stopped mauling & ran away."

Perhaps the very best recommendation for carrying bear spray while traveling through bear country came at a recent meeting I attended. There, bear research biologists who actually do the work of trapping and handling bears on the ground discussed the efficacy of deterrents. When polled, every one of those bear experts carried a can of spray for their own personal protection.

Most folks who've spent entire lifetimes amid bear country now consider the capsaicin spray as a safer tool to dissuade an aggressive grizzly than a .44 magnum. Stopping a charging grizzly with a firearm requires a well-placed bullet. That's a result most often achieved by a calm person trained in weapons handling. Stopping that same bear with a canister of spray may require nothing more than putting out a cone of spray the bear will run into. 

If experts put their faith in spray, why shouldn't we?

*************
December 3, 2016

TREASURE STATE CULTURE

"Whatever do you people do with all the horses?"  

We'd lived in Montana but a few years when my favorite aunt visited. The lady's home was in the hill country of Texas where she and her late husband had farmed and ran a small dairy. Apparently the woman was surprised at the number of horses she saw scattered on ranches and farmsteads during her drive through Montana.

"Do with horses?" I said. "Maybe I don't understand the question. What's folks supposed to do with horses? We ride them."

"Why? Why ride a horse when I can see you have a perfectly good pickup truck in the driveway? And a car in the garage."

I chuckled at this lady who'd proven so kind to a hell-raising kid during a particularly un-memorable period of my youth. "There are lots of places in Montana where we can't take vehicles.  We ride into those wild places." Just then a couple of neighbor kids passed our place astride their ponies. "Lots of folks ride for pleasure, too," I added.

Aunt Lemma clucked disapprovingly, I suppose at thought of wasting perfectly good grass and hay on something as uncommercial as the useless grade nags in our pasture.

"I thought Texas had lots of horses," I murmured.

"We do. But nothing like I'm seeing here. We have breeding farms and ranches—some run to thousands of acres. But it seems like every home in Montana has a horse behind it. Sometimes, like yours, more than one."

I've thought of Aunt Lemma over the years—how she was appalled at the un-sensible way we Montanans keep horses for pleasure instead of profit. Times change, of course, and in the last few decades even Texans may have discovered methods to waste money over and above bare necessities.

Today's Montana has their own generous share of breeding farms and ranches specializing in blooded stock of all breeds. There are show horses and performance horses, racing horses and rodeo horses. There are draft horses big enough to shade a freight truck. But still, by far, most equine-types in the Treasure State are just plain "usin'" horses.

We're so serious about it that often our blooded stock are also usin' stock. They labor up mountainsides laden with heavy packs just like grade nags from down the road. They all scramble over rock outcrops and windthrown trees, plow through bogs and snowdrifts and swollen rivers because we cherish our legacy of mountain men and mounted warriors, gold-seekers and cowboys. We recollect how hunting parties once trekked for weeks by horseback through forbidding wilderness. And most of all, we wish to be part of that legacy, carrying it into the future for our kids and their kids.

Economics be hanged. Behind most Montana homes and cabins—no matter how mean the farm—ponies graze. In a corner of a nearby shed, well-worn saddles and bridles and halters and nosebags collect dust. And occasionally that dust is blown off and those ponies saddled. It might be when cutthroats are biting up the South Fork, or elk are bugling in the high basins. Makes no difference. 

But it's done. And both us and our horses are the better for it.

*********
November 26, 2016

CHRISTMAS CAME EARLY

Writers tend to be fragile-types, easily wounded by slings and arrows hurled from clod-like detractors who lack the requisite decency to appreciate erudite sensitivity exemplified by sterling prose and depth of research. Especially MY sterling prose and research. Thus most of we creative geniuses approach each unsolicited missive with the wariness of a deer unexpectedly caught in oncoming headlights.

Such were two unsolicited emails arriving on consecutive days just prior to this Thanksgiving Day. One arrived November 23rd at 7:45a.m. In it Chuck Simpson writes:

"Enjoyed reading your stuff over the years. Once upon a time you and your wife gave my friend and me a ride from Spotted Bear to Columbia Falls. Thanks much for that! If I wouldn't have gotten that ride I might not have discovered your books as soon. I'll keep reading and you keep writing."

(Wrack my memory as hard as I might, I can't recollect the event, but the email should serve to prove that, at the very least, I'm a nice guy.)

Then there was the one arriving the day before from Kaya McCutcheon, who attends Hellgate High School in Missoula, Montana. But here, lets let Kaya tell it in her own words:

"Hello, my name is Kaya McCutcheon. I am a Sophomore at Hellgate high school. I have recently read you're book 'Learning to talk bear'. It was amazing, and very deep detail in information. I could hardly put it down, it just spoke to me. Only though I was jealous of you and how many encounters you had. You've seen more bears in a month than I have in years. Yet you were a guide, and I am just a hiker. Even with all the trails I have been on, you would think I would have came to close encounters. Especially where I live, the trails have had many reported sightings, and I have yet to see one. With that said I want to say that after I read the book, it felt like I have actually talked to you. Like you were a friend, it was so close to me and I absolutely loved the adventures you took me on. Even though it did make me sad to read about the bear's dying, but I awed at how clever bears are. How they can tell if its a trap or not, how they can get the bait and never set off the trap. Over all it was a beautiful book full of information that I loved.I would love to be in contact with you, to learn more stories from your adventures, to get to know you as a person, and learn more about the misunderstood Bear.

"Thank you so much, for taking time to read this, I hope we can talk soon."

It may seem strange, but Kaya isn't the first Missoula high school student to extoll the virtues of my books. A few years ago Randy Hodges wrote:

"I'm a 17-year-old senior at Big Sky High in Missoula. I have always been an avid hunter and outdoorsman, however, three years ago I brought a book home from the book exchange that turned me from a weekend outdoorsman to a full time outdoor lover. That book was "The Phantom Ghost of Harriet Lou" [subtitled "And Other Elk Stories"]. I've since read the book three times, certain chapters many more times, and both of your books on grizzlies. I have decided to stay in Montana for schooling and plan on making a career working with the land. Just wanted to thank you for giving me an explanation and helping me to put my thumb on why elk lure me into the woods each fall."

Receiving feedback like those emails makes a wannabee old writer as giddy as a five-year-old boy was in 1940 when he woke up on Christmas morning to find a Lionel Train set waiting for him under the most spectacular tree that ever graced a living room floor.

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November 19, 2016

MUCH FOR WHICH TO BE THANKFUL

 Thanksgiving Day occurs on the 24th day of this month. That’s just three days before Jane and I married, 62 years ago. We both have much for which to be thankful—most of all that our marriage survived us growing up while we grew into lasting love and friendship. Whether that relationship could have blossomed without being driven by the vehicle of outdoors adventure is an interesting question.

It was the lady's choice to marry an already-committed outdoorsman. The oddity was that she had no previous experience amid the rocks and rills, forests and hills. Neither did she learn outdoor skills quickly, for children came early in our marriage.

Jane did have a good teacher when at last she had time and freedom to learn, though. By then, I was a full-time outfitter, spending all my time riding or hiking isolated forest trails, game trails, or no trails, floating remote rivers, managing wilderness camps. As a result, the lady had but two choices: get in or get out. She chose to get in.

She learned quickly from that point, bringing artistry to campfire cookouts, identifying wildflowers by cross-reference an already advanced understanding of domestic varieties. In addition, the woman proved excellent with people, exhibiting real concern for imagined complaints, mothering those needing special consideration, becoming a confidant of those needing a listener. Our guests loved her. She was, after all, the outfitter's wife.

Her outfitter loved her, too.

Jane learned to flyfish remote wilderness streams. And she learned to shoot the heads from grouse with my Ruger Bearcat. I also watched her carry wood, skin deer, saddle horses, and set up tents. I watched her disappear into the deep forest with an empty coffee can and return three hours later with the can brimming with huckleberries that played well in pancakes and pies.

It's unfair that I worried about the woman after she'd spent decades watching me disappear into the sunset for days at a time, but I did. I worried that she either didn't understand—or didn't respect—possible dangers.  

For one thing, Jane has a decidedly less-than-refined sense of direction. Ask her to point east and unless she is fondling her morning's first cup of coffee and the sun is barely peeping over a skyline, she has a three-chance-in-four of being wrong. For another thing, despite my warnings about the dangers of climbing to places one cannot safely descend, she had to hang herself out to dry on a cliff face before believing her best friend-husband.

I've seen her thrown from a horse, scared by a snake, awed by a bear. She has thrilled to the bugle of bull elk, made friends with deer, and glassed the ledges where mountain goats roam.

I've watched Jane pilot rafts through whitewater, drive horses in from their pastures, brave windstorms and river ice and bitter cold. We're a team—me and the woman I married over a half-century ago. We play together, work together, sleep together, dream together. For that, we're both very, very thankful.

Make a living or make a life?  

We chose life.

**************
November 12, 2016

THIRTY YEAR FANTASY

In my book, there is no thirty year period that so defines any land on any continent so much as the years from 1840 to 1870 defines the West.

Yes, a powerful argument could be made that 1765 to 1795 defines the American Way. Or 1790 to 1820 defined the  following century in Europe. Or that the years 1930 to 1960, with its "Long March" in China and the rise of the "Yellow Peril" in Japan defined Asia. But in real everlasting terms, it was 1840 to 1870 in the American West that affects the world forever.

Those decades began with journey by river down the Ohio and Mississippi; up the Missouri; up the Red Rivers of the north and south, the Arkansas, the Platte, the Yellowstone. The Columbia was reached and explored by dugout canoe and cobbled-together raft. Pack animals were utilized to supply the fur trade in ever more remote locations in the Rocky Mountains.

Then came the wagon train era when thousands and thousands of pioneers streamed West, attracted by fertile farmlands of Oregon and Washington. Then it was gold! gold! in California.

Improved communications between East and West saw its birth with the Pony Express, then with telegraph lines spanning a continent. Stagecoaches followed dusty wagon routes, ferrying people into the hinterlands. The first railroad across the heartland from the Atlantic to Pacific was spiked to completion on May 10, 1869.

The Homestead Act passed through Congress in 1862, granting 160 acres of public land in the West as a homestead to ". . . any person who is the head of a family, or who has arrived at the age of twenty-one years, and is a citizen of the United States, or who shall have filed his declaration of intention to become such."

Military posts were established, trading centers developed. Churches sprang up, schools dotted the land, universities were founded. Political divisions were delineated. Kansas, Nebraska, Texas, California and Oregon all became states between 1840 and 1870. Territories were formed to later join their sister states.

Hostile Indian tribes were either pacified, or were on a fast track to reservations. From once uncontested control of their domains throughout the West, the tribes crumbled before the newcomers energy, ingenuity, and ruthlessness.

The bison neared extinction and cattle herds were driven from Texas and Oregon to take their place. By 1870, grain already waved into horizons on the Central Plains, beginning its ascent to supply the world's food. America began the era as primarily Anglo/Saxon and ended it polyglot, with Asian, eastern and southern European, and freed African mixing throughout.

The decades began with the free-trapping mountain man as heroes to the uninitiated, and ended with the folklore rise of the American cowboy and his gunslinger offshoot to the embrace of the American public. And throughout, pulp fiction dramatized the entire fantastic period.

The West began the three decade-era as largely unexplored and ended as a settled landscape. How can any mere thirty years—anywhere—match such a litany of change?

**************
November 5, 2016

BAD LUCK BALLAD

The guy was a truck driver hauling hardware supplies to stores throughout Pennsylvania. His job was satisfying, he was well paid, had a loving wife and three fine kids who were active, intelligent, and reasonably adjusted. In short, Art had everything for which he pined—save one. The man wanted to hunt elk; even built a room especially designed to display the antlers.

Art hunted five times with me in the Bob Marshall Wilderness and once, after I retired, with another outfitter. Art did not take the elk of his dreams. He didn't take an elk, period. Art would make a fine model for all the hard-luck hunters who exist in greater numbers than they or Montana's Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks will admit. Here's Art's litany of disasters:

His first hunt was one during late November. Snows were deep that year, but Art didn't mind. Day after day, the man slogged after the wily wapiti, plowing the high country snows after his guide. They jumped elk, spotted them from a distance, stalked them. Once, the man got a shot at a dandy bull at two hundred yards . . . and missed.

Art's brother took a big mulie buck. And the third member of their group downed a five-point bull on their last day. But Art went home with nothing but dreams of what he'd do "next year."

Next year came—another late season hunt. This time Art's rifle action was frozen at his critical moment and he again went home without fulfilling his dream.

Again Art returned. On this third late-season hunt, Art's luck at finding the elk deserted him. So, during the following year, the man selected an early season hunt at our high country camp. He took a dandy mule deer buck and faced down a grizzly bear at forty feet. "I saw the bear come over the ridge and head right toward me. I didn't know what to do, so I waited until the animal got within forty feet, then I yelled. God, he was big!"

"What happened then?"

"He whirled around and took off."

“Where was your guide?”

“On a drive. I figure he might’ve scared the bear my way.”

"Did you have your gun off safe?"

"What do you think?"

But Art saw only the hind end of a couple of elk. So he returned for another late season hunt and again missed a couple of shots at long range.

Then I sold my outfitting business and retired. Art scheduled a hunt with another outfitter friend of mine and I was invited along as a guest. One day I was asked if I would make a drive for Art and the outfitter in an area they called the "cow pasture." I'd not gone far when I spotted Art and his guide on an open ridge. Then, lo and behold! a herd of elk was heading up the hill through scattered trees right for the hunters. "Elk! Elk" I cried across the basin. "Heading for you."

The men crouched. Soon they spotted the leading elk that I could see so plainly from across the valley. All thirty were cows. I couldn't believe the man's bad luck. At last my voice wafted across the distance: "Now I know why they call it the cow pasture!"

To his credit, Art burst out laughing.

Later on that hunt, Art missed a shot at a five-point bull in the river bottom.  

Twice.

************
October 29,2016

METAMORPHOSIS OF EMOTIONS

Exasperated, I finally muttered, "Why don't you bitch?"
 
Her nose lifted airily.  "I have every right to bitch," she said.  "But I'll hold out this thread of hope:  my disposition will improve as the day progresses. What about yours?"

I laughed despite my wife's puckishness. We were on our way to Turtlehead Mountain, near the crest of the Rockies. The day began by horsebacking along a narrow, perilous trail—not her favorite line of outdoors adventure. Then we'd tied our horses and bushwhacked up a scramble-steep mountainside, through tag alder and huckleberry bush. Though sunbeams broke through a rising fog and gave every promise of turning into a gorgeous day, it'd rained the night before and the sopping brush soaked us from the waist down.

"What are you grinning about?" she demanded.

The grin spread as I turned and trudged on up the mountain. Soon, I knew, her "bitching and grumbling" would turn to "whining and sniveling," which would eventually give way to “indifferent acceptance," which—as we worked toward the high country—would metamorphose into "grudging approval."
 
"Just how much are we to climb today?" she asked as we next paused for air. "I'm tiring already." (whining and sniveling)

The fog lifted completely by the time we clambered into the tiny meadow along the crest of a spur ridge. "Feel that sun," I said. "It'll soon dry the bushes and grass."

"I hope so." (indifferent acceptance)

Another half hour and we could see our target mountain crest ahead and to the left. Pausing to rest once more I pointed out Big Salmon Lake, and Holland Peak in the western distance.

"It is pretty," she murmured.  (grudging approval)

So far, so good, I thought. But, eyeing the cliff ledges we must first clamber over to reach the mountain's inclined plateau, I knew Jane had yet other phases through which to pass. The first would probably be "hesitant fear," which—as we continued to climb—would turn to "absolute terror". . .

"Are you hurt?" I solicitously inquired after she tumbled on a talus slope.

"No, I'm all right. Just bruised. But this is hard walking." (hesitant fear) Then, "Are we going up THERE!"

I helped by offering her a hand, an arm, placing her feet. Finally we reached the ledge along which we must travel. I could stroll it with hands in pockets, but she crept step by hesitant step, hugging the cliff above, staring wide-eyed at the chasm below. "I . . . I don't think I can do this," she croaked.  (absolute terror)

But she made it through the notch and as we plodded on up the grassy slope to Turtlehead's crest, I mused that she had but two mood swings left:  "awestruck wonder" and "enthusiastic advocacy."

At the top, wind blew strands of hair charmingly around her pretty face as she turned in every direction. Mountain peaks thrust up as far as one could see. "Isn't this marvelous?" she shouted into the wind. (awestruck wonder) "I just can't wait to get back to camp to tell everyone else."  (enthusiastic advocacy)

My grin was as full as my love for the woman.

(Turtlehead Mountain lies in the Bob Marsahll's Flathead Range, north of the main stem of White River)

For info on ordering my Bob Marshall Wilderness coffeetable book, click here

*********
October 22, 2016

NEVER SO MUCH PRESSURE

His reply floated up from the basin below, carried on rising thermals. My father-in-law heard it also and turned expectantly my way. If only he wasn't so trusting, expecting too much. 

Sure, his son-in-law had enjoyed considerable success as an elk hunter. But success had only come via hard work, missed meals, vanished weekends and holidays and vacation days until his daughter—my wife—boiled inside and threatened to sue for abandonment.

It was no use, though. The Oregon meat market butcher had caught me in a moment of weakness, begged to come on a Montana elk hunt, then scheduled his vacation for the third week of September in order to coincide with early bugling season. Then for a year, the old man told all his friends that he was going to Montana to take his first elk.

God knows I tried to let him down easy; told him not to expect too much.  "Pshaw," he said, "you get one every year. Wouldn't be nothing for you to take me out and let me punch my ticket."

I looked at Jane and shrugged. She'd been around long enough to know how hard elk hunting really was—had, in fact, helped me backpack a six-point off a mountain, through deep snow, the year before. But the lady also knew I took that one near the end of a long season. She knew, too, I'd hunted day after day with little success. And to her credit, she, too, tried to help make her father's landing a tad softer.

Undaunted, Sam showed up on our doorstep the day before we were to pack into the backcountry.  In those days I didn't have a big string of horses like later, when I outfitted and guided into the Bob Marshall, so I had to make two trips out for food, gear, and horsefeed.

We hunted hard, out at daylight, back at dark. But like I feared, elk weren't playing our game. Surprisingly, Sam bore up well. The old man had put in plenty of years scouting for deer in Arkansas and Oregon and as a result, had his head screwed on straight enough.

He'd lost his right hand in an accident during his youth. So he did most of the cooking while I took care of our horses and cut the wood for our squalid little camp. "How you holding up, Dad?" I asked late in the hunt.

"Holding up? What do you mean? Don't you worry about me. We'll still get him." I sighed. Just two days left. Then we traipsed to a different ridge and I bugled down into a basin below. . . .

We tacked down into that basin where a bull had rashly answered our call, then set up against a screen of small firs with a commanding field of fire in front. Finally I again bugled.

The elk's full-throated roar came from our immediate right, and a little behind, startling us both. Then he came with a rush. When he broke from cover, the bull was only forty feet away.

The bull's charge came from Sam's handicapped off-side. His feet tangled as he tried to turn. The red-eyed, maddened elk paused, bewildered. His eyes cleared. With no alternative, I raised my rifle, flicked off the safety.

Then Sam's Enfield roared and the bull dropped as a stone. "Knew I'd get him, son," the man said from his belly, still trying to untangle his feet.

*************
October 15, 2016

FORMULA POLITICS FOR GETTING IT RIGHT

It grows more difficult to tell the players, even with a program. For instance, prevailing wisdom has it that one party is that of the common man, while the other represents wealth and privilege. So one day, while contemplating my navel, I recollected those national leaders of my lifetime:

Let's see, FDR was of Democrat persuasion—a wealthy, privileged one from an old family of Dutch burghers who settled down-state New York before an English frigate first nosed into the Hudson. Hmm, no mold-fitter there.

That guy Truman fit, though. Not exactly rich, but not too bad as the boss, either, despite being a Democrat.
           
Okay, Eisenhower. Father failed once in business. Raised six kids, though. Kids worked for scholarships. Earned their educations. Up from the bootstraps. Oops, Republican. Don't sound too party-of-the-wealthyish to me.

Kennedy. Irish. Surely he came from a potato-famine background. Not exactly. Father Joseph was former ambassador to England. More money than God and almost as much as the Pope. Was reported to have told son John that he'd back him as Democratic candidate for president. But John was to spend "not one dollar more than needed."

Johnson. Democrat. Here's a poor Texas farm boy scrapping his way through politics on the way to power's seat. Right? Right. But his wife's money and her chain of radio and television stations helped.

Ahh, Nixon. Here's one of those fat Republicans. Well, not exactly. Early poverty may have contributed to an inordinate desire to better himself. But the key words here are "early poverty". And his desire for self-improvement may have been lost in the methods he employed for that betterment.

Ford. Republican. Middle class family. No mold-fitter.

Carter. Democrat. One of the boys? Huh-uh. Peanut millions.

Reagan. Republican. An actor; no scion of wealth. In fact, his father, if truth be told, was an alcoholic ne’er-do-well, necessitating his son to work his way up from “Death Valley Days” to union leader to spokesman for General Electric, all top qualifiers for demanding Gorbachev to “Take Down This Wall!”

Bush. Finally, a Republican who got it right.

And then Clinton. A Democrat who proved from his up-from-the bootstraps beginning clearly demonstrated that even a poverty-stricken Democrat don’t have to remain poverty-stricken if he can push through Arkansas’ glass ceiling to make something of himself.

So prevailing wisdom that Democrats are poor and Republicans are rich hasn't exactly fit past presidential politics.  Okay, let's turn to our current litany of presidential politics. Does either candidate fit the mold?

Nope, I’m sorry. (So are they). I won't do it. I do not wish to investigate either.

After all, I do have some standards of moral decency.

***************
October 8, 2016

WESTERN ANSWERS TO EASTERN QUESTIONS

"Can I shoot from the backs of your horses?" 

"Yes. Once."

He'd crowded to our Pennsylvania sport show booth to ask what he thought was an important question relating to western elk hunting. I sighed and repeated what I had, over the years, developed as a stock reply to that question. 

The guy looked puzzled for a moment, then the logic of what was said washed over him and he grinned. I liked him then; I appreciate folks with a sense of humor.

Most Montanans find it difficult to believe the kind of questions a western outfitter is obliged to field from easterners. Early on, some of those questions stampeded me. But one soon learns to employ sardonic wit in defense.

"What do you guarantee?"

"That you'll get back. If you don't get back, we'll give you your money back."

"What's your success rate?"

"Depends. More physically able, experienced hunters have better success rates than couch potatoes."

"How much do I have to walk?"

"None. 'Course if you want to hunt . . ."

"What rifle do you recommend?"

"The one you're most familiar with."

Then there are the others; the lady who comes to the booth demanding to know about campgrounds in Idaho? Or the guy who wants to know about lodge accommodations in Yellowstone?  There've actually been folks who became angry because I didn't have Montana highway maps to give them.

One classic example was at a sport show in Dallas, Texas. Business was slow that day and not many folks in the aisle. I saw a man pause and eye our booth. He walked over and said, "Montana. You know, I was in the army with a guy from Montana."

I sighed. He didn't take the hint, so I said, "Where from in Montana?"

He chuckled. "Oh, I don't know. That was forty years ago. We were in France together."

I shook my head and waited for him to leave. At the time he was in France with a guy from Montana, the state’s population probably numbered somewhere around a half million. But the guy still didn't take himself away, so I asked, "What was his name?"

"Art—I think. Yeah, that's it. But I can't remember his last name. Either JohnSON or JohnsTON."

I sighed again; good Nordic names: Johnson or Johnston; and there're lots of Swedes and Norwegians in the Treasure State. But the guy still hung around like he expected something, so I tried ignoring him.

Finally he said, "Do you know him?"

Perhaps I'm leaving the wrong impression. Most of the folks who came with our outfit during the decades I served as a Bob Marshall Wilderness guide was more perceptive than those I've portrayed. Still, for some reason, we sometimes seemed to draw the other kind.

"When's the best time to hunt?"

"Whenever you have the time."

“Is your country steep?”     

“No, it's flat. But danged little of it is on the level—it's either flat up or flat down."

"What's the weather going to be like during this hunting season?"

Sigh.

*************
October 1, 2016

SECOND CHOICE

It was the biggest buck I'd taken, both in body and antlers.  His four hideless quarters, along with head and cape, weighed 240 pounds; the antler spread was 30-1/2 inches. 

He was my second choice.

We'd packed deep into the heart of the Bob Marshall Wilderness for a week of elk hunting. The trip thus far had been notable only in how badly we fared. Elk weren't bugling. Elk weren't feeding in meadows at daylight. Elk weren't leaving any tracks!

LaVern had left camp that morning, heading back for civilization in disgust. Stan and I stayed to hunt one more day, electing at last to go after some mule deer bucks spotted a few days before on a high, windswept plateau. With hearts set on bull elk, a decision to pursue deer was to us an admission of defeat.

The plateau was several miles away. As we rode from camp, it began raining and continued all day.  We worked our way near where the bucks were spotted, then tied our horses and began the hunt. I reached the clifftop first, glancing about for my partner. He wasn't in sight, so I wiped my face with a handkerchief and peered over the precipice. Clouds and mist shrouded the basin below. I worked along the cliff edge, watching the ledges beneath. The buck leaped to his feet, perhaps 150 yards away. He fell with the first shot.

I sighed. Though the buck filled my deer tag, I figured it poor pickings when real men are supposed to hunt elk.

It took several minutes to work my way down to the buck. When at last I rounded a ledge corner and stood only a few feet from the quarry I gasped, "Stan," then shouted, "STAN!"

At nearly 300 pounds on the hoof, the buck was more than we both could move without quartering. Perched as he was on the narrow ledge, it was a laborious job. And it was tedious to pack those quarters to the clifftop, then fetch my horse and lash the quarters to his riding saddle. It was even more grueling to lead that laden saddlehorse down into the valley, then trudge up the mountain on the other side, only to drop into the next valley to head for camp. Stan rode on ahead in order to begin supper. 

Dusk caught us as my saddlehorse and I worked our way up the last mountain. I still pinched myself over the near-record book buck, but remained disappointed over our failure with elk. Just before we trudged into a meadow, I paused and bugled like an angry bull, then grinned at the irony of still wanting to hunt as night fell on our last hunting day. Gathering up Rocky's reins, we continued up the mountain.  Fifteen or 20 steps into the meadow, Rocky pulled back. I glanced up. A huge bull elk stared at us. He was but 50 steps away.

I ran for my rifle. The horse shied! The rifle, when at last I reached for it, was jammed beneath deer quarters and antlers, pinned into a rear mount saddle scabbard. Rocky shied again. This time I chased him back down the mountain, finally cornering him against a whitebark pine. I jerked and jerked at the rifle. It came free at last. Rocky and my near-record book buck galloped off down the mountain as I wheeled, ready to shoot. The bull was gone.

We trudged into camp long after dark. LaVern was back. On the way out to civilization, he'd ran into a six-point elk who wouldn't take no for an answer.

Hence Lavern needed help ------- and our horses ------- to pack him out.

*************
September 24, 2016

ENORMOUS CHANGE

Meriwether Lewis, writing in his journal on June 17, 1805, says: "Saw a vast number of buffalo feeding in every direction around us in the plains, others coming down in large herds to water at the river." 

The location was at the top of the great falls of the Missouri, where the expedition Lewis led was momentarily stymied. Lewis tells of watching leaders of the buffalo herd being crowded out into the river by others shoving up from behind, then plunging to their doom over the precipice. "I have seen ten or a dozen disappear in a few minutes."

The Captain surmised carrion from the enormous number of buffalo carcasses washing up below the cataracts was one reason for the unusual number of grizzly bears inhabiting the region and bedeviling his party.

Farther upriver co-Captain William Clark discovered a giant springs. Clark writes: [It is] "the largest fountain or spring I ever saw, and doubt if it is not the largest in America known. This water boils up from under the rocks near the edge of the river and falls immediately into the river eight feet ..."

Lewis, on the plain above the cataract and giant spring, wrote on June 30: "Great numbers of buffalo in every direction. I think 10,000 may be seen in a view."

I sat behind the wheel of an automobile at an observation point above the Giant Spring and the Great Falls of the Missouri. Times have changed in the 200 years since Meriwether and William stood here. Such as:

* The Great Falls of the Missouri, despite a somewhat wet year, are a mere shadow of the magnificence chronicled by Captains Lewis and Clark. The reason? Much of today's river flow is diverted through turbines for energy production.

* The Giant Springs may or may not be the same as those first viewed by Captain Clark—I don't know. The state of Montana charges visitors to view the Springs and I have a nagging reluctance about paying to see what God hath wrought. Perhaps the state of Montana views their collecting a fee to view God’s work as an example of American free enterprisesystem at work, but somehow . . . .

* Within this Century, the closest approach grizzly bears have made to the Great Falls of the Missouri is while traveling through on Interstate 15, ensconced in a culvert trap. 

* The vast plain where Lewis watched 10,000 buffalo graze has changed, too: To the southeast, fighter jets rumble from military runways; to the south and west, skylines are dominated by subdivision and shopping mall. Across the river to the north where buffalo crowded their own kind into the river and thence over the great falls, the scene is still pastoral—except the buffalo are gone and in their place I counted 182 power poles marching in and out of an electric substation with no more apparent order than an unruly buffalo mob. (I waited to see if some of those rear-end power poles would crowd forward to push their leaders over the falls, but I waited in vain.)

All in all, looking at that landscape and comparing it with the detailed chronicles of our nation's first official western explorers, one wonders if we've been the kinds of stewards we'd like to believe?

Change is inevitable, I know. But a chill washed over me as I wondered aloud what this scene would look like in another 200 years?

***************
September 17, 2016

FACING DOWN DILEMMAS

The necessities of life are usually so convenient to we present-day Americans that it's difficult to remember it wasn't always so for our fathers or mothers. 

Need shelter for the night? That's easy, check into a motel. Travel where? What's the problem? We can drive to Salt Lake, Denver, or Seattle in a day; fly to Los Angeles in a morning, or New York before mid-afternoon. Hungry? A restaurant is around the corner, supermarket down the street.

Our old homesteader friends are long gone now, but during the blush of Jane's and my early married years they were our heroes. It was shortly after the beginning of the 20thCentury when the couple staked their homestead. They chose forest land far from civilization and over thirty years passed before a forest road nosed to their land. 

We sat at Perry's and Jessie's knees, listening to stories of the old days. Once, while visiting, Jessie served delicious huckleberry pancakes. We raved over them. Jessie beamed while murmuring, "Huckleberries are easier to get these days. Back in the old days, we'd take
packhorses and spend a week or two picking huckleberries."

"You did?" Jane said. "What did you do with them? Sell them?"

"Sell them!" the lady exclaimed. "Sell them! Heavens no! We packed my canner and lots and lots of fruit jars. And we canned them right there at Bulldog Prairie or Bradley Lake."

"Canned them?" I cut in. "That must have been quite an undertaking to pack empty jars, then can berries over campfires. Why did you want to do that?"

Perry slapped the kitchen table with the flat of a hand. "Didn't 'want' to do it, Roland. Had to do it."

"'Had to do it?' I don't understand."

"Scurvy," the old man replied. "We live up here where growing domestic fruits and vegetables was chancy. We couldn't always run to town for a can of applesauce. Scurvy was always in the minds of people like us."

"And there was no way," Jessie added, "to get berries home from far-off places like Grassy Ranch or Bulldog Prairie before they spoiled. So canning right there in the mountains was the only way."

I shook my head, thinking of packing fruit jars—jars of glass, empty or loaded—via horseback along some of the hairy trails I hiked while elk hunting. And decades later, after spending decades leading others to adventure while packing hundreds of horseback loads of camp supplies into Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness, I'm still dismayed at the accomplishments of yesterday's homesteaders.

Most of today's hardships are confronted because someone chooses to seek out adventure. In Perry's and Jessie's day, pioneers faced down dilemmas because there was no other way. That they exhibited considerable ingenuity and industry while problem-solving cannot be denied. That we venerate their deeds is appropriate.

That they seem, to us, supermen and women is not surprising. What's remarkable, however, is that the trial and conquest of early-day homesteaders took place so recently.

Their descendants are scattered throughout the West—and East. They sleep in motels, eat in restaurants, shop in supermarkets, and take commuter flights to Paris. Yet they're only a couple of generations removed from those who moved mountains, spanned oceans, and dreamed of better lives for their kids and their kids’ kids..

****************
September 10, 2016

                    OVERCOMING UNREASONED FEAR

It was at a press conference on a controversial proposal to re-introduce grizzly bears to the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. My role was to report the findings of my new book on changing attitudes of folks living around grizzlies.  Instead, I fielded a couple of questions not previously considered. I did poorly. The lesson was that it's hard to come up with answers until you know the questions.

Two that I found especially troublesome were from Idaho reporters: 1) What do you say to Idaho people who tell you they simply do not want the grizzly? 2) How do you respond to people when they tell you they have an unreasoning fear of the bear? Now I've had time to think. Perhaps these would be more reasoned responses:

1. The decision over whether it's appropriate to reintroduce grizzly bears to Idaho may not be that of Idaho people alone. The question itself strikes at the heart of the endangered species act. The act, it seems to me, is nothing more than a manifestation of the will of all the people of all America that they wish to retain certain species of wild animals? Thus manatees in Florida, condors in the Canyonlands, and grizzly bears in the mountain West. 

In every part of the U.S. there are wildlife species in short supply amid a habitat peculiar only to certain regions. And it's within those regions that recovery must take place. Idahoans, if they had their druthers, might druther recover manatees than grizzly bears. But Idaho hasn't the proper habitat for manatees; Florida is where manatees must live. Remote Idaho mountains, on the other hand, must be grizzly country if grizzlies are to be.

If, therefore, it is the will of America that grizzlies are returned to Idaho's remote wilderness, the question of the Gem Staters' fears of the great bears must be addressed: If such fears are valid, will Idahoans shun recreation in their own wildlands?

Not if we judge by the experience of people living where bears roam in Wyoming and Montana. Or even of North Idaho folks who recreate in the Panhandle's Selkirk Mountains where as many as fifty grizzlies are thought to roam.

There may be, it is true, some Idaho residents who will not choose to venture into backcountry inhabited by grizzly bears, just as there are some Montana and Wyoming folks who fear to visit their states' mountain regions for fear of the bear. But there are Idahoans and Montanans who've never taken up downhill skiing either. Or driving automobiles, flying airplanes, or swimming in lakes.

Each of us must confront fears throughout life. In fact, overcoming unwarranted fears are faced hundreds or thousands of times: fear of height, fear of darkness, fear of snakes, bugs, mice or mumps might well be the essence of life itself. 

The truth is grizzly bears once roamed Idaho's central mountain country. God put the creatures there, we wiped them out. Yet today, there's not many folks who dwell amid lands where the great beasts roam who would care to have that fate visited upon "their" bears. 

As one man said while I researched my book on grizzly bears: "To me, it's a gift to live in a country so rich in life's quality that it harbors the thrill of an occasional bear. You can have a millon dollars, but one cannot buy such a gift at a shopping mall."

Check out Roland's books at his online store:

*******************
September 3, 2016

CLOSE ENCOUNTER OF THE BEAR KIND

She was perhaps ten feet behind, hurrying to catch up after pausing to tie her shoe.  "I'm not sure how interested in bears Spokane people are," she said, picking up our conversation's momentarily lost thread. Just then the lady screamed as dense willows and tag alders to our right erupted! 

I whirled shouting, "What is it?"

"It's ... a ... bear!" And as if she'd waved a magic broom, the woman had me between her and the bear, leaping into my arms, ordering, "Get your bear spray!" as if I wasn't already fumbling for it.

"Get your own," I snarled, dumping her aside and freeing my canister, flipping off its lock. 

It was Jane's and my closest encounter with a bear – ever! It occurred a few years back, shortly after returning home from a Spokane book promotion. We were hiking the trail to Glacier Park's Huckleberry Lookout. Berries were ripening along the path, as expected in late summer. Since Huckleberry Mountain is prime grizzly habitat, and since we'd spied evidence of bear activity along the trail, we were both on high alert, carefully scanning hillsides around each bend, talking, making noise. Hence our conversation about the previous day's book signing and reading at the Spokane shopping mall.

The bear paused a mere thirty feet away and lifted his snout to the wind; I clearly saw his nose wrinkling. Then he wheeled again and crashed away. "I can't believe this," I said. "He's acting as if he didn't know we're here."

"Do you suppose he was asleep in his day bed?" Jane asked. There could be no better explanation to why I missed spotting him amid the brush. Apparently the bruin slept hard, too, otherwise he would’ve heard us coming. But, great god! when he rocketed from the brush, he was but six feet from either of us – almost within handshake range.

After our palpitations slowed Jane mischievously asked, "Do you really know how to talk to bears?"

I grinned. "He went the other way, didn't he?" Then I sobered. Had it been otherwise, an attack would have been instantaneous – and nothing we could have done would've prevented it. No time to jerk out a canister of bear spray. No time even to throw ourselves to the ground and cover up.

But the bruin took care of us. He did what 99-percent of his cousins do day after day, year after year. And more often than not, we don't even know it happens.

Still, it's sobering. We were hardly unsuspecting novices. After we'd spotted the first tell-tale digging and fresh scat, we'd adopted every known precaution short of turning back. And not once did we dream we could get so close to a fully-grown animal without him taking fright or letting his presence be known. 

"Perhaps I should someday write a book about bears," I joked.

My wife gave a nervous laugh. "It's hard to believe less than fifteen hours ago that you were in Spokane talking to hoards of people ABOUT bears. And here we are a few hours later, absolutely alone in the mountains, talking TO bears.”

See http://www.rolandcheek.com/LttbStore.html

*************
August 27, 2016

GRUMPINESS PART OF GROWING OLDER

Ever notice how folks get grumpier as they grow older?  It's an apparently natural phenomenon, else Hollywood wouldn't have used the theme for popular movies starring Jack Lemon and Walter Matthau.

Grumpiness seems more likely to assert itself with experience. Attend a ball game or a concert during youth and one tends to be wide-eyed throughout the event, content to follow the lead of any companion who leaves an impression of familiarity. But become knowledgeable yourself and one winds up second-guessing event selections, arrival times, performance. 

Nowhere, though, have I discovered the onset of disgruntledness more likely to occur than amid the outdoors, perhaps because so many options are available. Grumpiness is even more certain to float like an oil slick during extended adventure, such as a wilderness packtrip, northwoods camping, or Caribbean sailing. 

"You want to go for a ride to the top of Moonlight Peak? But today is the day I planned to fish for cutthroats in Slideout Canyon.

Or, "You want to search for fossils on Route Creek Pass?  My God, man, when do we look for elk tracks in the Lick Creek wallows?"

One person wants to identify wildflowers, another visit Big Prairie. One wants to ride through White River Park at dusk to better see wild animals, another would rather have a cocktail and enjoy easy conversation at sunset. One wants to relax against a yellow pine, another wants to scramble-climb a mountain.

None of the above scenarios are figments of magination; they've all occurred during my guiding years. Having spent so much of our adult life guiding others to wilderness adventure, it was commonplace for my wife and me to yield to the needs and desires of others. Now that we've retired, however, we wish to indulge our own wishes. And we've found out how to do so while still enjoying outings with friends. It's a discovery I want to pass along so you, too, may avoid the image of senile petulance. The trick is really quite simple: split up. Let them ride to Moonlight Peak while you fish Slideout Canyon. 

Try to build private days into your adventure in advance so there will be no surprises or wounded feelings. Lacy and Colleen showed us how during the dozens of wilderness hikes, packtrips and river voyages we've made with these Oregon friends. 

Instead of complaining, they joked about the "forced marches" I've led them on. And on occasion they simply told us "Tomorrow we plan to use for ourselves." Their plan worked so beautifully Jane and I employed the process during an adventure along the Rocky Mountain Front with two couples who've been friends for three decades.

The first two days were spent exploring side canyons by horseback. When we arrived at camp at the end of day two, one of our friends asked: "Where are you planning to lead us tomorrow?"

I said, "Nowhere. Tomorrow is an 'on-your-own-day'.  Jane and I are planning to hike from camp with no destination or time frame planned. What you do is up to you." The plan worked beautifully. And everybody was ready for more high adventure on day four.

Plan the occasional day for yourselves, to pursue only what you wish to do, whether it’s demanding adventure or only to snooze and relax.

Surprisingly, such an advanced policy also leads to enhanced friendships.

**************
August 20, 2016

NOT ALL THAT OBSERVANT

It all began with Jane spotting the two bats hanging from a telephone line a few miles south of our home. The bats hung from the same place for several days, then they were gone. Was it because of the great horned owl sitting atop a nearby power pole?

The owl stayed but a day or two, then disappeared. But those bats and the owl sharpened Jane's eye. And a month later she returned from town to say, "There's an owl sitting on a pole by McWenneger Slough. He was there when I drove in to town, and there when I returned."

A couple of days later she again returned from town, this time really excited. "The owl is still there!" she exclaimed. “And there's another one on another pole down the road."

It happened that I'd promised to take the lady out for dinner that night. The owls were still on their individual McWenneger Slough poles. And I spotted another atop yet another pole. "What's going on here," I growled, "an owl convention?"

Another week passed and she discovered a fourth owl along the slough. Was something suspect here?

McWenneger Slough may be the West's premier wetland—I learned that fact while researching an article assigned by Montana Magazine. McWenneger is the cornerstone of a vast system of sloughs, fens and marshes left after the retreat of the last, great, northern ice cap, 15,000 years ago. This particular wetland is home to a great diversity of wild mammals and birds. Jane's four post-perching great horned owls were but the latest.

My wife was crushed to learn her owls were dummies. "I don't know why I didn't note their base when I first saw them," she wailed. But her husband wished to know why the dummy owls were there. So I called the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at Creston. Their biologist knew nothing of fake owls perched on McWenneger power poles and suggested I contact Montana's Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

Dan Casey, FWP's Region One bird biologist didn't know of the owls either. He implied they were probably installed by the power company owning the transmission line to keep ospreys or eagles from building nests atop the poles.

So I called Flathead Electric Cooperative and was referred to Jerry Brobst. Brobst told me much of my previous information was correct. The owls belong to the REA utility. The quite realistic replicas are made of plastic and installed by linemen working from bucket trucks, usually, in conjunction with other work in progress. 

“The owls,” he said, “are used to keep osprey from perching or building nests atop the poles (apparently a branch from a large nest can fall across lines, causing a power failure). Brobst said the fake owls will work to frighten other birds, too. He says the Bigfork school system uses them to keep pigeons from school buildings. 

I asked how many owls the utility employed? 

"About two dozen."

During the course of our conversation I mentioned we had first noticed them a month or two earlier. "How long have they been up?"

“Oh, for about four years, more or less,” he replied.

So much for Jane's and my acute powers of observation.

***************
August 13, 2016

OUNCE OF PREVENTION / POUND OF CARE

Jane sat bolt upright at the crash! I had been awake for some time, counting the seconds between lightning's flash and thunder's roar. Just a moment before, I'd gone, "One-thousand-one, one-thousand ..." Then the deafening blast jolted Jane awake. She settled back as the first drops began to fall.

"It's been getting closer for a long time," I said. "That one was near enough." Those first drops soon turned to a torrent and we scrambled around inside our tiny tent to ensure tomorrow's clothes touched no sidewalls as the force of wind and rain drove moisture through. 

"We should waterproof this tent again," Jane murmured.

Earlier we'd discovered two or three small holes in mosquito netting covering vent holes.  The reason we discovered those holes was because, during the sultry hour before the storm, mosquitoes discovered them first. I flashed a light around our tent, pausing at the short tear in one sleeping bag. "We need new bags," my wife said.

"Or we need to do better at maintaining the ones we have." I laid back, hands behind my head as lightning continued to flash in the distance. Rain still drummed down. Thunder crackled.

"Isn't it funny," I muttered, "that back when we were still outfitting—when time was so limited and we had ten times as much equipment to keep in repair—that we did a better job of maintenance."

"Mmm-hmm. Then we used to set aside time each spring to patch tarps and tents, waterproof equipment, oil leather, tune trucks." She paused before adding, "But somehow it was all done."

"Now," I cut in, "we have only four horses instead of thirty, two packsaddles instead of sixteen, one tent instead of twelve ..."

"And we're retired," she added, "supposedly with lots of time."

"And nothing gets repaired until we actually need it."

Silence fell between, broken by slackening rain and far-off, muted thunder. She yawned. "Perhaps that's a proper subject for a newspaper column."

“There's a difference between ‘maintenance’ and ‘repair,’ I said. “Repair is tying a knot in a broken shoestring when it breaks; maintenance is replacing your shoestrings when they're merely at the worn stage.” The silence was palpable until I added, “Then there are two types of repair: One means properly fixing something; the other denotes cobbling it together enough to get you out of a bad fix”—like happened on the very same packtrip as the thunderstorm when I used binder twine to lash a packsaddle's rigging together after a pony fell from a sidehill trail and rolled to the bottom of a ravine. 

(The fact that very same packsaddle still lies un-repaired in my barn gives no credence to this column's advice.)

The advice, though, is sound. The time to waterproof rain gear or tent is not during a wilderness packtrip, during a rainstorm. Take a thorough inventory of ski gear in the fall, hiking gear in the spring. Carefully go over every item.  Replace worn cord, patch mosquito netting, resole boots, hone knives, sharpen axes, re-caulk your boat, check the air in your trailer tires.

Dividends will outstrip your cost every time.

Oh yes! Do as I say, not always as I do.

**********
August 6, 2016

AUGUST IS IT! 

Put on your track shoes, don your helmet and get ready to  accelerate: August is here. It's the longed-for prime-time month for every true-blue aficionado of mountain adventure.   

By August, bugs, cranky during spring and early summer feeding  frenzies, are slackening. Snowbanks left from the deep fluff of winter just past are in full retreat from high country passes. Rampaging waters from spring's snow melt are long-ago left behind and most stream fords are shallow and safe to cross.  And by August,  U.S. Forest Service and National Park trail crews have spread into  the nether regions of their domains, cutting and clearing as they go.

September is a fine month, also. Most of the time. Elk are  bugling, aspen turning, and trout rising. But Junior's football  practice begins in September, college registration kicks off then, and hunting season is just around the corner.  Too, when one recreates  amid Montana's mountains in September, one knows he is on borrowed time from the weather. 

During my outfitting and guiding years in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, I've seen as much as 18-inches of snow fall during one September day. I've also seen temperatures  plummet into the teens (and below). 

Nope, August is for me.   

The problem with August is it only contains thirty-one days. And that's not nearly enough to do all the things we've wished to do for eleven months prior: hike all the trails, climb all the peaks, relax in all the meadows, dip toes in all the lakes. With only weekends to indulge our outdoors passion, how can we fit it in? 

We can't, that's plain.  My  calendar says there are but four Saturdays and four Sundays in August.  With just eight weekend days, we're stuck with whining and sniveling as our only options for displeasure expression. 

True, the Labor Day weekend falls on the 3rd, 4th, & 5th of September, so maybe the canny among us can, when nobody's looking, slide that one into August and count it, too. With eleven days to spend during prime time, maybe we'll find this year worth living despite cranky mosquitoes during the dog days of summer.  

Those among we locals who are really sly save vacation time for August and thus tack another week or two onto our prime time options. In essence, a really comprehensive analysis of August's outdoors opportunities discloses the month's adventure window to be open anywhere from thirteen to twenty-three days.

And that's a bunch. Which begs another point: Climb a mountain and I've had it for a week. My heart tells me I really do want to climb another mountain tomorrow, and the next day.  But body says huh-uh. 

Head, though, says it's all right for me to soak my pinky in a lake, or relax in a meadow. But climb mountains on successive days? Nope. That's why I'm already into examining next year's August calendar and making plans to do all the things I know I cannot accomplish this year.

*************
July 30, 2016

HOW TO SURVIVE AND STILL HAVE FUN

The view from the ridgetop ran chills skittering up and down my spine. I'd counted on it bringing grins, but hadn't expected it to yank out a gasp when the first snow-capped, triangle peak poked up from the innards of the unmarred land beyond. 

A few more steps and I paused on the expansive, beargrass-covered ridgetop. Another nation beckoned from 75 miles away, from across the entire length of Glacier National Park. Yet Alberta and the peaks of Waterton seemed just beyond fingertip reach in the
crisp, clear air of this glorious sunshiny day.

Then a wind gust slammed my perch and I staggered forward like a drunken sailor before bracing against it.  A raven swept over the ridge like a missile. He was so low and so close, I could've reached out and touched him. A flock of unidentified flying L.G.B.s (little gray birds) swept by shortly thereafter. They, too, zipped by at little more than armpit-level.

I thought back to the morning's drive and how cottonwood trees along the forest road had a belly-up, lighter green look to some of their leaves. The low flights by birds and the cottonwoods' flip-flopped leaves presaged heavy weather in the offing. Between gusts, I turned to peer back to the southwest. Ominous black clouds roiled over the Swan Range. 

I was young then and indestructible. So I slipped from my daypack, dug for the paper sack containing a sandwich, and sprawled in the grass to escape the wind.

My eyes flicked open at the first raindrop and I immediately shaded them from the blazing overhead orb. More drops pattered down, slanting in from the west.  How dared God give light and taketh it away at the same time? 

Sheets of rain would soon be upon me, marching like phalanxes from the Pacific Rim, heading directly for my ridgetop perch. Beyond the phalanxes, those black clouds had completely shuttered the Swan Mountains and were halfway across Hungry Horse Reservoir, pregnant bellies dipping to the water on their inexorable way.

I sat up to again admire those gorgeous, snow-glistening peaks to the north and east. They still bathed in crisp sunshine, but were now softened by the refractive somberness of the approaching storm. Reluctantly I stuffed my empty lunch sack back inside the daypack and clambered to my feet. With wind and rain beating against my face, I was glad, a few minutes later, to drop downslope into the forest. Then the full fury of the storm struck!

I stopped beneath a gnarled whitebark pine and gathered a few dry twigs from beneath its overhanging trunk. Then I shaved slivers of pitch from a chunk of “fatwood” carried in the daypack and prepared to strike a fire. The wind was too erratic, however, and too gusty
to hold a match flame. So I took the paper sack from my pack and dropped pitch slivers and small twigs into it, turned the sack's opening away from the wind, struck a match and tossed it in.

With a tiny fluttering blaze established, I stacked wet branches around for a windbreak, then threw larger dry branches to the fire.

* If you haven't already noted, there are several fundamental outdoors tips in this column.

*************
July 23, 2016

TWEAKING THE EGOTISTICAL

There's nothing quite as slapstick as watching someone with an ego have it tweaked during a slice of outdoors adventure. Unfortunately, the hilarity most often occurs among observers, not observees, and I was well beyond the age of puberty when I first noticed people love you best when you laugh at your own misfortunes and keep mum about theirs.  An example might be:

* Pouring water pooled on a tent fly ... into the boots you'd set outside to dry a few minutes before.

Saved, of course, for the gods' ultimate malignant amusement is an embarrassment served a so-called outdoors "expert" among a covey of novices.  I remember one such occasion:

* During particularly nasty weather, after carefully preparing the tinder for a warming fire, I glanced sheepishly up at the circle of anxious, teeth-chattering faces and asked, "Does anyone have a match?"

It's especially traumatic when your four-legged friends use, misuse, and abuse you. I can't count the times when:

* They've thrown up their heads and galloped into the sunset simply because I appeared on a distant skyline with a halter in my hand. Then how, hours later, when I stamped back footsore and angry and blasphemous, they stood placidly in the corral yawning as if to ask, "Where you been, boss?"

Horses and dogs use me, men target me for hilarity and disparagement, but it's women who've brought the art of verbal lampoon to fine art. Consider the lady who:

* Brought me low by wondering what on earth "you Montana people do out here in this godforsaken wilderness at the end of the earth? Back in Buffalo [New York, not Wyoming], we have opera and ... and professional sporting events. But out in this remote region, you unfortunates have only mountains and rivers and lakes and ... and each other."

Though mountains and rivers and lakes and each other still doesn't seem all that bad to me, another lady once cut me off at the knees with disparaging remarks about cowboys, of all things! True, I've known eastern males to impugn western males, mostly, I suspect, because of a low sense of Ivy League inferiority, but I'd come to expect enlightenment from females of Vassar persuasion.

* "I'd always hoped to marry a cowboy," the attractive Manhattan lass giggled, speaking in full earshot of my wife Jane, "until I met you."

But the ultimate indignity is when children find me an easy target:

* "Mr. Cheek, were you just showing off, or did you fall in that river because you are clumsy?"

And the foremost indignity of all is when it's your own kids who do the tweaking:

* "Gee, Dad, you almost rode that horse that time!"

* "Gosh, Dad, I thought you said 30 miles on a horse in one day is a long ride. Valerie and I want to ride on down to Brushy Park. Okay?"

* "Yeah, well, what's the big deal?  He was just a little snake and I didn't see which way he went when he knocked the lid off my box. Did you look in the bathroom?"

***********
July 16, 2016

ALL ABOUT CATTAILS

At best, it seems inconsiderate to neglect our education—yours and mine—for too long. Therefore we'll further it by devoting today's column to cattails.

Beginning with the cattail feature we know best, can you tell me what composes the sausage on the end of the plant's long stem? Flowers. Up to a half-million tiny, drab little flowers that are pressed in amazingly close embrace. Each flower produces a seed too small for the human eye to see.

Craighead's Field Guide to Rocky Mountain wildflowers has this to say of the cattail's sausage: "At top of 4- to 8-ft. unbranched stem is a dense raceme of minute brown flowers. Lower 2-8 in. of this inflorescence is a dense, sausagelike cluster of female flowers. Immediately above are the male flowers." (Just as a note, I examined the sausage cluster carefully and in my ignorance couldn't locate which of the half-million brown flowers were male and which female, so I guess you'll have to take Craigheads' word on faith.)

There's quite a bit of interesting detail on the cattail in a book titled, Wilderness, by Rutherford Platt. Platt says just one of those thousands of seeds can fall into the mud of a swamp and be filled with so much energy that "in a few days it may be several feet long and putting out branches in all directions."

Platt goes on to say, "A single cattail plant may spread its branches through three acres of swamp." He also says the underwater root-like branches of the cattail are filled with air and "a pulpy substance that has as much nourishment as corn, rice, and potatoes."

The Craigheads claim roots of the cattail can be "eaten raw, or roasted in hot coals." But they also claim "rootstock is easily pulled up," so I'm not sure how much one can trust what those two brothers say. My reason for disillusionment is that I've spent time in a cattail swamp trying to pull roots for breakfast and wound up hiking back to camp for an axe . . . only to discover it'd probably be easier to bail the swamp than to chop cattail roots in 18-inches of water.

On the other hand, Indians are documented as gathering cattail roots using digging sticks. I'd no doubt be fascinated with their techniques. At any rate, I managed a couple of potato-sized pieces of a cattail plant that was obviously too bedraggled and shopworn to longer resist, and threw in the towel when I threw in my axe.

"Towel," incidentally, was what one of those potato-sizes tasted like raw, so I roasted the other. Then it tasted like scorched towel with mold on it from lying too long under a locker room stair-well. (Aww, I jest.)

Fuzz from the pod can be used as fire tender. Dry fuzz, that is (don't expect it to ignite in a rainstorm without a blowtorch).

The Craigheads say fuzz from cattail sausages were used by early settlers for bedding stuffers. (But the Craigheads also said the roots are "easily pulled up,” too.) So a word to the wise—fluff the sausages first. 

Good night. Sleep sound.

**************
July 9, 2016

GIVING WITHOUT EXPECTATIONS

The couple paused atop a high bank, waving down while we loaded our inflatable raft at water's edge. "That's Don and Linda," I said, focusing my binoculars on the backpackers. 

We'd bumped into the two college grads earlier in the week, upriver. Don's mother and father are two of Jane's and my staunchest friends. Linda, Don's new bride, was attractive and seemed especially vivacious. 

Like us, the young couple had spent a week adventuring in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. The difference was ours was via horseback and river raft, while theirs was by shanks mare and overloaded backpacks. Now we were all headed out—this was the last day. Don and Linda had eight miles of dusty trail to hoof, we would drift out in comfort.

A couple of minutes later, we pushed our lightly loaded raft into the fast water of the Flathead's South Fork. A couple of more minutes and Jane said, "You know, we should ask them if they want to ride out with us."

I looked at our guest, a single passenger, with a raised eyebrow. "Certainly," he said. 

I pulled on the oars, shouting up at the trail, "DON! LINDA!"

"What!" came a far-off reply.

"YOU . . . WANT. . . TO . . . RIDE . . . OUT . . . WITH . . . US?"

The echoes hadn't quit reverberating when the young couple came skidding down an avalanche chute on their butts, dragging their backpacks like toggle logs behind.

Don and Linda now live in Billings. He was the successful wrestling coach for Billings West High School, then became their athletic trainer until his recent retirement. Seemingly, they've not forgotten our kindness. And today, each of their grown children appear oddly to have an outsized affection for Roland and Jane.

Linda's parents lived at Simms and each week they faithfully cut my "Wild Trails" column from their local “Great Falls Tribune” newspaper and sent to their daughter and son-in-law in Billings. Don then recycled those columns zipping back and forth across the state to his father and mother in Ronan.

It's a strange thing, the phenomenon of doing impulsive good turns for others with no expectation of rewards, then have it lead to surprising results. Another such case apparently occurred back in the early 80s. "You don't remember me," the young man said, "but I met you several years ago up at Hungry Horse. You were on your way to or from a trip into the Bob Marshall Wilderness, yet you stopped to talk to me when I asked a question."

"I'm sorry," I said, still puzzled.

"It's all right," J.W. Westman laughed. "I had a pony tail then. And a beard. But I've never forgotten how polite and informative you were to a person you must have thought was a hippy." The man has read each of my books since those long ago days, and has become a fervent advocate for them to others. He and his wife Lori and children Megan and Dakota have invited Jane and me to their home (also in Billings) for the breaking of bread.

In another case, I have a keepsake Winchester '73 hanging on my office wall—a surprise gift from yet another friend who somehow developed the mistaken belief that I'd extended an unexpected kindness.

Each time it happens, I shake my head in wonder, that such a small thing as being kind can rebound with such compound interest. What none of them seem to grasp is that I had already received my rewards simply by being courteous, informative, and helpful.

Yet all became friends for life.

*************
July 2, 2016

CONTRACT WITH OUR MAKER

The huge red and white flag billowed over the Canadian shopping center as we hugged the slowest freeway lane while hordes of Calgarian commuters sped home from work. "Mmm," I said. As so often happens after over several decades with the same woman, Jane was tuned into the same thought wave.

"It's pretty," she said of the impressive crimson Maple Leaf waving grandly from the flag's white center. "But it's just not as inspiring as the red and white stripes of our Star Spangled Banner when it undulates in a breeze."

"Maybe that all depends upon which country you're from."

There is little question that flag symbolism causes emotions to escalate; Jane's and mine were no different. Canadians debated for decades whether their nation should even have a distinctive flag and, if so, its design. Their present Maple Leaf flag was only adopted to replace the British Union Jack in 1965.

Our Continental Congress resolved, on June 14, 1777, that "... the Flag of the united states be 13 stripes alternate red and white, that the Union be 13 stars white in a blue field representing a new constellation."

After Vermont and Kentucky joined the Union, two stars and two stripes were added. It was this 15-stripe, 15-star flag waving over Baltimore's battered Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner, adopted as our national anthem by an act of Congress in 1931.

The design of the flag was changed again in 1818 with the decision to retain 13 stripes and add stars to indicate the current number of states.

Some religious sects have tenets prohibiting saluting the flag. And some political protesters have tried dramatizing their cause by burning the flag. The courts have usually held that the flag only symbolizes freedom and therefore may be treated by free citizens as they see fit, regardless of the outrage this may produce in others.

When I entered school in 1941, before our nation's entry into World War II, one of our first lessons was to learn the Pledge of Allegiance. We daily recited our pledge while holding right arms extended to the flag. And there was considerable confusion when the change to covering our little boys' and girls' hearts was made after Pearl Harbor so we wouldn't mirror little German boys and girls in their salute to the Nazi Swastika.

How the salute is done is really unimportant to me. And whether others deface our nation's flag is, in my mind, more a question of good taste and respect for the values it represents than over whether I should be outraged at their stupidity. All I really know (or really care about) is tears come to my own eyes when the high school band strikes up MY National Anthem and MY flag rises to wave proudly over the field.

Maybe someone else thinks that's cornpone. But I suspect our Canadian friends to the north feel precisely the same way when THEIR Maple Leaf flag mounts their flagpole during their events.

One's patriotism is, in the final analysis, a personal thing. I choose to think it's all part of MY contract with MY maker.

****************
June 25, 2016

WHAT'S NEEDED MOST FOR OUTDOOR ADVENTURE

A long horseback packtrip into wilderness country takes a certain modicum of talents. Map reading skills are important, as is the ability to maintain a minimal ability to point toward north. As for horse handling skills, one should be able to saddle a pony, throw a pack and lead a packstring along a steep mountain trail.

But of all those skills necessary for successful adventure, none is more important than the ability to choose a proper campsite. There are many desirable attributes to consider in choosing your camping spot, such as accessibility, a nice view, protection from the elements. They're nice. But a few things are absolutely essential.
 
Obviously adequate water someplace near is one. If you're cooking over a campfire, so is a source of suitable wood. Proper forage for your horses is important, too. And during bug time, choosing a site where a breeze can sweep through camp can be more than merely desirable.

On the other hand, if it's not bug season, but blizzard season, pitching a tent where it'll be buffered against gales might be prudent—a windbreak of aspens or doghair lodgepoles, along the lee side of a bluff or cutbank.

How does one find such sites?

Begin by studying maps—particularly contour maps where forests are delineated in green (U.S.G.S.). Though your map might show the trail you're following will soon brush against a stream, if the contour lines are many and close, that'll tell you the terrain is steep and unlikely to harbor a suitable place to pitch camp.

Often a bench above a stream or lake provides a dandy windswept campsite with adequate wood for your fire and grass for your horses; the catch-22 is it may require carrying water. So what? On our guided trips with several guests, I carried canvas packbags that fit over a riding saddle, and four five-gallon (deflatable) plastic water jugs that can fit in those bags.  In one whack, I can carry enough water to do our camp for a couple of days.

When bugs are bad, gravel bars along streams offer windswept camping areas. Gravel bars also have another advantage—they seldom provide evidence you've been there after you're gone. Be careful about fire on a gravel bar, however. As surprising as it may sound, those colorful water-washed rocks are likely to have moisture in them; they've been known to explode when exposed to intense heat. Instead, sprinkle sand where you plan to build a fire.

Special care should be taken with your horses while you're camped on a graveled stream bend.  Adequate graze should be located away from the river bottom and your hitchlines should be strung well away from your camp, preferably in a copse of trees.

Good campsites are best identified on the ground. You'll know a great one the moment you see it. Be careful about passing those good sites by—no matter how early in the day—unless you're sure there's another better one beyond the next trail bend.

In my experience, it helps to be able to saddle and pack the ponies and to have the skill to cajole them along a mountain trail with minimum difficulty. It helps, too, to be able to read map coordinates and pick out the North Star.

But the greatest boon to a quality outdoor adventure lies in your ability to pick really good campsites.

************
June 18, 2016

RECREATION'S DROUGHT RESPONSE

Predicting Montana weather far in advance can be a chancy proposition. I first learned this back in '67, a wet-spring year that saw the last appreciable rain coming the first day of July.

Who could imagine in June that August and September fires would rage across Glacier's Huckleberry Mountain and Going-To-The-Sun Highway?  

Who could guess that the Bob Marshall Wilderness's traditional Sept. 15 hunting opening would be delayed for more than a week until the fire danger was squashed by a deluge?

Few folks predicted the fires of '88 until expected June rains failed to materialize. On the other hand, prophecies of doom were prevalent during the dry spring of '68. Remember? That's the year it rained all but four days during August!

Other fire years followed; so many I’ve become gunshy with any predictions. Still, forecasts spill. Last year proved a classic. Mountain snowpacks were largely gone early. Or hardly existed at winter’s end. Wilderness stream flows ebbed alarmingly. These things I know because backcountry passes and mountains one would normally find difficult to visit for
another month are routine for early travelers.  The word was drought. And in some parts of Montana it's akin to disaster. Fortunately we who dwell in the mountains suffered less than some. At least until the advent of wildfires. We did, however, experience a modicum of household discomfort through rationing. Catchy slogans ("If it's yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown, flush it down") flourished. But real privation? No.

Where we really felt deprived was in opportunities for forest recreation. Thus far, despite the wildfire holocausts of last year, there are no nearby national forests yet on alert and your recreational opportunities are still unlimited.

Yes, it's true public awareness of tinder-dry fire threats are heightened over that of decades ago and forest visitors are more aware of fire dangers. Yes, firefighting capabilities are much greater today (although not infallible, as recent years proved). And yes it's true forests are less likely to be shut down today than was true in the sixties and seventies.

But still, this could be another year when we see even more volatile forests in incendiary conditions. Recreational opportunities may well depend upon individual acceptance of heightened responsibility toward use of fire: no smoking while traveling, cooking only under carefully controlled conditions, water always at hand when flame is present, fires dead out when abandoned.

How about natural fires?

That's anybody's guess. The late Charlie Shaw, former forest ranger at Spotted Bear, tells in “The Flathead Story” about the 360 lightning-caused fires of 1940. If in fact dangerously dry conditions do develop, I plan to travel with a wary eye on any cumulus nimbus rearing upwind. I'll only camp where natural fire barriers exist: streams, gravel bars, short-grass meadows.

Last year was one where fish suffered from the low waters of late summer. Wildlife surely suffered at winter’s onset and they discovered winter ranges stocked only with parched forage from the summer past.

And for us? We, too, suffered. As to how much depended upon our own actions in the way we used our public lands.

*****************
June 11, 2016

GREAT ADVENTURE MISHAPS

The lady reined her pony to a stop and exclaimed, "What a mess!" Then she added, "Pigs!" hissed through clinched teeth.

I punched my saddlehorse alongside and eyed the camping place in disgust. Their fire ring was but six feet off the popular Columbia Mountain Trail, perhaps two miles from one of Montana's main east/west highways. Discarded tin cans lay about the ring, foodstuff still clinging to them.  A 12 x 15 piece of muddy plastic draped from nearby brush.

Ten-inch diameter trailside firs had been toppled with a hatchet, and several two-foot chunks lay half-burned within the fire ring. One of the felled trees still lay across the trail.

The campers had defecated alongside the main path and their soiled tissue hung from trailside ground cover.

"They should be reported," Jane said, still grinding her teeth.

Perhaps, I thought. But to whom? Yes, the land is administered by the U.S. Forest Service. But what laws do they have on the books for this sort of thing? I stared down at the campers' bicycle tracks, plain in a trail still muddied from a night of rain. 

"No, Jane," I said. "This is a breakdown in outdoor education. These were kids. They just didn't know any better."

"How can you say that?" she cut in. "How much has already been written and distributed about proper camping methods?  It's been going on for years. Published by the tons. Pigs who did this should be punished, kids or no!"

I thought about the squalid camp and what Jane said as we rode on up-trail. And I tried to put myself in the minds of those kids:

They'd pedaled from home with a knife in their pocket and a hatchet on their belts. They carried matches in a case and packsacks upon their backs. The packs contained blankets or a sleeping bag, a chunk of clear plastic, a couple of cans of food and a six-pack of soda pop. Theirs was to be great adventure!

All was fine until a light rain began falling and darkness descended. Green wood put out a lot of smoke, but precious little flame and no heat at all. No flashlight either—that's why they emptied their bowels alongside the trail, only thirty feet from the fitful fire. No shovel.

Not knowing how to frame their plastic to provide proper shelter, they merely draped it over bushes and crawled beneath, wrapped in blankets. Then the rain fell harder and the blankets became soaked from run-off groundwater. At last daylight came for those miserable red-eyed kids. And they lost no time climbing aboard their bikes to furiously pedal home.

Punish 'em? No-o-o-o. Perhaps they were already punished so much they'll never again seek outdoor adventure. More's the pity. Because if they're still so inclined, someone should show them how to set up a proper camp, select proper firewood, leave the place clean and tidy for the next folks who come that way.

That, come to think of it, is a good job for a father. Mothers can do it, of course. But
Father's Day is coming in eight days. Humor the old boy. Encourage him to teach his sons and daughters how to camp.

All he needs is a good excuse to go any way.

*****************
June 4, 2016

BE WARY OF SNOWPACKED CHUTES

The beast in me exploded when I glanced behind and saw my wife on her rump, sliding down a near-perpendicular chute packed with drifted snow. "Get off there!" I roared.

It was late June. Our group was strung out on a thousand-foot descent from Mount Aeneas to Birch Lake. Jane was uppermost. I stood on safe ground at the chute's bottom. The other couple were between us, picking their careful way down.

Marilyn, too, was on snow. But she was just fifty feet up the sixty percent slope and appeared safe enough. Doug was off to the side on bare ground, tromping down through leafless tag alders and snowbrush. It was Jane, 150 yards up the steep chute, who worried me. If she lost control and rocketed down the mountain she must surely crash against one or more of the scattered boulders littering the chute's bottom.

She crawled sulkily from the snow. Then I turned to study the rest of our route down to the Alpine Trail. I heard a gasp, then a throaty giggle and I spun back to see Marilyn sliding my way. Then gravity grabbed her and tugged her into the chute's trough, sweeping her ever faster toward a melted-out chasm in the drift where a swift stream full of snow melt roared.

It all happened so quickly! Marilyn's eyes widened to saucer size as she picked up speed. The lady lost her hiking staff and backpack. Then she tumbled over the drift's edge onto stones and into the run-off torrent.

I reached the hole in time to give Marilyn a hand out.  She clambered up soaked and bruised and shaken.  Fortunately her careening run was brief and the drop onto rocks resulted in no broken bones.  But if Jane . . .

I suppose there are few Montanans who've not cavorted on spring drifts. Most have, at one time or another, went fanny-bumping down a hillside of packed snow, screaming in mock terror, laughing all the way. But if such experiences turned out well, it means you either
were lucky or chose your drift carefully.

All too often, innocent snowfield fanny-bumping turns into a runaway express. There've been many times when revelers crashed into rocks or trees. Injuries occurred, even death.

Jane began purposely sliding at the top of her perilous drift. Fortunately she was able to stop and scramble from danger. Instead it was her friend who lost her footing and slid out of control. Marilyn was lucky. So was Jane. 

Pick your fanny-bumping snowdrifts with caution. Stay off the steep stuff. Avoid drifts with exposed rocks or trees. Be sure there's a safe glide-out at the bottom where you can slide to a stop on snow.

Incidentally, the view was fantastic from Aeneas that day. To the east, west, south and north lay mountain range after mountain range, all standing in relief in the crisp, clear air. The Cabinets, The Missions, Glacier Park, the Bob Marshall and Great Bear Wildernesses; all spread before our eyes, seemingly forever.

As a matter of fact, it took the four of us standing shoulder-to-shoulder just to see what lay in the distance.

To order, or to learn more about this book, click HERE

**************

May 28, 2016

MUST-SEE MONTANA VALLEY

Centennial Valley is the kind of place Montanans shouldn't miss. But most do. It's a remote region of rolling sagebrush-covered hills, marshland lakes, winding streams and abundant wildlife. And it's all snuggled against some of the Treasure State's most scenic (but little known) mountains.

Actually it's odd that Centennial Valley is so little known when one considers it lies between Montana's most traveled north-south highway (Interstate 15) and Montana's most visited park entrance (West Yellowstone). Perhaps the reason is because primary access is via graveled roads from Monida Pass on the west to Idaho's Henry Lake on the east. It's roughly 60 miles from pavement to pavement and the first time I was there I picked up two flats on the way.

But Lord is it beautiful!

Centennial Valley's most public feature is Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge—one of North America's most important nesting and summering marshes for the majestic trumpeter swan.

Actually, Red Rock Creek, which (after flowing through the lakes) becomes Red Rock River, which flows into the Beaverhead, which turns into the Jefferson, which is one of the three forks of the Missouri, is the very headwaters for America's mightiest river.

Centennial Valley settlement by the white man, I am told, began in the late 1870's. Farming at that high elevation proved difficult to impossible. The winters, you see, are not only long in Centennial Valley, but are bitter as well. And by the time the "fat lady" sang the dirge for the Great Depression, most of the homesteaders had starved out or died off or fled to more wholesome climes. Those who hadn't were anxious to peddle their land to the government for a wildlife refuge.

Besides the nesting population of majestic trumpeters, there are hundreds—no thousands—of other birds:  waddling birds, wading birds, diving birds, soaring birds, sailing birds. It's a wildlife paradise stocked with furry and feathery critters ranging not only from falcon to foolhen, but from mice to moose, and coyote to cougar.

There are a couple of campgrounds near the refuge and a dude ranch or two in the valley. But don't expect to find a Piggly-Wiggly or a penthouse.

My advice, based on a certain modicum of experience, is don't try to visit until May, and then only if you tuck a parka into your pickup. With the wild and magnificent Centennial Mountains interrupting normal weather patterns on their way in from Idaho, unseasonable storms can be as much norm as exception.

Plan to cut and run by October at the latest; September if you're a lightweight. Some of the valley's north-side roads should be negotiated only with a crawler tractor, but the thru road from Monida to Henry Lake is usually pretty good—provided you don't drive it when freshly graded. (That's how I picked up two flat tires at the same time. ) No, better to give the knife-sharp little gravels a chance to settle before you head through to your inferior world.

All in all, Centennial Valley is one of the Montana's most scenic gems. It and a whole bunch of outstanding other places (all different) are why ours is often referred to as the “Treasure State.”

**********
May 21, 2016

METAMORPHOSIS OF WILDERNESS CUISINE

To the novice yearning for outdoor adventure, food (or the lack thereof) is the most prevalent deterrent. Bears? Snakes? Mountain lions? Naw. But it's true that most beginners shudder at thoughts of going hungry while adventuring in the wilds.

Somewhere during the run-up to outdoors expertise, those fears are measured and scoffed at. But let's get back to food. What to buy and pack and cook? No hot plates for frying or boiling; no ovens for baking, roasting or broiling; no electric mixers or slicers or dicers. So what, why, when, and how? 

The best way for a beginner to drink from the elixir of outdoor adventure is in the company of knowledgeable folk. But unless they're very good friends or benevolent family, most "Big Lonesome" veterans take their limited outdoor time so seriously they seldom spend it with inexperienced tag-alongs.

So there's only one other way: do it yourself.

My first experience with solo backpacking was as a teenager. I wanted to fish the headwaters of a remote stream but could talk none of my friends into joining. Those were days before modern backpacking equipment, so I used a Boy Scout packsack lashed to an army surplus frame designed for carting trench mortars and machine guns.

I didn't know much about food selection in those days, so I loaded my packsack with mostly cans of my then favorite: Nalley's chili con carne with beans. Then I added a couple of tins of peaches and a box of soda crackers to eat with the chili. The food load was topped off with a handful or two of candy bars.

That pack rounded out, with a sleeping bag, extra clothing, a few pots and pans and enough trout gear to equip a fishing derby, at 82 pounds! Two days later, my kneecaps held a kissing contest with the hip joints and my shoulders were so raw they felt like I'd been harnessed to pull a walking plow through a boulder field. It was an experience to make a quitter out of the gutless.

Or a stayer. 

Fortunately I was a quick study. Thirty-five years later we fed our Bob Marshall Wilderness guests the finest of plush-primitive cuisine—a hearty breakfast, sack lunch and multi-course dinner—on an average of five pounds of food per person per day.

My wife re-packaged lots of items, though. There were precious few cans and no bottles or jars. I remember once when Jane weighed the empty containers she left home: they totaled 45 pounds!

When I first began my overnight adventures, powdered eggs were barely fit to smell, let alone eat; dehydrated potatoes were in their infancy; and there wasn't enough wood in the forest to boil peas long enough to reconstitute them.

But psst! Times have changed and science has a leg up on dehydration and freeze-dried preservation. Some of that stuff is actually palatable as well as being easy to prepare—even eggs. There are lightweight alcohol stoves to cook on and aluminum pots and pans to cook in. There's really no need for concern about food quality or quantity. Anyone can both carry and prepare it. 

Nowadays the sport isn't demanding enough to keep out the riff-raff.

To learn more about the book, click on:

Roland's Storefront

*************
May 14, 2016

FOR DISCUSSION DURING OUR DELISTING THE GRIZZLY DEBATE

Periodically, one should pause and re-evaluate perceived truths, prejudices, beliefs. For example I'll offer Jane's annual Mother's Day search for a grizzly bear:

Just before leaving home, we received the following email from Denis Symes of Fort Collins, Colorado: I'll offer Denis's email for discussion purposes on both my Roland Cheek facebook page, and on this "Campfire Culture" page:

Hello Roland:

My sister gave me a copy of your book “Chocolate Legs” and I am about 25% into it. It is a fascinating story about a grizzly’s (mis)-adventures in the wild.

This story is especially of interest to me as I worked on trail crews in Glacier National Park in the summers of 1960 and 1961 and had several Grizzly encounters.

In 1960, I was on the Many Glacier trail crew when there was a mauling of three people; I was on the rescue crew. A ranger (Al Nelson) was going fishing in Lake Otokomi (above Rising Sun) and another ranger’s 12 year old son (Smitty Parrott) asked to go; his parents said “OK”. Along the Rose Creek Trail to the lake, they met up with a couple from Sweden (I believe) and continued up the trail. At about 10 AM, 1 mile from the Lake, they were attacked by an unseen female grizzly (with a cub). Nelson and the man tourist climbed up a tree. Nelson, seeing that Smitty was being mauled, dropped to the ground and pulled the bear off. The bear turned on him, and then and took down the woman tourist who was running.

Nelson kept telling the man to stay in the tree so he could get help when the attacks were over; the bear kept going into the brush and would charge out every 30 minutes or so – if they had moved, she’d attack again. Finally at about 4 PM (6 hours after the initial attack), the attacks were over and Nelson told the man to go for help at Rising Sun (about 4 miles down the trail); he probably made it record time!

We got the call as we were eating dinner at the St. Mary’s Ranger Station (where our bunkhouse was) and were told to just grab any food we could stuff in a napkin. We loaded stretchers, first-aid kits and water into trucks and piled in for the drive to Rising Sun. We started up the trail with 2 rangers (one in front and one in back of the procession), each of whom had Remington 721 rifles in 300 H&H Magnum. I remember that all of us were bunched up near them! After an arduous hike carrying the stretchers and equipment, we stumbled onto the attack scene. All three were alive, but badly mauled. Smitty’s face was gone (upper lip, nose, scalp, etc. were missing and, one eye was hanging by the optic nerve; the other was swollen shut). Al Nelson’s buttocks were severely mauled (parts gone) as well as major wounds to his back and legs. The woman’s left leg and ankle were mauled. Heroically, Nelson laid over Smitty and shielded him from most of the attacks.

The woman was the least injured, so she was bandaged and carried out first. Nelson was second (I forgot gloves and the Stokes Litter (surplus WW2 USN) badly cut into my hands). Finally, Smitty was carried out as it took a long time to stabilize him. I helped carry the woman about 1.5 miles until we met a relief crew. We then returned to the scene and I helped carry out Nelson (the combined weight of the litter and Nelson was over 200 pounds and the trail was narrow and rough so we walked with one leg on the upper slope of the trail and the other leg on it (uncomfortable!)

I was on the six-man Many Glacier trail crew (five men plus the Crew Lead) and each day one of us would hike alone up to Grinnell Glacier to check the trail before guided tours would be on the trail; my day was Monday as we drank all weekend and I was the youngest – hence the worst pick of day. I saw Grizzlies twice from the trail and would give them wide berth. Park Service employee grizzly training was very simple – (1) “don’t run away (they are faster than you), (2) if possible, get up a tree) and, (3) if you can’t get up a tree, fall face down and let him maul you – don’t fight and don’t let him turn you over. This training took less than 3 minutes!

On the Saturday following the attack, I hitched-hiked from St. Mary’s to Kalispell to buy a pistol. It was illegal to have a firearm in a National Park at the time, as was killing an animal, but I didn’t care. I later asked Al Wilson, the Chief East-Side Ranger, what might have occurred if Nelson killed the Grizzly to save his life and he just said that he’d probably be prosecuted; there were no exceptions. In Kalispell, I purchased a Ruger Blackhawk in 44 Magnum. This was a brutal pistol to fire (lightweight with a small grip), which is a story unto itself.

Two weeks following the attack, I hiked up to Grinnell and then descended on an unused fire trail behind Grinnell Lake to check out the Piegan Pass Trail. As I climbed toward Piegan Pass, I was in and out of the timberline. A Grizzly appeared about 100 yards ahead; it started trotting toward me and I climbed a tree. I could only get about 15-16 feet off the ground due to the smallness of the tree. The bear stood and tried to get me with its claws, but was several feet short. After several minutes (seemed like hours), I reached into my pack and pulled out the Ruger and put 5 rounds into its neck, reloaded, and emptied it again. I climbed down from the tree and rolled the bear down the mountain into some brush, covered it and, quickly left the area. I never told anyone about the incident for 40+ years.

In July, we camped at the base of the mountain leading up the Ptarmigan Tunnel; we spent a week camping there as we cleared snow drifts and opened the tunnel. Several mornings, we found fresh grizzly foot-prints in our camp; we never saw them. I didn’t think too much about them then, but it makes me think now!

Toward the end of the 1960 summer, the Granite Park Chalet trail crew dynamited a bear that was getting too friendly. It fed at the Chalet garbage-dump which was between the Chalet and the crew’s tents. They asked the Park Service to remove the bears, but it was felt that this “tourist-attraction” was too valuable to take action. Bruce Murphy was the Crew Leader and he took the fall for the dynamiting and was not re-hired in 1961. Bruce was treated pretty shabby with bad work-details for the next week or so until we all checked out.

In 1961, I was on the Walton Trail Crew (Essex). We made a 10-day trip across the Park by working up Park Creek, crossing the Continental Divide at Two Medicine Pass and then descending to the Two Medicine Ranger Station. We camped in tents most nights, but one night stayed at the Patrol Cabin at the junction of the Park Creek and Lake Isabel trails. We worked our way up to Lake Isabel clearing the trail. Finishing work about 2 PM, we proceeded to go fishing (I caught over 20 Cutthroat Trout in less than an hour!). I was walking along the Lake’s beach when I was overcome with a strong odor of rotten meat. I put down the fish and waded into the lake up to my waist. The brush moved, but I never saw a bear. I called out to my crew and they came and we found large bear tracks in the mud just behind the brush.

We worked all the trails in the Southern part of Glacier, including Nyack, Coal, Lincoln, Ole and, Harrison Creek trails, plus Scalplock Mountain, etc.

In 1969, I was working in Washington in the National Park Service’s headquarters Budget Office. One day, I had to take some budget papers to the Director’s Office for signing. The Deputy Director at the time was “Spud“ Bill (real name, William Bill), who had been Chief West Side Ranger of Glacier in 1960. As he was signing the papers and cover memo, I asked if he ever heard anything about Bruce Murphy and he just looked at me and asked if I knew Murphy. I told him that I worked in Glacier in 1960 and was on the rescue; then I asked about Smitty. By 1969, Smitty had had over 20 plastic surgeries and would need more to be “presentable”, according to “Spud” Bill.

In 2004, following a National Smokejumper Association Reunion in Missoula, I drove to Glacier and spent two nights at the Many Glacier Hotel. I was talking to a ranger there and finally told my 1960 story and asked about Smitty. I learned that Smitty was himself a ranger in Wrangles-St. Elias NP in Alaska. The ranger also told me to go down to West Glacier and tell my story to the Chief Law Enforcement Officer (no problem due to statute of limitations). He also said that most park rangers are armed (many covertly) and no one was permitted to work alone in grizzly country (this is a far cry from 1960 when I was 18 year old kid).

When I arrived home, I called Smitty and we talked for almost 2 hours. He related that he was in Alaska since people stare at him in the lower 48, but ignore him in Alaska. I told him of my experiences and he was still trying to put together all the pieces of the puzzle from his attack.

From what I’ve read, Grizzly encounters are fairly rare and people feel fortunate to have ever seen one. I guess my experiences with multiple meetings should make me feel very blessed (?), but I always have a foreboding feeling when hiking in bear country. I do, however, plan to work on a Smokejumper Trail Crew project in the Bob Marshall Wilderness in the future and hope to see another grizzly. However, I will be armed.

Given the number of grizzlies in Glacier’s valleys, I have always wondered how many bears I passed within a short distance never realizing they were there – they obviously knew of my presence, but I didn’t know of theirs!

Anyway, I had 5 wonderful college summer jobs in Montana and Idaho in the 1960’s; 2 in Glacier, 1 in Dixie (Idaho) and 2 in McCall (Idaho) as a jumper. I do envy you living in Montana.

Denis Symes

SO, NOW LET'S TALK ABOUT THIS ON MY FACEBOOK PAGE: https://www.facebook.com/roland.cheek.1

***************
May 7, 2016

SOMETHING NICE FOR MOTHER'S DAY

I always do something nice for the kid's mother on her day. No, no, I don't take her to the theater or dancing or to a candlelit dinner in a swanky restaurant. Instead, ours is a tradition of spending a relaxed day amid God's outdoors.

When our rug-rats were small, we bundled 'em and drove to some far-off campground like ones at Bowman or Holland Lakes. Usually, so early in May, we'd have the place to ourselves. Jane, exercising her one-day prerogative, would snooze while I watched the kids
splash through shallows. Or we'd play softball out of sight and sound of their mother.

Later I'd cook this fabulous gourmet dinner—usually wieners on a willow stick—and still later we'd return home. It'd be long after dark when we arrived.  Exhausted kids would be sound asleep in the rear seat while up front, their mother and I murmured sweet nothings to each other.

Once we floated Thompson River on Mother's Day. The kids were older by then and they sort of helped their mother pick a different type of outdoor adventure for her day. That year, incidentally, Mother's Day was cold and windy and with a light rain falling. Frankly it was a lousy day for shooting whitewater rapids; our feet were wet and numb, but our hearts were high. And we knew that though the weather wasn't the best on that particular year, the odds for the following year were better because of it.

Yep, Mother's Day is something special around our house. Though these days the rug-rats are grown and gone, the tradition continues. Neither of us want those grown-up offsprings to butt in and try to arm-twist their mother into doing something they feel might be more conventional for her day.

I'll bet your lip is curling and you're thinking this dame is a real pushover, huh?

Not really.  During over a half-century of wedded bliss, only twice has Jane missed receiving an orchid corsage on her special day. I remember spending Mother's Day at Salmon Forks, deep within the Bob Marshall Wilderness. I also remember how giggly-happy my wife and the other lady in our party was when I pulled twin orchid corsages from packboxes.

With orchids pinned to their lapels, those two gals were, for a week, the best dressed ladies in the Bob.  (It might even have been that they were the ONLY ladies in the “Bob.”)

As our finances allowed for better cuts of meat than wieners, Jane’s Mother's Day cuisine improved. A high point was probably reached a few years back when I grilled lobster and steaks over an open campfire.

Though one would think it difficult to improve on a Mother's Day that included lob/steaks, I engineered an even more dramatic coup while staying at a remote ranch out of Helena. On the day in question, I told the eager fisherfolk to go ahead to the tiny pond with the big fish while I cleaned our breakfast dishes. It was a couple of hours before I finally joined Jane and our friends. When I did, it was with a May basket holding two orchids, a bottle of Auvergne champagne and four long-stem wineglasses.

Our friends seemed shocked, then delighted!

Jane was merely delighted.

****************
April 30, 2016

UNGODLY TRAILS TO GODLY PLACES

One of the paradoxes of life is how one achieves notoriety for doing wrong, even while giving his best effort to be Dudley Do-Right. Consider my reputation among my hiking and crosscountry skiing friends for leading our group into the worst shintangle on a mountain. It's to the point now where people who know me best won't even tail me when I’m on the way to a strawberry patch.

Hike a maintained forest trail to a mountaintop where a breathtaking view awaits and it's Roland who’s relegated to the rear. But suggest a shortcut down the mountain to intersect the trail in a fresh spot and the entire bunch of friends bolts down the way they'd hiked up, leaving me scratching my bald spot.

Jane, who, of course, knows me best of all, will trail along on occasion—if we're hiking by ourselves and she fears traveling remote trails she found full of fresh grizzly scat on the way up. But inevitably, before the journey is over, she bitches and moans about a few scratches on ankle or calf, or cringes in terror while traversing a narrowing cliff ledge with a hundred feet of nothingness yawning below.

I'm nearly fed up with fighting it. How can one find adventure unless one seeks adventure?  To descend the same way one ascends a mountain is fraught with boredom to me. I need to know what's on the other side of a mountain? What it's like across a river? Which thicket in which the grizzly sleeps? I've pointed out what appears to be perfectly good game trails descending via another route into valleys where our car is parked. But do you think my adventureless friends will give it a tumble? They will not! So what if it takes another hour to seek out and know another trail?  It's not as if we'll be lost in the wilderness for days! Just to demonstrate, I've disgustedly went my own way dozens of times and only failed to show for Thanksgiving twice. More times than not, I've been lounging at the car when the rest of the party—each of whom declined participation in my shortcut—straggled in.

The irony about my wife and her absorbing fear of clawing through devil's club while following her husband is: stick a fishing rod in her hand and she'll tackle the brushiest streambank thicket this side of creation. And do it all the while slipping and sliding through grizzly poop.

Then, too, I've known the woman to sit beside a tiny waterfall, watching spawning cutthroats fight their way upstream, until a westering sun sets and us three hours back to our vehicle. You reckon there's something about a flyrod and trout that drives the woman, just like seeing what's on the other side of a mountain does with me?

How can two such dissimilar people assimilate? Because on occasion she'll follow me over that mountain. And on another I'll sit beside the little waterfall and hold her hand while cheering her trout upstream just as loudly as she.

That, you see, is what life is really all about. It's about working at discovering why the other person in your life must see what's on the other side of a mountain or watch a trout swim up a cataract. It's being willing to accept a few scratches and a little terror, or to creep along a mountain trail in the dark—because you love another.

You reckon I should spend more time behind a pulpit?

**************
April 14, 2016

ILLEGAL TRAILS

I first heard the term "illegal trail" amid the aftermath of a killer avalanche that took the lives of five snowmobilers. The big slide occurred on the last day of 1993, in the mountains east of Kalispell.  

The snowmobilers had followed a trail previously cleared across national forest land to a huge avalanche fan.  They were resting at the bottom of the fan's vee when tons of heavy, wet snow turned loose above them.

Investigation into the tragedy led to the unapproved trail's exposure. The term "illegal" came into vogue during media interviews with Forest Service spokespersons using the more powerful adjective, perhaps to absolve the agency of any blame. The term "illegal trail" was quickly picked up by individuals opposed to motorized recreation amid mountains proposed for Wilderness.

Up near the Canadian Line, another snowmobile trail involved the cutting of a swath through green trees into the Ten Lakes Wilderness Study Area. That also was referred to as an "illegal trail."

Recently another supposed "illegal trail" surfaced and I'm curious: what constitutes an illegal trail? After all (so I reason), I've cut saplings in order to work a packhorse to a dead elk. Is that an illegal trail? Or what about the fisherman's trail to Fawn Lake, opened up by countless vibram soles following the same path to their own ideas of cutthroat valhalla?

I called a straight-shooting contact within the U.S. Forest Service to ask: "What constitutes an illegal trail?"

The man was silent for a moment, then said, "At the risk of sounding trite, it's any non-system trail that someone doesn't like."

"So a non-system trail that has no detractors is not illegal?"

"Roland, why don't you ask me an easy question?" Again silence. Then: "Our outfit has yet to define illegal trails."

Wondering what gives any person the right to call a trail used by others as "illegal," I asked a friend who bandies the term freely. He cited the Forest Service Manual 36-CFR, 261.10, Occupancy and use. Here are the relevant parts of the manual passage: "The following are prohibited: a) Constructing, placing, or maintaining any kind of road, trail, structure, fence ... without a special-use authorization, contract, or approved operating plan...."

"So my cutting a sapling to get to a downed elk is illegal?"

"Come on, Roland.  You've got to use your head."

"What about the fisherman's trail to Fawn Lake? This year someone cut out a log?"

"Certainly there are grey areas."

Thus a so-called illegal trail really is any trail that somebody doesn't like. But does simply calling it illegal make it illegal? I don't like the snowmobile swath into Ten Lakes, but is it illegal?

It's irrefutable that certain constraints on the individual exists in order for society to work as a whole. But I do not subscribe to the premise that any single individual has the right to decide what those constraints are without going through a democratic process of determination. 

So let's stop calling another's trail "illegal" until we first determine just what is an illegal trail....

Or am I merely confused?

Again?

************
April 2, 2016

FUNNY LOOKING HEREFORD

There's a snow-capped mountain peak outside my glass-panneled study door. The peak towers four thousand feet above this valley floor where the great northern ice cap once ground southward over the spot where our modest home perches. The house squats amid a grove of leafless golden willows, disheveled firs and bramble thickets. 

Remnant snowbanks have vanished from the valley. But atop that distant mountain, ten-foot drifts block ridgetop trails and twenty-foot cornices hang perilously from lee-side cliff faces. Yet even up there, warm winds blow and a steady drip, drip, presages spring.

On a steep north-and-east-facing slope of that mountain, amid a stand of stately Engelmann spruce, one particular expanse of snow lifts and wobbles and erupts as a shiny black snout thrusts free, followed seconds later by a shaggy, furred head.

The head lolls to one side. A minute, two, ten, twenty. Then more snow flies from the hole's edges as shoulders and torso bursts out onto the white land.  Soon the entire gargantuan animal is out, lying beside the exit hole, panting, lethargic from a long winter's sleep.

Shadows steal across the silent snow-clad forest and still the giant sprawls at his den entrance, occasionally lifting a massive head to gaze into the darkening forest, nose testing wind currents. At last he struggles to his feet and stumbles from the edge of his hostel, meandering in slow motion atop frozen snow until pausing to peer beneath spreading limbs of a half-grown spruce. He crawls under and within seconds, is fast asleep.

But daylight drives the great bear to his feet and, metabolism accelerating after hibernation, the animal beelines down the mountain where instinct and memory tell him greening shoots and edible tubers are sprouting.
 
The bear pauses at the edge of a new logging unit, virtually invisible in shadow, brain sorting a discrepancy between memory and reality. Machines roar beyond a low ridge. The bear turns aside for a more circuitous route around the smell of crushed forest and churned soil.

The sun has already started it's westering slide when the bruin encounters the first barbed-wire fence. He clears it in one mighty bound, landing cat-footed beyond. He skirts the tumbled-down old shack that hasn't changed since he followed his mother along this
ancient bear path as a cub. Moving steadily, the animal passes the two ancient and leafless apple trees, circling out beyond sight and sound of the house and garage, emerging onto the forest road, and following it to the meadow where the Herefords graze. 

The bear's memory tells him a marsh with skunk cabbage is just beyond this meadow where the idiotic cattle graze....

I took another look at the snowcapped peak, lit now with alpen-glow. I sighed and turned to my wife. "I'm running up against writer's block, honey. What say we take a little drive along the foothill road and count deer with the cattle? Maybe even spot a few elk?"

"... ten, eleven, twelve," my wife counted. "Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixtee ... STOP THE TRUCK!  THAT'S NOT A DEER!

For more information, or to order, my book about the infamous Glacier National Park bear that made national wire services and was reported in the New York Times, click:

http://www.rolandcheek.com/CLStore.html

**************
March 26, 2016

Some years ago, Roger Z. Erwin of Sunburst, Montana wrote a poem depicting what’s special about Montana. At the time the guy very graciously let me bring his fine work to readers of my syndicated “Wild Trails & Tall Tales” newspaper column.

Though offered long ago, Roger Erwin’s “Montana” still seems just as appropriate today. So here it is again, with a second thanks to its creator:

MONTANA

God looked around to find a spot
On this great earth that He had wrought --
Where the beauty and grandeur of this land
Could all be concentrated by His hand.
He found this place out in the west
Which He selected from all the rest --
It's called "Montana" the Treasure State.
A state that was destined to be great.
He touched the glaciers and moved the rocks
That formed the mountains and their tops --
Trees sprang up on mountain sides,
To give them beauty, depth and size.
In Alpine meadows high in the Mountains
Wildflowers came forth like gushing fountains --
The pink mountain heather sprang up with a rush,
With the Avalanche buttercup and Indian paint brush.
Into these mountains God moved the bear,
The mountain lion, moose and hare --
The mountain goat, so nimble and spry.
Majestic elk with their antlers high.
The bighorn sheep with their little flocks
Standing like sentinels on lofty rocks --
While the sky blue waters far below
Cast their shadows deep in the snow.
God plucked some colors from the sky
And gently mixed a perfect dye,
A dash of blue and a little green --
Which formed the lakes and the rushing streams.
Stardust and moonbeams dropped from His hand,
Fell into lakes that dot this land.
They formed tiny beacons of celestial light --
That dance on the water all through the night.
Wild ducks and geese came from afar.
Dropping down like falling stars;
To nestle on these lakes and streams
That God had formed from soft moonbeams.
From deep in the sky a rainbow dropped
Into these lakes and they were stocked --
With rainbow trout that lie in wait
To strike a Royal Coachman bait.
The beavers came and work began
On cutting trees and making dams.
The storage of water for future use --
Forming their homes from mud and spruce.
The buffalo came in stately herds
To live and die on this reserve,
That God had planned for their domain --
Where they could roam across the plain.
The beautiful colors of the setting sun,
And the bright Northern Lights when day is done --
God created both to shine on this earth,
But to stay in Montana, the place of their birth.
When God had completed his work of art,
He settled back to watch it start --
To live and glow as a human span,
As men pushed forward to this land.
Across the plains and the great divide
The Indians came from all the tribes --
To settle near their hunting ground;
This chosen spot that God had found.
Strong men came from east to west
To make their home and meet the test --
As pioneers in this beautiful place
With its endless miles and open space.
They hunted game and dug for gold,
Raised their families and suffered the cold.
Started the mines and discovered the ores
Built their churches, schools and stores.
They settled down on plains and hill
To till the land, or build a mill.
Some cut the timber, or drilled for oil --
And they built an empire through their toil.
Now when we enter that "Montana Gate"
That welcomes all travelers to this state --
With its boundless treasures for all to see,
We'll know that God made it, for you and for me.

************
March 19, 2016

OUTDOORS SAFETY FOR ALL AGES

Experienced outdoor folk can step aside while I write a blog slanted toward the novice.

* Bet you don't know the greatest source of  injuries on a camping trip? Campfire burns on the hands. Here are a few tips to avoid burn problems while cooking and camping:

I always carry a small pair of pliers (channel locks) to hold pans that are scorching hot. When you lift a hot pan, know where you are going to place it. Do so expeditiously. Keep your mind on what you're doing and watch where you step. Watch, too, for steam escaping from around lids or spouts.

Use heavy gloves to hold a lid securely over your pot while draining the boiling liquid.

Shut your matchbox cover before striking match.

If, in spite of your best effort, you are burned, try to get the burned spot into water immediately; the colder, the better. Keep it there for ten to fifteen minutes. Packing the burn with snow will help if no water is close to hand. 
           
* Know the second-most common injury on a camping trip? Strains or sprains to feet and legs.  That's why I always carry a stretch bandage and some adhesive tape in my daypack.

Other items:

Moleskin for blisters and abrasions. If a hike is for overnight, I'll carry an extra pair of socks.

One sure way to screw-up your feet is by drying wet boots too close to your campfire. There's a reason why I know it's bad form to do so: because it's no fun to crawl from your sleeping bag in dawn's early light to find the boots you left drying by last night's campfire shriveled like dried prunes. That time I had to take a knife to the boots, carving slits so I could pull them on sufficiently to flee for home. My trip companion said the boots might not have been waterproof before, but after I finished carving on them they looked more like sandals!

* A first-time camper might be worried about wild animals. The best way to avoid that type of fear is to go camping and hiking with a friend. The secret here is noise. Two of you will make more than twice as much noise as does one alone. And the truth is, most wild animals will go out of their way to avoid humans if they know you’re near. 

* Not so with insects. Gnats and mosquitoes will zero in on your warm blood any time during fly season. Fly time is anytime after the annoying little boogers come out in the spring until the first frosts of fall. Your best chance to avoid mosquitoes is to find a campsite with a breeze sweeping through it.

* Wood ticks can be a problem in the early spring while remnant snowbanks still exist. Your best bet is to wear light-colored clothing so the bugs will be easier to spot while crawling on their way to your crotch or armpits. The rule from this corner is, during tick season, check your body over thoroughly at least twice each day, removing ticks. If a tick does begin his bore, meat tenderizer dabbed on the spot can reduce the irritation.

* If you remember nothing else, pay attention to this!  Your greatest real danger in outdoors adventure is in scrambling around on steep mountainsides until you reach a spot where safe descent is beyond your capabilities. Even veteran mountaineers can make the mistake of climbing up to places they cannot safely descend.

Want to know how I know? 

Guess.

There's a bunch of outdoors -learning experiences revealed in "Dance On the Wild Side", the story of our life in the mountain West. For more info, CLICK HERE

**************
March 12, 2016

TWO BIG MARCH QUESTIONS

Two remarkable yearly events arrive following mid-month: Saint Patrick's Day and the Ides of March (or the first day of spring). Let's talk about Paddy first.

The patron Saint of Ireland's background began with a lurch when he was captured from his British homeland at age 16 and sold into slavery in Ireland. The sudden shift of fortune was what the young Patrick needed to take his religion seriously. And upon his escape six years later the young man determined to convert his former Irish masters to Christianity. Yet he was 43 years old when next Patrick set foot on the shamrock shores.

Though not especially noted as a learned scholar, Saint Paddy must have been eloquent and persuasive, arriving to a pagan isle shoeless and friendless, leaving its residents converted Christians just 29 years later.

My first question: Where's the leap from this noble man of God to shamrocks and leprechauns, bagpipes and accordions? Or was the secret of the Saint's success that he best appealed to the jovial Irish by drinking green beer while singing and dancing amid Dublin alleyways?

That spring officially arrives just three days after Saint Paddy's Day is especially fitting--it takes most of my Irish friends that long to get over their green-beer dyspepsia.

There are two times each year when the central star of our solar system is exactly over the earth's equator. In the fall, it's called the autumnal equinox, occurring on or about September 22. The vernal, or spring, equinox occurs March 20. What the equinoxes really mean is that night and day are of equal duration. Hence, up in our hemisphere, days will grow longer, remaining so until the autumnal equinox.

Increasing daylight triggers plant growth. Petunias will bloom. Lawns will soon need mowing. Robins sing, honkers wing north. Mountain snowpacks melt, bears emerge from their dens. Soon, elk calves will drop. It's the season of renewal. And it comes once every 365 days.

Astronomers tell us the earth's spin causes night and day. That spin, once every 24 hours, brings us exposure to the sun. But the spin doesn't slow down while we're basking in sunbeams. Nope, the additional daylight comes because our world tilts on its axis as it orbits the sun, something like a big, wobbly child's top, tilting first one way then another in predictable and consistent ways.

So we're riding a big top that is spinning around once every 24 hours while also orbiting the sun once every 365 days. In addition, the fool thing is wobbling on its axis like it's about to run down. What does all that mean?

Well, when you read it like that, it sounds as though the top is about to run out of spin; like maybe we'd ought to pay homage to our maker, tell someone we love them, get our lives in order. Forget El Nino--he won't make a bit of difference tomorrow.

But the top has been spinning the same way for millions--probably billions--of years while wobbling on its axis ... and it hasn't run out of oomph yet.

Thus, the second question:

Who spins the top?

*************
March 5, 2016

BIG QUESTIONS FOR THE JET SET

The guy knows computers. He also knows all about Sunset Strip, high rises, and metropolitan skyscrapers. I know something about horses and how to find my way around where mountains scratch a man's itch. We traded services. Bill has horses of his own and the itch. I have a need to know how to work the on/off switch on a  computer.

After a couple of marathon training sessions, my wife and I were almost ready to try the Apple switch and Bill and his wife Mary were deep into the planning stage of a late May packtrip (with Jane and me) into the Bob Marshall Wilderness. I find not a little humor in the fact that the methodical computer hacker with the overstuffed brain appeared so caught up in his wilderness trip preparation that one would think he's going on a discovery expedition to the headwaters of the Blue Nile.

Meanwhile, Jane and I yawned and concentrated on attending the Northeast Montana Farm Expo in Plentywood. That kind of thing being outside our norm, we we're in a tizzy. "What do I wear?" Jane asked.
           
How the hell do I know? I'll wear denim trousers on the trip to White River Park over Memorial Day weekend, and swim trunks in the river near day's end. If Jane and I decide to climb a mountain sans horses, I'll slip into a pair of hiking shorts. But what to wear at a Plentywood Farm Expo in February leaves me at a loss. I'm also to speak to a couple of Sheridan County school assemblies: first to grades one through four, second from five through eight. Am I to address the Expo banquet? At this point I haven't a clue.

Should we stop off en route to peddle our Bob Marshall and bear books, and do some promo for the forthcoming book on elk? Search me. When Jane asked how long we would be gone, I could only shrug. Maybe that's why she seemed in some kind of pique: “You can take off into the middle of the Bob Marshall Wilderness for weeks at a time and plan everything needed right down to a single horseshoe nail, but you can't plan a simple drive across the Hi-Line with any degree of certainty."

It's true. My shingle was out as a guide for over twenty years, and I had it down to a gnat's eyelash, even back where there were no 7-11s or Ronald McDonalds.  But now that I have my shingle out as a bonafide wildlands and wildlife expert, you think I can handle tame life?

Okay, Bill, maybe I can understand why you're worried whether Mary can stand up under the pressure of cliff-skirting trails and terrifying river crossings. I even can grasp your desire to have a tent that doesn't leak and enough oats to keep your ponies mollified.

But have you ever stood tongue-tied in front of a whole town full of seven-year-olds? And what does one do when he shows up in a Woolworth suit and everybody else is dressed in Woolrich shirts and Levi jeans?

And while you're at it—what happens when lightning strikes the Apple while you're working your computer and it turns into a prune?

*************
February 27, 2016

THE LAID BACK MONTH

Ever wonder why seed catalogs come in February? It's simple, folks will look at 'em in February. Issue seed order books any other time and people will bury and forget them. Think back—how long has it been since you had time to take a deep breath, kick off the shoes, and relax?

September was harvest time, getting the kids back in school time, elk bugling time, and the last of the summer's good trout fishing time. October was canning, fall colors, raking leaves, harvest wrap-up, upland bird and waterfowl hunting, and the beginning of big game season. Nearly the entire month of November went into hunting, then came Thanksgiving and Christmas sale time.

If you hadn't allocated the hours before, December means feverishly winterizing home and vehicles, last minute Christmas shopping, then the holidays.  January means inventories for business folks everywhere, and tax receipt round-up. There's blizzards to fight, below-zero weather, and vehicles that won't run.

Then comes February.

In February, warming chinooks give arctic blizzards a good bashing.  Inventories are complete, taxes are the accountant's problem. It's time now to sit back in your easy chair and dream. What kinds of things have you always wanted to do, but never got around to doing? Tell you what, let's make a plan—that's what Jane and I do in February. 

It was in February when we decided to visit Utah's Canyonlands for spring hiking. February has seen game plans develop for memorable summer horseback packtrips, many of their logistic details planned far in advance.

During my guiding years, we visited sport shows in February because that's when most folks had time to think about adventure vacations. Any later and they ran the risk of missing out on Montana hunting licenses; any earlier and they might get lost in the pre-booking turmoil.

The February principle holds true whether you're into outdoors adventure or not—it's still a month when you have a little spare time. Always wanted to take a business class? Why not now? Do library research? February is a great time for it. Reload ammo? Tie flies for next summer's casting? Re-read some favorite books from your past? Why not now?

February isn't meant to be catch-up time; it's look ahead time. It’s relaxation time. It’s time to kick back and take a deep breath—God's way of preparing you for March when it's frost's break-up and school's break-out. April means meeting tax obligations, doing equipment tune-ups, and preparing for the onslaught of spring floods from the high country snow melt.

Right now, in between planning several summer outings and putting together a couple of new books that are on the verge of release, Jane and I are relaxing, snoozing like worn-out hounds in front of the fireplace blaze, growing more laid back by the minute.

What's that you say, honey? No, I don't know what happened to the Gurney catalogs

Don’t wanta know, either.

**********
February 20, 2016

EXPLAINING WILDERNESS

There was a time when some nut went over Niagara Falls in a kayak? Wasn't enough left of his kayak to sweep into a dustpan. The nut? Nothing. Perhaps the discrepancy can best be explained by the fact fiberglass pieces aren't dietary favorites of carnivorous fishes lying in wait in the channels below.

Being an underclassed journalist out in the wilds of northwest Montana, I'm seldom privy to the so-called "extreme sports" craze. Still, I did receive a news release on an African race similar to the "Eco-Challenge" adventure race in Utah a few years back.

The Eco-Challenge affair against gut-twisting hardships took contestants from desert heat to whitewater rafting, horseback riding to cliff rappelling, mountain biking to canoe paddling. It was three hundred and twenty miles of grueling, hallucinating competition that took most of the 52 five-person teams so far beyond the end of endurance that just 21 finished.

The winning team completed the race in seven days, 16 hours and twelve minutes.

The African versions must’ve been a tougher grid because it's winning team took eight days, eight hours and 44 minutes. Or perhaps dietary supplements were inferior in the interior of the Dark Continent. Or maybe their racers were weenies.

I'll confess that I don't get turned on because of somebody else's urge to caricature legitimate outdoor pursuits. Why such absurd outbreaks of the illogical? Let's face it, we're all, to some degree, escapees from an age we do not understand. Alexander Graham Bell left me squirming about the way he summoned his assistant via a new gizmo called a telephone. Then Mr. Edison got the bright idea to light up our world with the incandescent lamp. And ever after, I had to put on rubber gloves to change flashlight batteries.

As if combustion engines weren't bad enough for a jerk like me to comprehend, somebody got the bright idea for television; then the atomic bomb came along, followed by rocket ships to the moon. Then, just about time I was able to make a partial list of things I don't know, some twit came along with the microchip and technology was off to the races.

At least these days there's company; I'm not the only one who doesn't understand what's going on. Fiber optics, what's that?. Smart phones? Give me a break. Cyberspace? who cares?

Information and thought itself is complicated enough without going computer mechanized. No wonder the need for escape is so powerful. Why wouldn't we want a release to fly casting or worm drowning? Listen up! There are moose to stalk, pheasants to flush. Why wouldn't we, after eons of freeway commutes, subway trains, and sterile office environments want to ride a horse on a mountain trail, sit around a campfire, get dirt under our fingernails?

It's even all right for those most nonplused by our technological world to want to scale pinnacles, test class V whitewater, ride wild mustangs. But don't hold it out to the rest of us that more uplifting adventure lies in the amount of risk one takes to life and limb.

Meanwhile, for us ordinary people, wilderness is for us. Somebody said "wilderness is the salvation of the world." Smart person, that guy, Bob Marshall. Perhaps my coffeetable book about the Wilderness named for him might help explain:

For more on the book CLICK HERE

*************
February 13, 2016

A GOOD PLAN THAT MIGHT'VE FAILED

I'd placed my two hunters in strategic locations commanding a wide expanse of fertile elk and mule deer country: great meadows with occasional narrow strips of trees that were good daylight hiding places for wildlife. Henry sat atop a mass of broken limestone rock, Frank perched on a small knoll overlooking a route to a series of forested ravines that animals favored for security. 

My idea was to work my way up the basin's southern end to a natural pass favored by elk working back and forth from the Sun River Game Preserve into our hunting country, then zigzag my way down to the two hunters. If the plan worked, I might move something to them.

Early during the circuit, I crossed fresh tracks made by two elk headed for the pass and the Preserve. I followed them. Their urine discharges said they were bulls; big bulls as evidenced by antler marks in snow where they fed upon exposed bunchgrass. I redoubled my efforts to catch them.

The snow deepened at the basin's upper end. But I was younger and stronger in those days and kept slogging along, wanting desperately to at least see these monster bulls, grateful, too for the opportunity to again visit that high, lonesome land where snow covered meadows spread into alpine country and sharp-topped mountains reached for the sky.

The elk beat me to the pass, so I went to the cliff edge and peered over, following their trail with my eyes, down the narrow cliff path, until it dropped out of sight into the Sun River country. Turned out I was farther behind than I thought.

So I rested, ate my lunch and headed back.  Out in the windswept meadows, two feet of glazed, windswept snow lay as a glistening blanket, hard enough (almost) to support a 200-pound guide's weight. Yet, try as I might, I could not walk any lighter.

About every third or fourth step, I would break through the crust to my crotch. Then I had to lie down and roll out of my snow trap. It was exhausting work. Then I crossed HUGE grizzly tracks.

The bear had clambered my way through the same pass to which I'd climbed, apparently taking a spur trail at the top and I'd missed him earlier. Damn! He headed down where I must go. But the thing I found most intriguing was that he broke through with every step.

When the creature passed beneath trees where snow lay only inches deep, I placed both feet in some of his tracks. That led to calculations: I had two feet, he had four. Each of his feet were almost as large as both of mine together, and should’ve provided him with greater floatation. Hmm, I weighed 200 pounds—in essence, 100 pounds per foot. I broke through the crust only occasionally. Yet despite having four feet, each twice as large as mine, he broke through with every step; did that mean the bear weighed over 800 pounds?

Needless to say I didn't try as hard to overtake him as I had the elk. 

And I breathed a sigh of relief when, lower down the mountain, he angled left as I angled right to head for my two hunters.

This photo was taken on the day portrayed in the tale above. The route taken by the big grizzly bear can be seen in the lower left corner. I'm still tough, but I was tougher then than I am now.

************
February 6, 2016

OUTDOORS INEXPERTISE

I had my head up my rear. All through November and December, Jane and I hiked lower elevation mountain country without thinking at all of avalanche danger. New Years Day found us up the Flathead's remote North Fork, near Polebridge, following wolf tracks on foot (sans skis or snowshoes).
 
It was during the winter of '97-’98, almost two decades ago. That particular winter was diametrically opposite that of the one before, when snowfalls followed one after another from October through March; so much so that it lulled my senses. Then came news reports that eleven people had died in snow avalanches on the very same weekend Jane and I tramped after wolves in two inches of North Fork powder.

According to the reports, a potpourri of avalanches in western Montana, north Idaho and southeastern British Columbia claimed a climber, eight remote-country skiers, and two snowmobilers. An Idaho snowmobiler and a British Columbia skier were still missing, so the reports said.

According to Stan Bones, an avalanche specialist with the U.S. Forest Service, that year's western Montana snowpack was especially unstable. Treacherous conditions existed because the layers of snow have not bonded well. Bones told of  snowmobilers in the Whitefish Range and climbers in Glacier Park narrowly escaping avalanches occurring in mid-December. Meanwhile, Jane and I tramped blithely on, never once understanding that—because only a skiff of snow lay at the levels we hiked—peril could be trembling on mountain slopes above.

There's monstrous irony here. Not that Jane and I were exposed to danger at that time, but that we didn't even suspect we might be exposed had we decided to venture elsewhere on that particular day. In short, that’s when I realized that I knew very little about avalanche danger and how to recognize it.

I remain convinced there is no such thing as risk-free adventure. Also, life without any element of risk would, to me, be a sterile one, hardly worth living. So given a choice, I'll accept a little risk in order to experience adventure. But I'd not choose to be foolish about the doing, weighing its pros and cons before making the leap. Jane and I have skied over and around the results of avalanches, marveling at house-size blocks of ice, snapped-off trees, huge boulders accumulated in the avalanche run-out. But we had no real sense of the snowslide’s cause and affect.

The irony was that we’d hung out our shingle as outdoors experts. Yet we didn’t know! What might’ve happened had we chosen to ski or snowshoe steep mountainsides on the particular day? How could we possibly explain perishing in a snow slide we didn't even suspect could happen? Imagine the ignominy of a newspaper headline that reads: UNSUSPECTING OUTDOORS COUPLE BURIED IN AVALANCHE WHILE ROASTING WEENIES IN REMOTE FOREST GLADE.

After all, being expert-anything has its responsibilities. One of those responsibilities is not becoming a casualty of the very thing you're supposed to know a bunch about. I’ve rafted whitewater rivers and explored America’s greatest wilderness in all kinds of weather, during all seasons of the year, while alone, on foot and by horse. I’ve broke wild-eyed broncs, and led ten-horse packstrings across high mountain passes for many miles into the remotest of remote country. I’ve made impromptu camps and slept under the stars, in snow, or during high winds and rainstorms.
 
Naturally, should we perish in an avalanche, Jane would hold me directly to blame for damage to her reputation. "Everything I know about the outdoors," she says, "I learned from you."

So I set out to glean more about avalanche action and danger. I sat at the feet of experts as they explained how to dig down through snow layers, then assess their bond, their stability. Meanwhile we paid more attention to what we should already know. The best signal God provides for potential avalanche danger is to pay attention to where snowslides have occurred in the past: downhill bands of stunted trees, or where scattered large trees have had limbs stripped from the uphill side.

It might help, too, to listen. Most avalanches signal their start with some noise as a slab of snows breaks loose to cascade down, picking up debris.

With luck and more knowledge, we won't be below the slab when we hear it breaking loose. And Jane's reputation can remain intact.

***************
January 30, 2016

SIMPLE THINGS I MOSTLY FORGOT

Do you know old linen dinner napkins make good dust rags because linen is usually lint-free?

Or how about old newspapers? They can be used to wipe window glass after washing. They, too, leave no lint.

Or listen to this: a quarter cup of vinegar per each gallon of water used for washing windows reduces spotting (apparently acids in vinegar cuts lime in water).

What does all the above have to do with an outdoor column?

Simple. They are everyday things my wife knows about house cleaning that mystifies me. Her simple household hints started me thinking. . . .

There are, you see, a plethora of simple hints that make most outdoor endeavors easier. People familiar with them tend to take them for granted. I’m one.

Layering, for instance. I've read for years about how advisable layering is when dressing for foul weather. Layering sounds complicated—like one needs to understand garment weaves, or the merits of polyester versus wool. Or windbreaker nylon versus down-filled canvas. But it might be nothing more complicated than your wearing three sweaters during a blizzard while your buddy is shrouded in a heavy down-filled, satin-lined, GoreTex outer-shelled parka that is impossible for him to shed a portion of as the temperature and sweat rises.

Or did you know gaiters—leg coverings lapping boot and trousers—are effective for more activities than the crosscountry skiing or snowshoeing for which they were designed? Fall hunting, for instance. Or while tramping through tall grass after a soaking June rain.

A bottle of drinking water can be more important in winter when dehydration might accompany lowered body temperatures to more easily bring on hypothermia.

Have you ever had a boot eat your sock? That is, have you ever had on a pair of socks that seemed determined to work down to your toes while hiking? Of course you have. If not, you've done little hiking. But did you know stocking-creep can be prevented by tying a knot in your bootstring right at the peak of the arch?

Try it. You'll be surprised.

How do you apply water-proofing to your boot? The way we did it in our fall hunting camps or prior to our spring hiking trips was to heat a can of boot grease until it was liquid, then apply to boots with a small one-inch paintbrush. No muss, no fuss.

If you're insistent that spray is your ticket, then use it outdoors. The odor lingers longer than the protection it gives your boots.

For your day hikes or hunts, think about using a small pack to carry the inevitable things you'll need during the day, such as lunch, camera, field glasses, etc. Some people use a "fanny" pack that belts around the midsection, but I prefer a small backpack called a daypack. You can stuff more things in a daypack than in a fanny pack: items like a windbreaker, plastic square to sit upon snow or damp ground, small first-aid kit.

Simple things. So simple I sometimes forget to share them with other folks.

**************
January 23, 2016

GUIDE FOR ZANE GREY

Perry Wright was my second hero. Perry might be unknown around the country where I presently dwell, but he was a legend of no small proportions in Oregon's mountains where I came to manhood. A big, gruff man with a booming voice, Perry took out a homestead amid the wild, untamed land north and west of Crater Lake, in the Southern Oregon Cascades. The year was 1908.

Perry came to the North Umpqua country as a youth, around the turn of the last century. HIS hero was a bonafide mountain man named Bill Bradley, who held squatter's rights to a section of land below Caps Illahee—a large natural meadow on a flat bench where Umpqua Indians held summer encampments and raced horses. 

That particular Indian tribe had fallen on hard times, more or less since they'd massacred a Jedediah Smith-led party of American fur trappers who were driving Spanish horses up the Oregon Coast. The massacre occurred near the mouth of the Umpqua River. 

Perry took out his homestead on Caps Illahee, also bringing his wife Jessie to the homestead in 1915, when she was 15-years-old. 

Later, Perry and Jessie Wright acquired Bill Bradley's Deeded Land Claim, and moved from the upper bench down to a home near the North Umpqua River.

For the sixty years before I knew Perry, he scrounged a living from the land by running a few head of cattle on the National Forest; by taking occasional guests (he called them "pilgrims") to Crater Lake and the surrounding mountains, and by bounty hunting for cougars and wolves and bears (the Oregon of that day offered liberal bounties for animals then considered "varmints").

Naturally, as a young man just beginning to explore and hunt the North Umpqua country, I'd heard of Perry Wright but never dreamed I'd get a chance to meet him. Nor did I dream if I should, that I'd actually get a chance to talk to the famous mountain man.

It was 1959 and there were two of us out deer hunting. We'd paused to eat lunch with our backs to a huge fallen tree when a big, old man ambled our way on the trail. He stopped to talk, acting for all the world like we were old friends he'd chanced upon. Then I discovered he was Perry Wright and my talking days were over, while my listening days were just beginning.

That chance encounter led to dozens of other visits. And my knowledge of the country and its days of yore blossomed. One of Perry's foremost clients during his years as a guide was the famed Western writer, Zane Grey.

"I thought Zane Grey fished the Rogue," I said one day as Perry began a tale featuring the cantankerous writer.

"No," Perry said. "He wrote about fishing the Rogue, but he actually fished the North Umpqua. I myself asked him one time why he never wrote about the Umpqua. He told me he wasn't going to ruin the Umpqua by writing about it, like he did the Rogue."

Perry and Jessie had some old photos of Zane Grey taken on the Umpqua. Perry said Grey always had a man-servant with him, and the famous angler would give Perry and his servant fishing rods. Then when guide or servant would shout "Fish on!" Grey would come and land it.

One of my heroes, Perry died while cougar hunting in 1967. He was 82 years old (only a bit older than I am now). By then I lived in Montana and was just three years from beginning my own guide service in the most famous wilderness in America, the Bob Marshall.

Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness

Available through Roland's bookstore: Click Here

************
January 16, 2016

WILDFIRE MOSAICS

Let's spend a little hot-stove time talking about forest fires--a subject that's not far from most Montanans' minds since the fires of '88, '94, '96, '00, '03, and lastly of '15. The reason the subject of wildfire hasn't been far from folks minds since '88 is because fires haven't been far from their homes, camps, work stations, and recreating places in the years since.

I remember '88, when airborne ashes from the Gates Park fire fell on our miles-away tents, on the other side of the Continental Divide.

I remember traveling several miles beyond the path of the Helen Creek Fire of 1994 in order to find a safe place to camp while scattering the ashes of my former guide,Kevin Menz, along the Chinese Wall.

I remember riding the South Fork Trail with Jane in 1996, while a creeping ground fire from the second Helen Creek Fire burned at trail side, spooking our saddlehorses every time a stump or a root flared or spewed.

I remember aborting one of our planned Bob Marshall trips as the fires of 2000 burned out of control. That was also the year when the Moose Creek Fire raged up the Flathead's North Fork.

And I remember 2003 as wildfires burned and reburned National Park, National Forest, and private timberlands, seemingly without regard whether it consumed remote wilderness, former clearcuts, or young tree plantations.

It was in 2003 when we floated the Middle Fork while helicopters swept in to bomb the Apgar Mountain blaze with huge buckets of water dangling beneath the choppers. It was in 2003 when we crossed Going To The Sun Highway in the dead of night and watched trees torch on Heaven's Peak from the Trapper Creek Fire. And we paused later on the same night along the shores of Lake McDonald to watch the Roberts Fire burn across the lake, along Howe Ridge.

"You want to go swimming," I asked my wife of 49 years.

"Let's," she murmured.

So we "skinny dipped", paddling about as exploding trees from Howe Ridge were reflected in the lake's still waters. Later, as we drip-dried, still wide-eyed and wonder-filled, I said, "You know, we're watching a once-in-a-lifetime thing; something we'll never see again." She shivered--not from the chill, for the night was warm--but from the awesome fire-at-night thing we beheld.

Later in the fall, after the wildfires had been stilled by rain and snow, we hiked to Huckleberry Lookout in Glacier National Park. Huckleberry has the distinction of being a rare "ten" in my scale of scenic values. (From Huckleberry one can view the North Fork Valley to Canada, south to Flathead Lake, west to the Whitefish Range, and east to the summit of the Rockies.) Below us, between Huckleberry Lookout and the continental divide, spread the main paths of both the Moose Creek Fire of 2000 and the Roberts Fire of 2003. Amid it all--the black path of the recent Roberts Fire and the yellow path of the Moose Fire (where yellowing grass lay)--stood many acres of green trees that escaped the vagaries of both fires.

As I leaned against the side of the boarded-up lookout, staring at the scene below, I was struck that the fires' meanderings created what will in a few years be a fabulous mix of meadows and forests and lakes and mountains. 

God is good.

*********
January 9, 2016

BLURRING THE LINES

I'm coming to realize that each individual, given a chance to live a full life, actually becomes an escapee from an age they do not understand. I'm sure it was so with my mother and father who were born at the turn of the 20th Century. They coped, of course, big-eyed and wonder-filled, with flying machines and the loud, obnoxious horseless carriages that hogged the road and frightened otherwise gentle horses plumb spitless.

They saw vaudeville turn into motion pictures and silent movies give way to sound tracks. They were in young adulthood when the first sack of mail was delivered via airplane. And I know for a fact that they made every sacrifice to stop Hitler and Tojo and the fat little Italian guy from running roughshod over the rest of the world—including suffering the ultimate loss of their eldest son.

They heard radio in its infancy and watched television in its infancy and was listening when the bomb exploded over Hiroshima that changed the world.

They saw the onset of America's interstate highway system, and were more than observers in the changing structure of our country's "Arsenal of Democracy" until it became the manufacturing hub for the rest of the world.

They suffered acutely during the Great Depression, but they emerged from that traumatic period proud and unbowed. And they gratefully embraced the better post-World War II life for themselves and their remaining children.

But I'm not so sure they were overjoyed about the tempo of that life: the never-ending flow of new neighbors and changing neighborhoods. I'm not sure they grasped altering values among their contemporaries. And I know for a fact there was total confusion on their part about shifting morals.

So they stuck with what they knew. Their code was strict, but to them it was comfortable. They believed in a fiery deity who punished far more often than He blessed. They were gregarious, however, and as well as they knew, remained pleased with their lot in life without fully understanding it.

So it is with me. I witnessed humans walking on the moon. I saw the first Sputnik and watched satellites become common. I saw unmanned space voyages to distant planets in our solar system. I watched computers from near infancy until today they've taken over our home office, as they have most offices in America and the world.

I saw trade embargoes collapse and free trade encompass the earth. I've watched the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of many Third World countries to become economic powerhouses.

Yet as an escapee from another, older age, I can't quite grasp why more people can't see and understand that there are limits to the earth's resources; that if we're greedy today, we consign our children to lesser life quality during their own age.

I can't understand how economic conservatives can be so spendthrift with the country's natural resources, nor how environmentally friendly liberals can spend our nation into insolvency. 

Or are even those line blurring?

************
January 2, 2016

LOUISIANA PURCHASE CAME AT RIGHT TIME

Has anyone thought how impossible it would've been to mount the Lewis & Clark Expedition if Europeans had already settled Montana and the West? With only unbridled rivers, the furies of winters and mosquitoes of summers, 3,000 mile supply lines and hostile Indians, Meriwether & Co. had an 1805 pushover compared to what it'd be like if they attempted their trek today.

First off, the problem would be barge traffic on the lower Missouri. Then they'd bump into the first dam and it'd be portage, portage, portage from there on up. And if the mud flats behind Fort Peck is a fair sample, there'd be no antelope, bighorn sheep, elk or buffalo within sight and sound of the no longer mighty Missouri.

When they arrived near the river's headwaters, they'd find little water to float canoes and with a threat of giardiasis, cattle grazing riparian areas and chemical fertilizers washing from the land, even that would be questionable to drink.

Merely crossing the maze of Interstates might be all a man's life was worth, especially when encumbered with trade beads and shiny medallions to hang around tribal chiefs' necks. And if they tried traveling up the Bitterroot Valley during morning or evening rush hour, no doubt they'd pen a resignation to marse Tom, back in Washington.

Barbed wire—think of that! Mile after mile after mile of snagging their hind ends as they crawled under, squeezed through or climbed over. And How about camp sites?  What chance would those Presidential Seal-toting tourists have at locating suitable campsites on busy July weekends? Even if the Lewis & Clark gang stumbled onto a Fish, Wildlife & Parks' campground with an empty picnic table, think what a ruckus it'd cause when somebody came along to collect for their using outhouse toilets!

How about trading for horses? Indians, so it seems, treated the strangers reasonably fair, though no mention was made by messrs Meriwether and William about appaloosa horses, despite the fact they traded with the Nez Perce. (However, when you think about it, failure to trade appaloosas to the white men may have been a favor to the newcomers.) At any rate, can you imagine what kinds of busted up, wind broke and spavined livestock the colonial boys would wind up with if they dealt with some of our present slick talking Montana horse traders?

They couldn't pass across National Forest land, either, withoug special use permits.  Neither would they get one without an EIS, EAR, or approval from the EPA. Besides the party was too large. To travel through any portion of the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat or Absoraka-Beartooth Wildernesses, there can be no more than 15 persons using not more than 25 horses.

All the above National Forest limitations are academic since the party could hardly have worked their way through all the no hunting or trespassing signs on private lands en route.

Shooting wild game out of season would bring the wrath of Fish & Game wardens upon them. And think of the furor that would erupt every time they frowned at a grizzly bear, even in self defense.

It's a good thing that the U.S. government of the early 1800's didn't delay their “Voyage of Discovery”, else they'd discover there would be little chance of a voyage.

*************
December 19, 2015

CHRIST'S MAAS

Christmas (Christ's Maas), was originally intended to be the annual feast commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, celebrated on December 25. The Dutch word is "Kerstmis". In Germany, the period is called "Weihnacht", signifying "Holy Night". Romance languages employ a derivative of the Latin "Natalis", or "birthday"; in France it's "Noel", Italy "Natale", Spain "Navidad".

Christmas in its present sense only peripherally approaches celebration of the birth of Christ (the actual date is unknown). And by all accounts, erosion of intent for "Christ's Mass" goes back centuries, traced perhaps to the pre-Christian era where celebration of the winter solstice was common. A survival and adaptation of pagan usages can be seen in many German customs connected with St. Nicholas' Day: in alms left for the poor and the entertainment of uninvited strangers at table; in the use of special foods; in the use of Advent-wreaths and mistletoe; and in the Christmas tree.

Though today's Christmas represents something other than its original intent, the day is still the single most cherished holiday of the year. And the values it promotes are not, perhaps, so far from those espoused by the Christ whose name is invoked therein: 
            * The free giving of gifts to loved ones and friends. 
            * The gathering together of family groups. 
            * The general tolerance and benevolence behind "Peace on earth
and good will toward men."

It seems likely that if Christ were alive today he'd not throw stones at celebrators of His day. Not at all. In fact it's probable He would busy himself encouraging the world to pursue precisely those same values. . . .

Here in Montana, we have what we feel are big problems: tax increases on the horizon, federal and state indebtedness, reduction of government services, ever-growing spread between rich and poor. In eastern Montana there's concern their rural farming and ranching way of life will be submerged by burgeoning populations in the Treasure State West. And statewide, we're all worried that our entire western culture will be crushed by urban Americana.

Montana outdoor-type folks are worried about anti-hunting, anti-gun, landowner-sportsmen relations, private property rights, loss of natural resources, declining wildlife habitats and the pros and cons of endangered species. To most of us, on this particular Christmas, Montana's future has never appeared more bleak. And that's poppycock.
 
From Territorial days to the present, doomsayers have gathered to decry trends. I can even imagine a bunch of free trappers gathered around the campfire castigating big fur companies, the decline of beaver and the trend to silk hats.

For the most part, what we really object to is change and that's precisely the one thing we can do nothing about. Better we should spend time determining methods to channel that change to most benefit us. 

And for now, let's consider the lessons of Christmas:
            * Freely giving of gifts to our loved ones. 
            * Gathering together with family and friends.
            * Peace on earth, good will toward men.

Doesn’t that sound like doomsday activities to you?

*****************
December 12, 2015

THE REAL BENEFITS OF WILD MEAT

One important point that is often overlooked in the hunting vs anti-hunting debate is how much healthier wild game is for the average American than pen-raised, force-fed, flavor-subtracted feedlot meats. In an era when practically everything tasting good is off limits according to government reports or agency directive, or boycotted by do-gooder groups, doesn't it seem strange no one has come along to advocate elk burgers or deer ribs?

Couple wild game's nutritional benefits with the peace of mind inherent with sitting on a distant ridgetop on a frosty morning, then consider the physical effort one pays to get there, and I find it strange that our nation's Surgeon General isn't promoting the real values of sport hunting: i.e. the health benefits to its practitioners.

There are few medical doctors alive who'll claim man can exist on rutabagas and brussel sprouts alone. And if there were any quacks like that around, few folks who snuggle up to a banquet table would give ‘em the time of day.

Meat—fresh meat if it's available, or canned, smoked, salted or raw if not—is one ticket item most of us must have. At least occasionally. Certainly meat, of and for itself, isn't illegal. And Cleveland Amory look-alikes aside, neither is it immoral. But most of it IS fattening. And it's the fattening that's frightening. High blood pressure, cholesterol, blocked arteries, excess weight—all are endemic to concentrated meat consumption.

The American Medical Society doesn't tell us not to eat meat, however.  (I know, I know, they say to eat more vegetables and grains and fruit. But they don't tell us not to eat meat at all.) Instead they tell us to eat lean meat. Cut off the fat, feed it to your dog. 

But is lean meat for sale over the meat counter? We won’t buy it. Lean claims are made, of course. No marbling in this cut, no excess fat in that steak. Charge an extra dollar per pound. But no fat? Huh-uh. Not like you’ll find in an antelope hind-quarter, or the backstrap out of a mule deer buck.

Deer and antelope and elk tastes "wild", you say? Ha! Ten times out of ten, that's because the animal was cared for shabbily in the field. How often do you see a fat feedlot beef chased wildly over a half section of hills and gullies; then when finally dropped, cleaned improperly and skinned not at all? How often do you see a prime beef draped over the fender of an automobile and transported 500 miles across country through all kinds of weather, then unceremoniously dropped to lay on a garage floor until hung the following day? Tastes wild?  Undoubtedly.

But the key word is it TASTES. Cared for properly it'll still taste, but not "wild". If it's quickly cleaned in the field and hopefully skinned within the hour, cured with care, cut skillfully and wrapped to preserve it the way good beef is handled, wild meat will be a hit on any dining room table.

And it'll be lean. Even if the wild animal was in top shape—fat and heavy-bodied—its meat is still lean. There's precious little marbling, ever, in an animal that made its living toodling around Montana's outback. They're healthy, wealthy (for you) and wise.

It’s their being wise that is, of course, the problem for us hunters.

**************
December 5, 2015

GIFT IDEAS FOR YOUR FAVORITE OUTDOOR PERSON

The very best gift a dedicated outdoors-type person could receive requires no out-of-pocket cash, no struggling through check-out lines, no extra personal effort. That gift, of course, is encouragement.

To a person intrigued with wonders of the natural world—animals, plants, sunsets and scenery—it's a precious gift indeed to receive understanding, and yes, a willingness to share in outdoor adventure from the one or ones you most love.

Sure, who wouldn't enjoy caressing a new rifle or flyrod, or drive a brand-new four-wheel-drive pickup with pride, especially if either or all came with a fancy bow around 'em at Christmas time? Who wouldn't fondle an expensive digital camera equipped with telephoto and wide-angle lenses, or a pair of powerful binoculars that a person could use to pick out an antelope buck two miles away?

But to a guy like me who spent a lifetime outdoors, the most precious gifts received aren't the most expensive toys in my closets. No, it's encouragement to go and do; to touchy-feely dawn mist rising from an apple orchard at sunrise or trout dimpling the water of a pond as dusk falls.

It's probable, however, that most folks would feel uncomfortable merely giving a seal of approval for their loved one to hunt ducks next November. Okay, that's understandable. So give them something tangible along with that seal of approval—like a dozen brand new wind-directional decoys that doesn’t overburden your shopping budget. Tacit, of course, with the decoys is your approval that they should be used when next fall rolls around.

Sometimes, however, the trick is to find what there is about the outdoor scene that most appeals to your loved one. My wife Jane, for instance, enjoys fly fishing. She wanted a float tube ever since she saw a guy paddling around in one at Kintla Lake catch a big mackinaw.  That was a few years ago, and I was younger and dumber in those long-gone days, wondering should I encourage her to fish more? 

My conclusion then was that fishing would likely help keep her out of the bars late at night. So you probably don’t have to ask if she found a float tube under her tree, do you?

Here's a few additional ideas. Most are relatively inexpensive: Arctic fleece hunting jacket, a collapsible-blade belt knife, turkey decoys, turkey call, fingermits to aid one's shooting. Gun cleaning kit, reloading manual, archery targets, fly tying kit, knife sharpener.

For the serious camper: a free standing, folding cooking grill, aluminum dutch oven, an aluminum griddle, a backpack tent.

How about an electric boot dryer? Heavy lamb's wool insoles? Moccasins for comfort around camp? Wool coat, trousers, shirts, stockings. Ski gaitors are useful to the outdoorsman for more than just crosscountry skiing. And a fishing vest is the "in" thing for those who care about fly fishing.

If it's traveling around the Treasure State that interests your outdoors person, how about a book on ghost towns or mining camps? Wildlife watching? There are books for that, too. And you can seldom go wrong with any of my outdoor titles: “Learning To Talk Bear”, “Chocolate Legs”, “Dance On the Wild Side”, “Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness”, “My Best Work Is Done At the Office” (short stories), and my book about what I've learned from a lifetime of elk hunting.

But above all, your most important gift to the outdoors person is the one of encouragement. It's not only good for the one you love, but for you, also.

Sitting atop a mountain peak on a clear day beats squatting on a bar stool every time.

***********************
November 28, 2015

ILL WIND

Call it what you will: breeze, blow, blast or blizzard; call it whiff, whirl, storm or squall; call it draft, puff, gust or gale. Makes no difference whether tempest or tornado—most folks living in our part of the country learn to come to terms with the one single constant that's always been and always will be:

Wind.

I've seen packstrings actually clawing their way through mountain passes where gale-force winds threatened to blow them from the trail. I've sprawled on my belly atop mountain peaks in order to keep from being blown from the perch . . . only to see my hat, burdened with a heavy stone to pin it alongside . . . go rolling away, until it disappeared into a chasm below.

"No mosquitoes," we used to tell guests who questioned our collective sanity while riding exposed through alpine country.

We called it the "Wind Funnel”; a hunting camp perched on a broad ledge along a remote cliff face. The wind seemed always to whistle along the shelves, caves, crevices and chimneys of that massif like Jehovah's organ, beginning at one end and trailing along the cliff until it disappeared out the other end . . . only to turn around and return, still playing its celestial symphony in resonant minor.

Our guests usually began by listening raptly, commenting rapturously on the heavenly chimes. But by the end of a ten day hunt, their eyes crossed and they plugged ears with forefingers—too much of a good thing can and will turn rapture into torture. Wind chimes hanging from the porch of a sod hut north of Havre might have had the same effect on an early homestead wife.

The wind was indeed constant in the Wind Funnel. We led one hunt there where squalls took our sleeping tent down twice. Once it jerked out the tent pegs, next it broke the ridgepole. Fortunately we were out hunting both times.

When we reined our horses to a stop at dusk and surveyed the damage, I heard one hunter mutter, "If that bottle in my duffel bag is broke . . ." A horrified silence fell, punctuated only by what sounded like a banshee laughing wickedly along cliff faces above our camp.

Fortunately the bottle wasn't broken, our shelter was re-erected, and when we returned three days later to again find the tent lying flat, it made no difference because the bottle's contents were gone.

We moved from that high camp chiefly because the wind gods made us go. They made us go not alone because of the incessant howling above camp or because our tents were vulnerable, situated as they were on the hard-to-anchor, rocky ground. Instead, winter came early up there and when it did, snow never wafted gently or drifted silently. No, instead it came howling in from the frozen north, born like shotgun pellets in a mammoth white-out that frosted eyelashes, stole breaths, and befuddled direction.

Despite the fact that we had three different routes into that camp, each pass filled with head-high, packed drifts where horses must flounder while men cursed.

We moved lower in another year, carefully locating our tents behind a windscreen of big spruce. It was in the middle of the night when the top blew out of one of those spruce trees and flattened Jane's and my sleeping tent down atop us.

It was a rotten way to wake up!

- the end -

(PS: It wasn't an ill-wind that blew the neighbor girl into my yard 61 years ago yesterday. Though yesterday may have been "black Friday", we celebrated another year together with a glass of wine by toasting each other in front of a cheery fireplace blaze. S'funny about these yearly affairs: they just keep getting better and better.)
********************
November 21, 2015

ABOUT SURVIVAL

If it makes no difference whether you see your kids' or your mother's or your wife's eyes light up on some future special occasion; if you care not in the least whether the sun comes up or are oblivious to discomfort from tough weather, or pain from hunger and thirst, then you should skip this column and return to watching television re-runs. 

But if survival means anything—particularly unplanned survival under hostile outdoor conditions—maybe it'd be best to hit the telly's off-button and take a moment to think on what I’m about to say.

Under certain conditions, no one—no matter how experienced—is immune to losing directions in forest and mountains. Thinking about the possibility beforehand is perhaps the most important single tool for survival. Thinking about it means preparing for the possibility. Proper preparation means you hold all the right cards in a game where chance makes it too chancey for a guy to play against the odds.

Have I ever been lost? Yep. Once amid a dense fog that settled into a Pacific Coast rain forest and once while guiding hunters amid a heavy snowstorm in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. In both cases I knew the area intimately; had hiked the land many times before. In both cases the weather eased, allowing me to take better bearings. During one of those periods I crouched miserably in bewildered confusion; during the other, a warming fire blazed cheerfully. 
 
For the first time around, an inventory of the materials carried in packsack or jacket pocket went like this: Matches (wet from sweat and rain), knife, two pieces of hard candy, a few feet of nylon cord, a pair of woolen mittens, handkerchief, comb, extra ammunition, pocket change, watch, pad and pencil, a rubber band, small vial of aspirin, the nub of a candle.

Notice a compass? Huh-uh. How about fire starter? None . . . except for the candle nub and wet matches. What about space blanket, extra clothes, raincoat? No.

Did I learn anything I could use during the second time around? Absolutely. By then I'd taken time to think about survival and what it meant for a guy responsible for the welfare of others. In addition to all those things listed above, I carried matches in a watertight case, a small block of incendiary pitch wood to make fire ignition more certain, extra food, a down vest, change of socks, wool cap, rain slicker, topo map and a keen sense of humor. 

The last was indispensable when my two hunters discovered their guide couldn't find elk, deer, the way back to camp, or even the horses we'd left tied to trees an hour earlier.

But more important than the extra gear packed for emergencies was that I'd learned the importance of the acronym S.T.O.P. (Stop, Think, Observe, Plan). We stopped near a small stream and built a roaring fire. My guys were advised not to eat all their lunch; to save some for an emergency. They were advised to drink all the water they could take on.  Extra wood was gathered. We kicked snow away from grass and ground beneath the overhanging limbs of a big Douglas fir "wolf tree". 

We discussed what would happen if the blowing, drifting snow never let up before darkness fell.

Just a half-hour before night, the snow slowed and stopped. I gazed across the white world, took my bearings; our horses were but two hundred yards and a single low ridge away. 

Tracks of two elk, half-blanketed by the last snowflakes, meandered between. 

We kissed our horses hello and waved goodbye to that day's elk.

***************
November 14, 2015

RUN!

A limb cracked, then another and another. "Run!" I hissed, as the crackling, perhaps a hundred yards ahead, became general.

The hunter jerked his rifle to the ready, then froze . . . except for his head swiveling like a wind-up toy. His eyes grew even wider as I nudged him and again hissed, "Run!"

The forward crackling died and the hush of the giant spruce forest once more descended. "Never mind," I sighed. "They're gone."

"What's gone?" he asked as he tilted his rifle muzzle downward.

"The herd of elk."

"Elk! Where? When?" He again swung in an arc, rifle once more at the ready.

"Up ahead. A few moments ago. Didn't you hear the noise?"

"Yeah. Was that what was making the racket?"

I nodded. "Sure was. They'd heard us. Or seen us. Or more likely smelled us. However it was they knew we were here, they headed out. Only one chance to get a crack at 'em in a case like that—and that's to charge ahead as fast as you can. Didn't you hear me tell you to run?"

The hunter swung his round face to glare.  "Hell, I didn't know what you meant by telling me to run.  I thought maybe it was a grizzly bear charging up behind!  Or a bull moose coming from the front!  Or a mountain lion crouched off to the side!  I ain't no mind reader, you know." 

When I quit laughing, I admitted to not properly explaining the process beforehand. "When a hunter is slipping along through the woods in elk country and the brush begins popping up front, rocks rolling, brush snapping, he can just about bet the farm that it's a herd of elk taking off. Deer, now, won't make any noise after their first jump of surprise. Bear?  Maybe.  But there'll only be one animal and the noise won't come from but one spot. But elk? Well . . . you have to think like them, realize you're dealing with herd mentality, a herd animal.

"Elk aren't as sure-footed as deer. Bigger animal. Clumsier. Yes, they'll pop an occasional limb as they feed or walk, roll an occasional stone. But only occasionally.  When a whole hillside erupts, or an entire ridgetop turns to bedlam, that means only one thing: the herd knows you're here and they're getting out of Dodge."

The hunter nodded, then looked puzzled. "What's the running s'posed to do?"

"There's only one chance you have of getting a shot—and that's to run as fast as you can toward them. True, no hunter can stay with elk on the run.  But lots of times, one, two, or even three elk will take off while others stand and look at 'em in surprise. Sometimes it'll take a few seconds for their surprised companions to figure out just what it was that spooked their buddies."

The hunter nodded.  "And that's the time when a man can dash closer?"

"The only time," I replied. "Another ten seconds and the rest of the elk will have it figured out. That's the reason the noise you just heard went on so long—it took a few moments for the rest of the elk to locate the danger."

"Run!" the hunter hissed. Then he shook his head and grinned.

*****************
November 7, 2015

ABOUT ROAD HUNTING

Many members of the hunting fraternity find road hunting distasteful, its advocates lacking in most social graces and its practitioners an embarrassment to the sport.  “Slob" as in "slob hunter" is the most prevalent invective used to describe road hunters.

I don't necessarily agree.

First, my credentials: I've never shot an animal from a roadway.  True, there have been an occasion or two where I spotted quarry from a road, then stalked same. But actually shoot from a road—no. Neither have I ever loaded a whole elk into a vehicle. With me, it has always been skin, quarter and pack 'em, sometimes for miles, to a road. And it was always my plan to continue in that mode for decades. 

But unlike some of my friends, I don't necessarily think road hunting is all bad. In fact, someday I figure to take up that method of hunting.

Why? 

Because someday I'll not be able to hunt in any other manner.

Please don't think badly of me, however—I don't have much truck with the kind of road hunters who ride around in the back of a pickup truck, guns pointing out every direction; who shoot road signs, livestock and farm buildings; who drive across plowed fields, leave gates open and demand rights they've never had and certainly don't deserve; who drink booze during the hunt, are careless with firearms and play-act like they're dangerous because they're armed.

But there are other kinds of road hunters: like the grandpa or grandma still wishing to accompany kids and grandkids but who doesn't care to limit the circles of those younger and stronger; like the physically impaired to whom fate dealt a weak hand; like folks recovering from sickness or injury, to whom waiting another year in order to hunt is unthinkable. Those kinds of road hunters may not be the stereotypes many see in their mind’s eye. But they're real, they're credible, and they're justified.

That's why I find it difficult to turn thumbs down on all road hunting and it's why I support efforts by the Dept. of Fish, Wildlife & Parks and the U.S. Forest Service to provide a little something special in the way of hunting opportunities for the disabled.

For instance, licensing: 

A would-be hunter fitting into the disabled category must have a physician sign a form attesting to permanent disability. The form can then be stamped with a permit to hunt from a vehicle. Total resident cost for Conservation, bird and fishing license is a comparitive pittance.  Elk and deer tags are 1/2 price regular resident tags.

Where to hunt: The disabled hunter must, of course, have landowners permission to hunt from a vehicle. Though information appears sketchy about the extent of their program, several National Forests in Montana have closed roads that are available for vehicle hunting through a Disabled Hunter Access Program. 

According to my interpretation of the regulation, qualified hunters are permitted to shoot only from the roadside and must not do so ACROSS any public road.

The disabled hunter must be accompanied by a non-hunting ambulatory person who can assist in retrieving and dressing out game taken. This assistant is not permitted to carry a hunting weapon in areas where access is controlled to the general public.

It's a worthwhile program—one deserving public support.

***************
October 31, 2015

THE COMPULSIVE HUNTER

For fifty years, I couldn't help myself-- I was a compulsive hunter. For fifty years our earth cycled through four seasons: winter, spring, summer, and hunting season. For fifty years, as leaves turned green to yellow and fell from aspen and birch, I endured sleepless nights and robotic days. Each workweek cycled slowly, ponderously to its end.

When at last weekend trumpets sounded, I met four a.m. with clapping, dancing, shouts of joy, blowing dust from my blunderbuss, and sallying forth amid a driving rain to slay dragons or ducks--whichever came first.

Inevitably, the rain turned to sleet as I crouched in ankle-deep muck behind a cornstalk blind while the eastern sky turned from ink to pastel and finally to roiling black clouds that could easily portend doom for those less driven.

So what that my hip boots leaked and droplets fell from hatbrim to nose to chin to collar? So what that two decoys had broken free from their anchors and headed south before the full onslaught of winter? So what that when a flock of mallards poised over the spread, wings set and feet dangling that I sneezed? So what that I was too stiff and cold to raise the trusty double anyway, and too sensitive to its kick to fire it if I could? I was happy.

It's a happiness no sane man can explain. Nor would he try. It's an affliction that rates with stud poker and rotgut whiskey as a threat to hearth and home. With what a hunter spends just to keep himself happy, he could maintain a second home in Cannes and stock it with starlets.

The truth, of course, is not within a hunter. In fact he lies even unto himself. I've heard it from mine own lips even: hike manfully through forest primeval, twine with nature, exude health and vigor, roasted elk ribs over blazing campfires. What's truth, however, is carbuncles, pleurisy, and lumbago flavored with peanut butter sandwiches.

Unfortunately there is no cure for the hunting itch. Wife goes home to mother. Okay. Job goes south with the ducks. Okay. Bank account disappears while lien holders knock on your door. Okay. You're not home anyway, and neither is your wife. And if the house isn't yours when you get back, you'll find another while you're shopping for the mink stole to lure momma back.

After hunting season you can right your personal fortune by letting the SUV go back. You can sell your horses, since you haven't a pasture to put 'em in. You can pawn the spotting scope, ORV, GPS, reloading equipment, binoculars, and night goggles.

Fortunately I managed somehow to kick the worst of the habit. One could ascribe my successfully breaking free to righteousness, but no one who really knows me would believe that.The real reason may be that the old body doesn't have as much zing as it once did. I wheeze easy and limp some. Besides, pill bottles are harder to locate when they're dropped into a sidepocket filled with 12-gauge magnum shells.

My blood still pulses, however, when tamaracks turn to gold and the first needles fall. Maybe there's still life in a still, still-life.

****************
October 24, 2015

PHEASANTS IN THEIR CRP LIVING ROOMS

"One thing I forgot to tell you is that snow takes a pheasant's feet away."
           
I stared at the stocky information specialist with South Dakota's Game, Fish & Parks Dept. Gradually the man's revelation sank in and I reached for my notepad.

How does one man, one dog hunt Conservation Reserve Program land? had been my question. Inferred within the query is the constant problem of a hunter not being able to see his dog in the tall grass of idled, reclaimed crop land.

I'd interviewed Ken Moum at the Bismarck Outdoor Writer's conference, trying to pick up tips on how Montana's frustrated pheasant hunters can more effectively work the Treasure State's CRP lands. Moum—an admitted pheasant hunting freak—was a positive wealth of information. "Birds aren't as likely to run if there's an inch or two of snow on the ground," the man continued.

Another of Moum's insights included, "It's important to find fields that doesn't have too many pheasants."

"Too many pheasants?"

"Uh-huh. On some of our CRP lands, it's not uncommon to find 500 birds on one half-section. That's too many. A hunter must be able to control a field—both pheasants and dog. If there are too many pheasants, even a well-trained dog can go wild."

Moum thinks pointers aren't the best dogs for hunting CRP. "They tend to work too far from the hunter. Then when they go on point, they're hard to locate.  On the other hand, a flushing dog will usually work closer in." 

What kind of dog is best for CRP?

"I like a springer spaniel." When asked if he had a springer, Moum said no. But he was positive they're best in both temperament and tactics for CRP.

(I didn’t tell the South Dakota biologist that I had a Brittany spaniel and that I was miffed that he seemed too dense to choose the world’s best birdhunting breed.)

The South Dakotan said, "With pointers, one must use a beeper collar. Bells will work sometimes, but how do you find a dog in deep grass if he’s on point and the bells aren't ringing?" He said there's a sonic collar made that has two tone beeps to it. One is given off while the dog is in motion, then changes tone when the dog stops.
 
What's the cost of such collar?

He laughed. "Expensive."

Moum says sometimes it's better to hunt small fields near CRP than to go after the big fields "because a hunter and dog can better 'control' small fields. If you plan to hunt a big CRP field, look for 'seams' in it." He said a big field may look seamless, but they're not.  "Birds are never scattered uniformly throughout a field. They're concentrated in certain spots. For instance, they can use hills for wind shelter or cover. Look for an edge between wheatgrass on a hillside and the more dense grass in bottoms."

Moum says a pheasant hunter after birds in CRP must be prepared to cover a lot of ground quickly. "It might not be aesthetically pleasing, but it's something you must do—keep in contact with your dog."

 The man ended with this bit of wisdom: "Think of a CRP field as a giant pheasant warehouse."

***************
October 17, 2015

HORSEPACKING DURING THE "OLD" DAYS

Let's go on a horseback packtrip. We'll make it into some of the wildest country on the North American Continent. In order to make it challenging, let's do it the old way—say the 1920s way with nothing permitted on the journey but equipment from that era.

The country we'll plan to visit will be National Forests astride the Northern Rockies. We'll focus on three pieces of real estate that during the 20s the Department of Agriculture considered so remote there's scant chance roads will ever be built into the region. So they designated the regions as "primitive," and called each of them the South Fork, Sun River and Pentagon Primitive Areas.

Yeah, yeah, I know. History buffs among you know those three Primitive Areas ultimately became the core for what is known today as the Bob Marshall Wilderness. But yesterday there was no road to Spotted Bear, only a muddy fair-weather track into the Swan Valley, and a tie-hacker's wagon road up the North Fork of the Sun River to a place called Biggs Flats.

The gear we must take for our journey will be heavy, especially if compared to lightweight equipment common during the twenty-first century. Tents will be of untreated canvas duck, frying pans and Dutch ovens will be forged cast iron, bedding will be composed of cotton or wool blankets and heavy quilts. Mattresses are of light ticking and heavy as sin. Dishes and cups are of pewter; so are spoons and forks.

Groceries consist of sacks of flour and beans, sides of bacon, whole hams, tinned peaches, and cans of condensed milk. There are whole potatoes, turnips, carrots, and onions. Bread will only be available when camp is pitched in one spot long enough to bake it in the Dutch ovens. Fresh meat, in season and out, will be purchased along the way, with the aid of Winchesters in calibers 30. 

Since our packtrip takes place during prohibition, whiskey will be Canadian in glass bottles, ran across the border, during the dark of the moon, via remote roads. Or it will be of the "bathtub" variety, barely drinkable, from crockery jugs with corks pounded into the pour spout.

Compared to today's fine-blooded horses and mules, we'll be using a spavined lot, mostly swaybacked cayuses with Guernsey milch cow mixed somewhere into their genes. They'll be bald-faced, big-headed, thin quartered and sore-backed. Some will be shod and some will be barefoot, depending on how recalcitrant they may be at having a hoof lifted.

Halters will be of heavy leather, halter ropes of 3/4 hemp. Packing will all be sawbuck style. Riding saddles have too often been left flung over corral rails in rainstorms, while wool saddle blankets are moth-eaten and worn beyond a sane man's service. 

To enter the South Fork or Pentagon Primitive Areas from the Flathead's north end, one must depart civilization from Coram, packing three days just to reach Spotted Bear. Augusta will be a good jumping-off place for Gates Park Ranger Station in the Sun River Primitive Area—two hard riding days if the stock holds up.

No Goretex rainwear, no insulated boots, no down jackets or waterproof gloves or moisture-proof match cases. 

And we think we're tough?

**************
October 10, 2015

GRIZZLIES TO THE CMR

Jane said I never showed a flicker of emotion--no widening of  the eyes, not even so much as the twitch of a facial muscle. But the question brought a twist to the gut and my brain went into fast forward.

The incident occurred at a reading and book signing at a large Billings bookstore. I'd read a few pages of my "Learning To Talk Bear" book, then engaged the audience in discussion. We moved to the topic of reintroducing grizzlies to Idaho wilderness when an elderly man dropped a bombshell. 

He had short-cropped gray hair, a lined and wrinkled face, and his trousers were supported by worn suspenders. I categorized him as a farmer with a love of books.  "What about the CMR?" he asked.

"I beg your pardon?"

"The CMR," the man repeated. "The Charles M. Russell Wildlife Refuge. Why not reintroduce grizzly bears there? They were in the Missouri Breaks when Lewis & Clark passed through. Why wouldn't it be appropriate for them to return?"

I hesitated, then held out my hands palms up. It was a question I'd not before heard.
But one that hasn't faded away since. The elderly Billings man was right; grizzly bears were there as Lewis & Clark and their doughty crew of 28 men and one woman pushed up the Missouri river in 1805. And the great beasts proved unusually aggressive, giving rise to a belief that "plains" grizzlies were crankier than the mountain variety. One reason for their short fuse, however, may have stemmed from a natural bear instinct to defend a food source; in this case carrion washed up along the mighty river. 

One journal entry made by Meriwether Lewis on May 29, 1805 states:  "Today we passed the remains of a vast many mangled carcasses of buffalo, which had been driven over a precipice of 120 feet by the Indians, and perished. The water appeared to have washed away a part of this immense pile of slaughter, and still there remained the fragments of at least a hundred carcasses."

In a June 17, 1805 entry, Lewis tells of watching a dozen head of buffalo disappear over the lip of one of the cataracts of the Great Falls of the Missouri. He speculates, "This may be one reason (and I think not a bad one) that the bears are so tenacious of their right-of-spoil in this neighborhood."

But those vast herds of wild grazers no longer roam the high plains. And compared to the cantankerous stream traveled by the Voyage of Discovery, even the unruly river is tamed. Knowing and understanding a few of the changes that constitute that background might put a different spin on proposals to reintroduce grizzly bears to the Charles M. Russell Wildlife Refuge by asking this simple question: 

Are sufficient natural foods available within the CMR to maintain a viable population of grizzlies?

It is an interesting idea, however--one guaranteed to raise social as well as biological questions. The biological questions should be easily answerable. Solutions to the social questions are less tangible. 

One thing seems abundantly clear, however: the idea of reintroducing the great beasts to the CMR is one guaranteed to generate considerable heat.

**************
October 3, 2015

THE ART OF BEING ADDLED

I knew I was in a world of hurt when cute young girls started smiling. When they see me waddling down the street or leaning against a lamp pole to catch my breath every lady I meet will look me squarely in the eye and smile sweetly--perhaps even say an encouraging word. Back when I was younger and full of vinegar, members of the opposite sex wouldn't even stay in the same public auditorium I chanced into, let alone let me catch their eye. And speak? May the saints preserve them!

We're talking here of functions of age and degeneration--mine, not theirs. It's embarrassing that when I was twenty the Monicas and Celestes of the world helped me across the street with a spike heel planted firmly into my hind-side, while today they do it by taking my elbow and murmuring reassuringly.

I even tried leering at one in an attempt to recapture some of my lost youth. But all she said was, "You poor man--and medicaid doesn't cover good dentition, does it?"

Earlier this summer, a fashion model in sleeveless blouse and short-shorts picked me up in her red roadster. It could've been my dream come true, but she took me to my house instead of hers. Turned out she was on vacation; a home health care giver in Connecticut. She and my wife Jane spent an hour with their heads together on how to get more mileage out of Jane's old beater--which, I discovered, meant me.

It's strange that I don't even know when the transition began. Up to a certain age I was a pariah to half the humans on earth. Then I blinked and of a sudden gray-haired ladies sprang from their seats in subway cars to offer me a place to collapse and rein in my racing heart. Perhaps fumbling for the nitro pills has something to do with it.

The truth is those tiny crimson nitros are really cinnamon red hots I pulled from the supermarket candy counter and transferred to a plastic pill bottle with the image of a lightning slash through the skull and crossbones.

Another truth is that I'm comfortable with my cover. Learning the doddering limp twenty years before I eased into it naturally took intense study and superb physical acumen. Instead of perfecting the artistic style of an Alan Alda, I spent all my time developing into a second shuffling Alfred Hitchcock. At least this way pretty young things smile at me, and older more mature things cluck with pity and feed me slices of apple cobbler and warm milk.

There's a ray of hope in my ancient facade. This way I can at least get to stand under the same storefront alcove with the opposite sex and wait for a bus. If I do it right, the cute one will assist me on board and help me to a comfortable seat. If I really do it right, she may even sit beside me and hand me kleenexes for my nose. It's something she wouldn't do if she saw me striding over mountaintops in my normal Jim Bridger gait. If she really knew how virile I yet am beneath the turned down brim of my slouch hat she'd probably have taken another bus.

What's that? No, no. The lady has nothing to fear. I just turned eighty, you know.

*************
September 26, 2015

THE HUNTING URGE

There's this modicum of annual madness, see? It grips the red-blooded as aspens yellow and mountain hollows reverberate to concertos of mighty elk bent on lust and lasciviousness. Since I've been among the afflicted, I feel free to bend an ear.

Jane says the hunting frenzy has autumn roots that harken back to primitive man, to hunter-gatherer groups from thousands of years previous, when great carnivores and mastodons and giant sloths stalked the land. I demur for the simple reason that in caveman societies, hunting was a year-round endeavor, not limited to autumnal rites alone.

"Gathering, on the other hand," I said, "might be better considered a fall ritual. That's harvest time; it's when berries and seedheads ripen, and nuts and fruit fall from trees."

"They gathered all year, however," the woman said. They dug for roots in the spring, gathered mushrooms after rains, even stripped tender layers of tree bark during times of privation."

I nodded. "That's true. But the real abundance was always in the fall. That's when more natural bounty was available than could be processed."

"Isn't that also when animals are at their fattest?"

"But it's not the only time of year primitive man hunted."

We walked on, each silent, each thinking. Our conversation was during our daily "walky-talky" time, when either of us can bring up any topic for dissection.

There's little doubt about it—veins throb in most Montana males when the fall urge hits. Grouse season is open. Archery season is open. Backcountry hunting is open in some remote areas.  Waterfowl season will be upon us in a scant few days. Pheasants, antelope, general big game hunting are all just down the road. Special seasons for the lucky winners of special drawings—moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goats—are already in place. 

Bow hunters commune at local archery shops; rifle hunters do the same at rifle ranges. Shotguns are oiled and primed, decoys dusted and their paint retouched.

It is indeed an annual ritual. But does it harken back to cro-Magnon days? This particular annual fall odyssey has, after all, little more than a hundred-year history. Give or take a decade or two, few states even had hunting seasons of any kind until the dawn of the 20th century. Even then, hunting seasons were established to give wildlife a break from year-round hunting, not to provide testosterone buildups for red-blooded humans.

So the annual fall hunting frenzy, rather than having its roots in the primeval, is a relatively recent innovation. With but a hundred years of tradition, the urge for autumnal hunting is unlikely to have so soon made it into the gene pool. Yet it's
there—make no mistake about it.

I spent far too many sleepless nights during my formative years, tossing and dreaming of six-point deer, royal-head elk, and 18-inch pronghorn antelope to deny that the urge exists today—just as it did yesterday. But from whence does it stem? 

You reckon God has a hand in it?

*************
September 19, 2015

DO WE NEED MORE URSID STUDIES?

I was born many yesterday's ago, in the middle of the Great Depression. To make matters worse, I was born in the southern Great Plains, which was the center of the so called "dust bowl," where fertile soil from prairie farms vanished amid prevailing arid winds. 

In those days it was essential for human survival that a great deal of research went into farming methods intended to salvage what was left of Middle America's farm community. Contour farming and strip farming were but two results of that research.

Strangely, though, something unforeseen happened on the way to doing basic farm research: we, as a people, began to see that we'd just scratched the surface of the possible. Subsequent research focused on parasite control, fertilization, development of hardier and higher-yield seeds. Today, agricultural research continues unabated and only chronic complainers decry the effort. 

My point is the more we know, the more we learn that we don't know. Hang on now, because I plan to take this to grizzly bears.

First off, let it be said that I'm very much in favor of research on the giant ursids. I'm convinced that, despite what we might think, we know very little (probably about anything). That's why I believe we need to learn more about grizzlies if we plan to
have 'em around for our kids and grandkids to, in their day, say they can hike where the big creatures might stroll tomorrow.

All research isn't always justified all the time, however. Nor is the objective of all research always noble. Nor do all biologists or bureaucrats or politicians or partisans always nobly utilize research that was nobly developed. And what might be even more confusing, all too often a receptive public can be misled by an earnest researcher's enthusiasm—overt or implied—that can in no way be fulfilled.

I've always been suspicious, for instance, that our expectations have been raised beyond reason (unintentionally, perhaps) by the massive DNA population study conducted by collecting and analyzing hair follicles from Glacier Park grizzlies. Yet somehow we've collectively come to expect more than that study can produce.

Yes, DNA research can be instrumental in determining bear numbers. No, the study is not an end-all, prove-all ensuring survival of the great beasts. 

Yes, the study will identify particular bears and provide us information that that bear was in that spot on that day. No, it will tell us nothing about where the bear came from yesterday, or where it goes tomorrow. Nor will it provide information on feeding habits, denning areas, essential ranges, or the bear's habits around people.

Please understand, the DNA study, in and of itself, is a good thing. But beyond numbers and hereditary lines, DNA analysis has limitations. It can't provide you or me or she or he with real knowledge about the lives of real grizzly bears.

That would be like the agricultural research agency disbanding after telling dust bowl farmers how to strip farm and contour plow.

Determining honest grizzly numbers is a start. But let's remember that's all it is—a start—in learning about the beasts.

*****************
September 12, 2015

FISH ARE BACK!  WHERE ARE THE BEARS?

I'd not seen it before. I'd heard of it, dreamed of it, hoped it'd come to pass in my lifetime. But lucky enough to see it? No.

The pool was big and deep, perhaps 200 feet across and, despite water so transparent you could read a newspaper through a Mason jar filled with the stuff, no bottom in sight.

We counted three pods of 'em; two contained well over a hundred muscular salmon, some probably up to twenty pounds. Our attention was arrested when we were two hundred yards from the water. “What was that?" I blurted.

Jane, who'd been staring down into the rivulet that trickled below our path, echoed: "What was what?"

"Look out in the pool! There was something big came out of the water and ..."  I trailed off as another ‘thing' rose from the water and crashed back, sending spray three feet to each side. Jane gasped. "It's fish!" I shouted breaking into a shambling run. Then another gargantuan salmon leaped clear of the water to crash back. And another. And another. Most of the action seemed to be taking place near the pool's center.

We clambered up on a rock that towered to the side of the pool. Something caught our eyes and Jane said, "One jumped over where the waterfall spills in!"

I cried, "Hey! One jumped to the left, where that tiny stream flows in!"

There were salmon and trout and maybe summer steelhead all over that pool. Most of the chinook lay in the three milling pods, but individual fish could be discerned gliding regally around the pool's edges. 

As we watched, one monster chinook detached itself from the pod and rocketed up and out of the water, perhaps shooting two feet above the surface before crashing back in a mushroom of white spray.

Another followed. Then one leaped below the waterfall and another from the far left pod. "Why are they doing this?" I muttered.

Jane wasn't listening—the lady was totally entranced by this utterly surprising "memory nugget". She, of course, had no more inkling than I of its cause and effect.

A three-foot-long fish glided by the pool edge beneath our rock, attended by a couple of 20-inchers. Were those attendants younger jack salmon? steelheads? Sea-run cutthroats? native rainbows?

The pool was the end of the line for the giant fish; upstream passage was impossible for them, cut off by thoughtless engineering for yesterday's power dam construction.

One would think these fish would be spawning, but there was little shallows in this pool and no apparently suitable spawning gravel. Neither did the fish we saw show any sign of an end to their cycle—no degeneration, no white fins or spots, no flesh sloughing away near death.

One thing was clear to us, though—those fish in that pool provided evidence that
salmon runs on that remote Oregon Cascades' stream are on the rise; on their way back after nearly disappearing.

Then the thought struck: How long will it take bears, who've gone several generations without access to fish that once teemed in this river, to discover that the fish are back?

************
September 5, 2015

INTRUDER SURPRISE!

We have this private little campsite, see. It's by a beautiful whitewater river that speaks to you every waking and sleep-filled moment; a steady babble—like mom trying too hard to impress Prince Charming when the young man calls for her daughter's first date.

We camp there often—as often as business or pleasure takes us anywhere within a hundred miles of the remote place. We rid ourselves of imagined troubles by plunging into the river, then squatting on the bank, listening to the murmur while preparing for another pressure-filled tomorrow.

We've never before had to share the campsite; the access road is rough and rocky, almost hidden from the highway on a blind corner. The access is steep, too, following alongside a boiling little creek until the road ends before a huge Douglas fir "wolf" tree that thrusts up from the river bank and offers abundant shade—even at high noon on the hottest days.

Below the tree, giant boulders as large as an automobile are scattered across the river, each harboring what simply has to be a trout-laden eddy on its downstream side.

We've never fished there—after all, the river rises and flows through another state. But to be honest with you, one does not have to catch fish to appreciate heavenly and enchanting places.

The last time we camped there, however, two men rambled down our lane in an older model pickup and promptly pitched a couple of pop-up tents a hundred feet from our van.

Is the appearance of all strangers unsavory? One of them had shiny black hair that hung to the back pockets of his bluejeans, the other's face was hidden. They seemed unfriendly, but, in truth, I might have thought so because we preferred no company.

The moon was in its last phase, so the night was blacker than Tobe's well. And it was somewhere during the middle of it when my eyes popped open. Was someone moving about the front of our van? Then there was a sound from the rear.

I could tell by my sleeping partner's tense muscles that she'd heard it, too.  I eased from the sleeping bag and felt for the can of bear spray laid close to hand when it became apparent we were to have what might be unsavory neighbors. Jane pressed a flashlight into my hand as I slipped into shoes. 

There was another sound from the rear, then something bumped the van. A bead of sweat rolled down the inseam of my undershorts as I fingered the trigger on the bear spray, switched on the light, and leaped from the van swinging the beam in an arc, primed to shoot any would-be villain with a snoot-full of immobilizing cayenne pepper!

There was nothing there. I circled the van, even thought about looking beneath it, but chuckled at that idea. I swung the flashlight in a wider arc. There seemed to be no activity at the other camp.

"I dunno what it was," I said to Jane as I scooted back into the sack.

"Could it have been a porcupine?" she asked.

"I suppose.  Could even have been a skunk."

Then the creature let slip a first faint odor. That was when I whispered a prayer of thanks that I never stooped to peer beneath the vehicle. It was also when I prudently decided to remain in the van for the rest of the night.

*************
August 29, 2015

A MONTANA TREASURE

If you're traveling north out of Grass Range or Lewistown, or south out of Harlem or Malta, my advice is to plan to overnight at the James Kipp Recreation Area Campground. It's located at the south end of the Fred Robinson Bridge across the Missouri, and is just inside the western edge of the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. Just north of the bridge begins a 20-mile self-guided auto tour that should be a must-see for Montanans interested in what their state is all about.

In my opinion, the only spot in the entire Treasure State that might match this place in unaltered historical significance is Headwaters State Park at the junction of the Three Forks of the Missouri, west of Bozeman.

The first stop on the CMR auto tour affords a panoramic view of the last section of the free-flowing Missouri and calls attention to the Journals of Lewis & Clark: "The buffalo is scarce today, but the elk, deer, and antelope are very numerous . . . We saw  five (grizzly) bears."

Additional stops provide opportunities for your mind's eye to picture steamboat landings and accompanying woodyards, steamboats, and keel boats, 1880 ranch buildings and homestead shacks. There are footpaths affording classact songbird, shorebird and water bird viewing. There are trails through the river bottoms and riverside hikes along the most famous waterway of the American West.

At Guidepost 5, six miles along the drive and in view of beautiful river bottom meadows, is this information: "As the cottonwoods flame golden in the crisp September air, as many as 60 elk may be seen here. September is the beginning of the rut or mating season for elk. During this season, if you sit quietly during the evening hours, you may hear the low hoarse bellows and clear high tones of bugling elk . . ."

We were at Guidepost 5 in October, not September. And elk were no longer bugling. But on cue, they were there; perhaps up to 50 of the magnificent creatures. Big bulls, small bulls, cows and calves. What a sight!

The same guidepost information said, ". . . white-tailed deer may often be observed in this area." That, too, was also true.

Lots of waterfowl habitat, waterfowl nesting sites and waterfowl can be observed along the entire river bottom portion of this drive.

From the river bottom, you'll climb back to the northern plateau. Along the way, you'll pass guideposts where long-ago geologic action is both explained and observable: For instance, the fact that Pleistocene glaciers forced the Missouri River 60 miles south from its former channel, where the Milk River now runs, is apparent to the visitor. And there's information on how the Missouri "Breaks" or "Badlands" were formed.

Farther along is sharp-tailed grouse dancing grounds. "From late March to Mid-May and late September and October, male sharp-tailed grouse gather here at daybreak." We were too late, however.

There's also bits and pieces on cattle grazing and on Native American history (they could do better on past tribal use).

Taking the tour at daylight (my choice), or near dark is best.

*************
August 22, 2015

"MANAGING" YOUR PONIES FOR BEST RESULTS

We spotted the white mare during our daily walk regime. She grazed contentedly amid trees while the other three horses pursued their own grass banquet a couple of hundred yards away.  "She's never worried about being alone," Jane murmured.

"Never did," I said, "even in the middle of the wilderness.  But she never got too far away, either. Seemed like she always knew where the others were. Run the herd in and if she wasn't there, she'd show up a couple of minutes later."

"Neither was she a bunchquitter," Jane said.

(A "bunchquitter," for those who may not know, is the bane of every wilderness horsepacker. Bunchquitters, unlike most ponies, are not herd-bound. They will deliberately steal away when it's least expected, sometimes choosing to hide in a thicket, or to flee in a direction other than one with which they're familiar. It's a fact that bunchquitters are suitable only for glue.)

"No," I said, strolling over to scratch the mare's ears. "She always stayed with the herd, but she just never felt any compulsion to keep every one of 'em within sight." The mare closed her eyes in ecstasy, then blinked and returned to her full-time day job—which is sneaking up on mouthfuls of bluebunch wheatgrass.

Unlike most of the 30 head of horses we kept during our outfitting years, I could saddle the white mare and ride her from camp without a moment of protest. Take any of the other ponies from their buddies and they'd pitch a protest, whinnying constantly and trying to turn back, occasionally even crow-hopping in protest. But the white mare seemed to consider it her duty to carry me without complaint wherever I wished to go.

And oddly, she walked as perkily going from camp as she did returning to it at the end of the day. Now she's long in the tooth and not as nimble as in her golden years. But she can still outwalk any other pony on our place—which is not necessarily a good thing.

Why? 

Because it's not always best to ride the swiftest walking horse. Sometimes one might wish to carry on a conversation with other riders in your party, and if your better-striding saddlehorse persists in outwalking the ponies following, what's the chances of entering into companionable debate? Even more to the point may be that your riding companions grow angry because their nags must trot to keep up with yours.

The other alternative, of course, is to tuck your quick-striding pony behind one moving at a more sedate pace. The flaw in that plan, however, is that the faster horse will probably crowd the slower one until that one angers and kicks at the one crowding him. That's also the time when a rider can inadvertently get kicked by an angry horse his faster-moving pony has been crowding all afternoon.

So remember this: Buddies will seldom kick buddies. And if you know your animals well enough to know which one buddies with your steed, then tuck behind that one. If you've properly thought things out in advance, you'll have placed a good conversationalist on your horse's buddy. 

If so, you'll have a great day.

******************
August 15, 2015

IS IT TIME TO PUT MEMORIES ASIDE?

I thought I could find the old trail to Canyon Point. True, the lookout was gone when I first shifted my rifle's sling strap and stumbled over the concrete blocks that once supported its legs. But the trail was still good back in those 40-years-ago days. And elk tracks were plentiful. And the connecting spur from Canyon Point to the main ridgeline between the Flathead's South and Middle Forks was neither steep nor far.

It's probable just getting to Canyon Point would be all the "steep and far" I could handle these days, without even thinking of trudging on to the top of the Great Bear's Wilderness world. But it's all academic now—we couldn't find the track. It's out there someplace, lost in a maze of skid trails, clearcuts and logging debris.

I remember the trail plain as day: it took off from road's end, dropped on grade to Canyon Creek, crossed, then commenced climbing and switching back up the other side, staying mostly to the point's southwest face until it dead-ended at the old lookout site.  

We parked our pickup truck along the Canyon Creek Road and thrashed among blowdowns at various clearcuts' edge, searching for ancient blazes, an obscure trail tread, rotting logs that'd been crosscut-sawed. In vain. I cussed and chewed huckleberries and Jane nagged while her dog growled. But we never came up with one smidgen of evidence that a Canyon Point Trail ever ran from the south side of Canyon Creek to a long-ago lookout perched in a tiny meadow on Canyon Point.

To make matters worse, I looked across the creek where I figured the old trail should be and there were other clearcuts. And I knew if we ever found the trail the first time, we'd have to flounder through blowdowns to find it again and again.  So we gave up.

"Let's hike the Logan-Dirtyface Trail," I said. "Surely they've not let it go to pot."

We missed it, too. But the fault was mine. It was there, only a couple hundred feet back along the road from where we parked. That former mainline trail between the South and Middle Forks was unmarked, but the tread seemed in fairly good shape and as far as I could see, the Logan-Dirtyface Trail hadn't been logged into oblivion until it sweeps down to the forks of Dirtyface and Elk Creek, over on the Middle Fork side.

Because we missed our second trail choice early on, we wound up hiking the Logan-Paint Creek road behind a closed gate. One section of that road is filled with boulders and sections are slumping away—it truly is unfit for vehicle traffic. But the road climbs and snakes much higher up the west face of the Flathead Range than I imagined and offers an expanded view of Hungry Horse Reservoir and the Swan Range to the west.

It was about then I realized that, with a little imagination, here could be a high-elevation jumping-off trailhead to the alpine country of the Great Bear Wilderness.

That was when yet another thought crept in: perhaps it's time to quit the divisive forest management debates of the past. Let's say what's done is done and spend time looking at what we have left and how to best treat it so it may forever serve us and those following.

***********
August 8, 2015
* Here's a newspaper column I wrote in 1992. In it I claim responsibility for drought relief by simply writing about it. With fires raging in Glacier Park and an already dryest spring and summer on record, perhaps I should try resurrecting that column:

DROUGHT BREAKER

I believe it fair that I take sole credit for breaking Montana's water shortage. No sooner had a dire "Wild Trails & Tall Tales" drought warning played in a dozen or so Treasure State newspapers than the rain gods took a hand. If I'd have written that column earlier, no doubt the winter wheat could've been saved. As it was, I pulled out the spring wheat and even have folks in Jordan, of all places, talking about a second cutting of dryland hay.

It was elating, after months of drought, to drive across Montana as those early July rains fell. Kids played in it. Farmers walked their fields amid it. A Denton man and his wife sat on their frontsteps holding hands during pelting rain. Horses kicked up their heels. Songbirds bathed in potholed roadways. Everywhere jubilation reigned!

"I figure another week without rain and I'd lost the whole shebang," a Shelby rancher said as he stared across a wheat field where steam from a passing shower drifted skyward. A brilliant-hued rainbow spiked into the field beyond.

Rain during long, dry periods captivates. Water itself bewitches. What primordial instincts are aroused when folks idly gaze at swells rolling onto ocean beaches? Or are fascinated by shooting spray as gigantic waves pound seaside cliffs? Who has not stared at shifting river currents? Or at moonlight shimmering across a lake's surface?

Does water hold as much fascination as fire? Has more humans spent more time staring at waves and water than at flames and fire?

Water, of course, comes in other forms to tickle our delight. Snowflakes at Christmas tastes delicious on a child's tongue. Ice in summertime cocktails and campers' ice chests make the ingredients palatable. A soft rain during drought; the ye olde swimming hole; a hot shower after a hard day on the rock pile—all make life worth any trifle, any trouble.

But all things in moderation. Too many snowflakes, ice building on road surfaces, torrential downpours . . . can be something else. Water, as is fire, can be fascinating. A campfire or a fireplace blaze fascinates. But a home or forest or downtown city block in flames terrifies. Rain pelting a parched grainfield is cherished. Floods up to the edge of barn roofs are not. Two feet of powdered snow blowing level with barb wire fences during an Alberta blizzard is not. A "silver thaw" of ice snapping poles and taking down power lines is not.

Perhaps, in the final analysis, that's the fascination for both fire and water: that man cannot always control them. 

******************
August 1, 2015

INSIDE CULINARY CAMPFIRE ART

The biggest mistake of ordinary campfire cooks lies in believing they can't prepare a gourmet meal over an open wood fire. They think that's especially true if they're thirty miles from road's end, and a hundred and ten to the nearest supermarket and delicatessen. As consequence, they turn out fried eggs so tough they're impenetrable by knife and fork, and pancakes that make good frisbees (except no self-respecting dog would catch one).

I'll grant you that appetites grow robust on packtrips, enough so participants eagerly accept table fare they'd turn down were they were thrust kicking and screaming into solitary confinement amid the deepest dungeon.

But there's no logical reason for trail riders or trail hikers (well, trail riders anyway) to accept provender less mouth-watering than that served on tables at the Ritz-Carlton. I've watched my own "on-trip" partner (who, incidentally, is my regular in-house partner), while miles from the nearest road, serve gourmet dinners that'd drive any "Francophile cuisiniere magnifique" into his cups.

To accomplish such feats with regularity requires three things: prior planning, proper tools, and superb fire control.

Let's examine those three in order:

Prior planning - This simply means no campfire cook can crank out gastronomic delights if she or he hasn't the ingredients. "Oho!" you say. "This is where the rubber hits the road!" which is ridiculous. After all, stuffed salmon is no more weighty in a pack than hamburger patties. The problem lies potentially in spoilage.

My gourmet cook solved that problem by layering the bottom of our ice chest with frozen beers--an especially thoughtful tactic since she dislikes the taste of beer. (Somebody has to rid the beer over the next few days, so she makes friends as she goes.)

Whole potatoes taste great as raw fries, with onions. But a sack of potatoes weighs a bunch, and dehydrated au gratins can add just as much class, especially cooked in a Dutch oven. Which brings us to the second requirement:

Proper tools - Yes, there's something to be said for roasting wieners on a green willow branch thrust butt-end into the ground; Jane sometimes does that with grouse breasts or Cornish hens. But to bake biscuits or cobblers, or to roast spare ribs or lobsters, well, it takes more than a patch of willows to get the job done.

That's why we carry a cooking grate made of wire rod, an aluminum Dutch oven, a couple of deep lightweight pots, and an aluminum griddle that began life as a Maytag washing machine lid. The lid serves now as the best 16-inch-square griddle that's not on the market. Throw in ladling spoons, a spatula, and a coffee pot made from a coffee can, and my in-house cook makes Chef Boy-R-Dee hide in shame. Which takes us to:

Proper fire control - Never, never, never attempt to cook a gourmet dinner over a fire used by other campers to stay warm. It's improper, impossible, causes hives, and cannot be done. The best cooking fires are smokeless tiny things that are regularly fed finger-sized dry branches broken from nearby trees.

If there are no nearby trees, you're in the wrong country.

****************
July 25, 2015

RIVERS OF THE WEST

Jane and I have rubbed shoulders with some of the most famous rivers in the annals of Western history: the Popo Agie, the Bighorn, the Sweetwater, the Bear, the Platte, the Wind River, the San Juan. It was at the "grand junction" of the Gunnison and the Colorado that a city with that name was spawned.

The Green River, famous in both mountain man and whitewater river-rafting annals, was anything but green. But, then, neither was the White River White, or the Yellowstone filled with yellow stones—at least not in the sections we followed.

We stopped at Independence Rock, on the Sweetwater, famous as a recording place for emigrants driven by manifest destiny to their future in a place of dreams called Oregon! Unfortunately some of that historic rock has been defaced by modern recorders who can't resist the urge to tell the world that Phil loves Lucy, or that John likes Mary better than Sherry. But I did note Narcissa Whitman's name. And that of Eliza Spalding.  Those are famous names from history—the first women of European descent to cross the Rocky Mountains. They did so—if my recollecter is right—with their missionary husbands in the first wheeled conveyance (a cart) to cross the Rockies.

Bear River, of course, was mentioned often in the scant records of trappers plying the beaver streams of the West. And it was Jim Bridger, if memory serves me correctly, who floated down the Bear River to Salt Lake in a bull boat, paused to taste the water of the vast sea, then mistakenly—but understandably—concluded he'd floated to the Pacific Ocean.

Jane and I crossed the San Juan on a narrow suspension bridge that might have came straight from a movie set out of the latest Tarzan flick. Occasional planks were missing; in others, two-inch sticks were laced side by side to replace missing planks where the span was too broad to safely leap.

Our purpose in crossing the bridge—aside from the novelty of it—was to visit the so-named "16-room" Anasazi ruin on the other side. We've seen Anazazi ruins before and our memory might someday flag on the "16-room" one, but we're unlikely ever to forget the rickety suspension bridge across the San Juan.

They're an interesting lot, those rivers of the West. The Green, for instance, carries more water, and farther, yet is considered a tributary to the Colorado.

The Sweetwater flows through alkali country. 

The Platte is, of course, storied in campfire tales as "a mile wide and a foot deep; too thin to plow and too thick to drink."

But of all the fabled rivers named above, I liked the Yellowstone best of all—mostly because it flows without dams to mar its path. It's refreshing that America has at least one major stream that still runs the way God made it.

Give me Montana rivers. They’re all brawn and no boast. Give me the Missouri, the Clark Fork of the Columbia, the Flathead. And If not those, then make it the Blackfoot, the Sun, or the St. Mary’s. The Bitterroot'll do, too, and so will the Marias and the Musselshell, the Thompson, the Kootenai and ... and ... hell!

It's impossible to name them all.

*****************
July 18, 2015

APPRECIATING HUMAN NUGGETS

We call them "Memory Nuggets." They're unanticipated surprises occurring in nature: three otter cavorting across the new-formed ice of a mountain lake; a pine marten perched on a limb as an entire complement of eight horseback riders passes not a foot beneath his big, round, wonder-filled eyes.

I've even invited readers to pass along their own memory nuggets:  a lady from Omaha told of watching a monarch butterfly migration from an appartment window of her 18th floor high rise. Memory nuggets are rare never-to-be-duplicated events that God occasionally sees fit to share with us low-borns.

But today I want to share another sort of nugget—ones wrought, again unexpectedly, this time by the unselfish hands of others. For instance, Jane and I were once hiking in a southern Utah desert when a pickup truck happened by driven by a man we later discovered is a Navaho Tribal member. Robert Maryboy stopped, rolled down his window and asked if we had water? We did, but he shared with us that a sweetwater spring was but a little distance from where we stood.

Robert Maryboy then returned to his home and unexpectedly brought us some fresh Navaho fry bread.

Jane and I talked with Robert for some time and we'll want to do so again—he's interesting, a Dine (pronounced D'nay) artist of considerable talent.

Another unexpected "human nugget" was when Jane sat by a gentleman at a Cut Bank luncheon and regaled the guy about a recent crosscountry ski trip we'd taken into the Lubec Hills. She mentioned that we spotted a red bench on the knob of a hill overlooking the Two Medicine River. "What a magnificent view it must be from that cabin and that bench!"

Don asked, "Would you like to visit there again someday?"

"Oh yes!" she gushed. “But we don't know who owns it, so don't know who to ask."

He held out a key to the gate. "Use it when you wish," he said.

Another human nugget: One day a small package came in the mail. Inside were four works of art knapped from obsidian and agate (yes, they were by a  modern craftsman): a knife, two arrowheads—one of agate—and an intricately knapped Mayan talisman of religious significance. "Just thought you'd like to have these," Ron Sanders wrote. "I like the kinds of things you write about, and this is my way of showing appreciation."

And this last human nugget: When the Texas City lady said to Jane and me, "You like shrimp?  Well I'll guarantee you'll eat shrimp until you say `calf rope'." I don't know the significance of the phrase "calf rope" to a tall Texan with a great sense of humor," but Carolyn Tully was true to her word.  "Calf rope" she wanted, "Calf rope!" she got. 

And I got gastronomic anguish for a week thereafter, as well as a friendship for life.

Have you human nuggets of your own? Why not share them? Snail mail or email will do. Lacking that, there's carrier pigeon, telegraph, telephone, or word-of-mouth.

**************
July 11, 2015

LETTING IMAGE GET IN THE WAY OF KNOWLEDGE

It's hard being a big, tough, forceful, macho guy who knows all there is to know about everything, but still mind one's own business. You know: the strong silent type. Late in life, I've begun to think it's an image that's difficult to maintain, and stupid to pursue. Consider the following:

It'd been a long and arduous day, but we were stripping packs and saddles from our horses, preparing to make camp. This was our first visit to aptly named "Pretty Prairie" in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. And the place I selected to call it a day looked as though it had good grass for the horses, nearby water, and enough trees to provide protection from a keening wind. 

In fact others had camped in this same place during moons past. The only problem I could see with the campsite was that available firewood had been well-scoured from the nearby pines. So I said to my companion, "Why don't you see if you can round up a little wood for a cooking fire. I'll finish with the horses."

Marc completed brushing his saddlehorse, then the strippling trotted away to see what firewood he could find. When he returned a few minutes later he carried an armload of dry aspen limbs from a copse of quakies.

"Marc!" I growled. "That stuff won't burn!"

I don't know why I said that. Maybe it was because aspens don't grow everywhere on the Bob Marshall's west side and as a consequence I'd never tried burning their dead limbs. But in reality, I was probably irritable from the long day, had my heart set on burning pine knots, or was just plain stupid. So the boy stood there with that big armload of dry aspen limbs, looking like he'd just failed yet another test of manhood. He did, however, have the temerity to ask a profound and perplexing question: 

"Why?"

"Why?" I echoed while bending to place hobbles on my saddlehorse. The effort provided good cover for analyzing my position and finding it damnably weak. When at last I straightened to find the boy still standing there with his armload of aspen limbs, the only alternative I had left was to say, "Aw go ahead and drop them by the fire ring. We'll get rid of 'em somehow."

You guessed it! Dead aspen limbs make excellent cooking wood; a fact the boy already knew from forays he and some of his schoolmates had made into the mountains near our home.

Since that time, decades ago, I've visited that Pretty Prairie place many times, always camping in the same place, always using dry aspen limbs for campfires.

Recently Jane and I met our son Marc in a distant place for another camp out. Again, the insolent kid (who's now over 50 years old) showed his big, tough, macho father up: I routinely use a jacknife to feather the edges of the pitch slivers we use for fire starters. When I handed a piece to Marc to feather, he took a rock and hammered the chunk's end on another stone. It feathered the easy way.

This time I had sufficient presence of mind not to tell him it wouldn't work. I guess I'm never too old to learn . . . provided I don't let image get in the way of knowledge.

**************
July 4, 2015

AN AMERICAN SUCCESS STORY

Is this a suitable column for Independence Day? I think so, yes:

There was this little girl, see? She was of mixed-race parentage; from a broken home; with several siblings, of which she was near the middle. When Michelle was introduced to me, she was nine-years-old, and shy, holding back, perhaps trying bravely not to show fear or trepidation, but failing miserably in the presence of what she might've perceived as a domineering white male.

The nice lady accompanying her coaxed the child forward, suggesting that she extend a hand to the gruff old cowboy. She did. He took it, shook it gently and smiled. It was clear by her expression that the smile and handshake made no difference; to her, school was still out on that cowboy with the piercing eyes.

For my part, I was perhaps too ambivalent. What I thought was timidity on the little girl's part, as events appeared to later prove, may really have been a wait-and-see attitude about most new aquaintances, including my 22-year-old married daughter, Cheri, who'd just been matched with Michelle Grandigo who was to be her Little Sister in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. Cheri, in a spirit of service, wanting to help some underprivileged girl, had recently volunteered for the program.

My ignorance about the entire affair may have been intuitively plain to the timid little girl--I don't know. But it's true that I thought Cheri and the little girl had an uphill battle ahead; blacks--even ones of mixed parentage--were rare in the Columbia Falls community of that day, and still are. I didn't know about the high level of intelligence lurking behind the shy tyke's downcast eyes. But I should've known about my own daughter's discipline, her determination, her "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" attitude!

It was hard, however. Michelle's family was very poor. One winter their electricity was disconnected because Michelle's mother was unable to pay bills. Only recently did I learn of some of those difficulties. In the 7th grade, Michelle found it so tough to endure the snide racial barbs from other children that she seriously considered dropping from school. In fact, she skipped so much school that she was expelled. The expulsion led to her transferring to the Whitefish middle school. This happened while Cheri was her Big Sister advisor.

But attending Whitefish was hard. Mere transportation was hard. Her siblings were all in Columbia Falls. Such friends as she'd had were in Columbia Falls. Somewhere along the line, her own self-will kicked in and she entered the 8th grade back in Columbia Falls with a new-found focus on determination and discipline, the now 14-year-old threw off any barbed taunts and hit the books. Michelle Grandigo's name began showing up on occasional honor rolls. Does that mean all racism died on the vine? Not exactly. As Michelle recently explained to me, not all racism is overt. Some can be subvert, but it hurts just as much. As an example, the smart, athletic, attractive young girl was never asked out on a date throughout her high school years. She decided, "To hell with them!"

It was unclear to me then just how much Cheri and her husband Steve contributed to Michelle's new found confidence, but the burgeoning young lady is unstinting today in her praise of the opportunities provided by my daughter and son-in-law (and others). She was elected Student Body President in her senior year, and won sufficient scholarships that she enrolled in college.

Pregnancy intervened, perhaps endangering her future education. She married, wound up in Hawaii with yet another child, all in the middle of a failing marriage.

I'd like to be a mouse in some corner when the smart and attractive young divorcee made the decision to take back her life. I'd like to know more about her gutsy decision to return to Montana, enroll at the University in Missoula, join ROTC (the college-based program for training officers for the United States Armed Forces) AND the National Guard, which, led eventually to a U.S. Army career.

Meanwhile, back at the "ranch" (university) the young, smart, single mother who was determined to pull herself back up by her own bootstraps obtained a degree in accounting, followed by a Masters in business administration. I marvel at her work load: studying for two degrees while enrolled in ROTC and the National Guard, working a part-time job while raising two young children! Takes something special, don't it?

Of this, I knew nothing. Then, somewhere along the line, Michelle and Cheri reconnected on Facebook. By then, that little girl who seemed initially intimidated in my presence was an officer in the United States Army! Here she's receiving a promotion to Captain:

Apparently, Michelle's special value to the Army is in hospital administration (seems obvious considering her accounting and business admin background). She turned up as a Major. And recently, at 45-years-old, is to soon land in Germany as a "light colonel" with a large military hospital in her "possibles" bag. Now, I'm the one intimidated!

But prior to her German assignment, the lady wanted to return to her roots. And she wanted to again visit with our daughter. Through Facebook, Michelle and Cheri made arrangements to meet in Montana. Our home, Jane's and mine, was dragooned for their rendezvous. What an experience for an aging couple to get a glimpse of the ripples expanding out from their own struggle to raise a couple of worthwhile kids: to our daughter's wish to share her understanding of a worthwhile life with someone less fortunate; someone who might need help to achieve her own goals and dreams. Now the ripples continue on, outward, and I have every reason to believe, upward through Michelle Grandigo.

Below is a recent photo taken of the lady relaxing in a raft piloted by Cheri down the Flathead River.

It's not that such a rewarding story CAN only happen in America, because it can and could happen elsewhere. But, you see, a Michelle Grandigo not only CAN happen in America, it DID happen in America. In addition Michelle Grandigo DID take root in our home community. And our family had some minor part in making that "DID" come true.

That's the REAL story, isn't it? It's the kind of story our Founding Fathers envisioned. A place where there's opportunity for all--if they've got the moxie to make it stick!

**************

June 27, 2015

VINDICATED BY GHOSTS OF THE PAST

Most folks appreciate knowing things that are important to them has meaning to others. For me, that's been the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

I worked and played in the "Bob" for upwards of 50 years, and nothing I can write or say will ever adequately portray my "feel" for that raw land. Nothing can adequately capture the smell of thousands of campfires, either. Or the sight of endless panoramas that I’ll carry in the mind’s eye until they close for the final time. Or the scream of a golden eagle soaring over the Chinese Wall. Or the cry of a lonesome loon on Big Salmon Lake. Or the bugle of a rutting bull coming from the slopes of Pentagon Mountain.

True, I guided others to those distant places for more than 20 years, and I saw those guests often pierced by the same wilderness arrow that'd struck me decades before. Too, I knew the land had sang the same siren's song to a well-connected young man with the U.S. Forest Service named Robert Marshall and that because of it, the guy whose name was eventually given to that vast wildland went on to become a tireless advocate of keeping many such places wild.

But is the land I knew as the Bob Marshall Wilderness really all that great?

About the time my wonderer started wondering, I chanced onto what famed cowboy artist Charlie Russell thought about my favorite land. The discovery was through a book of Charlie's letters, called "Good Medicine," printed four years after the man's death, in 1930. In a January, 1921 letter to friend Con Price, Charlie wrote (actual spelling and punctuation included): "In October I went hunting with a party of seven on the head of the south fork of the flat head  we had 20 head of horses and them that wasent hunting elk was hunting horses  we shure got in a wild country and we had all the meat we wanted and brought back four elk ... I dident kill aney thing but I had a good time  we were out three weeks  when we started home the party got split  four of us started with sevon pack horses  the other three stayed back to hunt horses  when we striped packs that night we found we had all the meat no salt no coffe lots of shuger a tent but no flour and no bedding and the wethe was cold but thair was lots of wood so we made a big fire and eat our meat like a Ingun salt less but non of us eat much...."

Charlie's adventure sounds like a trip or two I've taken into “the Bob”. Of course, back in Charlie's day, the land had yet to be called the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

In an April, 1923 letter to Judge James W. Bollinger of Davenport, Iowa, an old friend and hunting partner, Charlie wrote:

"Well Judge ... we're both a long ways from the south fork  but we wont forget it  we might forget citys but hungary hoss  hoss hevin  soup creek  pendigon  Spotted Bear and other far off places where young men and old boys shake hands with misery and plesure we know both these ladys and won't forget them...."

I regret that I didn't know about Charlie Russell's adventures at Pentagon while I was there on the mountain, answering challenges from ancestors of bull elk who rang out while he was there. But I do, indeed, appreciate, even at this late date, knowing my own judgment has been properly vindicated by ghosts from yesterday.

Se e the book at Roland's bookstore:

****************
June 20, 2015

THE WHY IS IMPORTANT, TOO

Know what the most sought-after commodity in the entire world is? Did you guess wealth? Fame? Health? If so, you're wrong. The most sought-after commodity is information. With proper information, you can generate wealth, garner fame, protect your health. Without information, you're headed for oblivion.

Access to information is as essential to a hardscrabble farmer as it is to a "Fortune 500" CEO—they simply need different info is all. Talk to a high school cheerleader or a bayou crawdad fisherman and you'll find they both crave information—one might want to know about boys, the other about water levels and phases of the moon. But they both seek (and need) information.

Everybody needs information about something. Or perhaps everybody needs information about many somethings. And it's a good thing because information is necessary for the advancement of both society and individuals dwelling therein.

By great good fortune, mankind learned to speak, to write, and to read. And we've learned to collect information and store it in libraries and archives and private collections.

Then there's the internet.

Because of the those libraries and archives and the World Wide Web, information garnered since the beginning of time is relatively inexpensive, most encompassing, and easily modified to benefit every circumstance.

For ease of access, of course, nothing beats the internet.  Want to learn the body weight of the average chipmunk? A few key strokes and you can come back with the answer—8 oz. Want to know the mating habits of ticks? The information can be brought directly to your computer screen.

Such information was out there prior to the internet, but retrieval via libraries and research archives was often quite difficult. As a result, I envy the opportunities for information access belonging to today's kids. They can tap into all the world's knowledge, often in their own home. And that's stunning!

But do they have everything? Do they have proper tools to filter that information? To distill it? To separate the wheat from the chaff? It's one thing to discover there are upwards of 300 different wildflowers that bloom in Montana, but to develop an eye for their beauty might be something else.

Today we have access to every bit of information conceivable. And much that is inconceivable. We're bombarded with it; its din is overpowering.

Maybe that's why I'm a little concerned about the massive information transfusion coming to today's kids. Where's the time for introspection? For evaluation? For appreciation?

Want to learn the scientific explanation for how spiders spin their webs? It's out there. But does that also mean you'll learn to appreciate the gossamer beauty of frost on that same web?

Somewhere, it seems to me, we've got to stop that onrushing information train long enough for today's generation to think about what they've learned.

It's not enough to know how, but also to reason why?

Did you hear that?

We also need to know why?

*******************
June 13, 2015

SOMETIMES "TELL" IS BETTER THAN "SHOW

They're but three simple little words. But can they buy a fellow the world! I'm talking about "I love you."

It's a funny thing, after I bought into the "I love you" franchise and began regularly employing it to better both Jane's and my domestic environment, additional benefits unexpectedly began to accrue. The beneficiary of my more regular "I love you" employment began using  her own "I love you" language in ways not always vocal, but nevertheless apparent to a discernible-type guy—of which I are one.

For starters, the lady more readily overlooked my frailties and dismissed the foibles. Upon having her own status reinforced with regular "I love yous" she tended to smile and shrug at her husband's social blunders, and—wonder of wonders!—sometimes took his side in minor disputes with third parties.

Hey, this is big stuff! I'm talking about a lady suddenly having an epiphany about the merits of the same person she spent the early part of our married life trying to make excuses for. And it's all because I occasionally deigned to mutter three little words.

Sometimes she mixes evening cocktails instead of grousing about an open door on the liquor cabinet. Sometimes she expresses concern over the state of my health and cajoles me into daily walks instead of merely denigrating my lack of regular exercise.

She turned my diet around, too, to more fiber and fruit and less chocolate drops and fried foods. Neither do I, these days, lust after so many lobster tails or baked Alaskas. All because I said the easiest three words in the English language.

She wants us to do things together—my things even more than her things. She's a good trooper and a great camper. We're such a team that if one overlooks something important, the other swings into harness to do or get done, without bitching or moaning about the other's failure.

Years ago we joked about who would outlive the other. Now we've reached such an equilibrium that it's unthinkable for either of us to contemplate living without their soul-mate. All because I learned to say "I love you."

Aww, sure there's a little more to it than just mouthing an occasional beatitude. Periodic nosegays of flowers can give an enormous boost to benefits accruing from the "I love yous." So can a box of candies or an offer to pop for dinner in a nice restaurant.

All the foregoing may be the best piece of information I've ever shared in this column.  It can pay dividends both now and in the future.

Okay, you say, but what does this have to do with the outdoors or Father's Day? Seems to me (you might say) like it's more appropriate for Mother's Day, or Valentine's Day.

Tell the truth, I can think of no better Father's Day present to give yourself than to pop for an occasional "I love you for another." It's a leadpipe cinch you'll get a bunch back. Think big, but do the little things.  They pay a better rate of return.

******************
June 6, 2015

A LETTER TO MY DYSFUNCTIONAL DETRACTORS

Is email considered social media?

Given the amount of interest in both mediums that total strangers are demonstrating in learning whether or not my erectile is dysfunctioning leads me to believe so. My contact lists from those interested in helping my appendages to perform in an upright manner (when I’m more concerned that they appear forthright than upright) includes ladies from Russia, Sweden, Ireland, and Thailand. Such interest is not limited to just those from the Northern Hemisphere either, with offers to assist during my moments of peril from Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, and Swaziland.

Not to appear exclusive, there are men (from what points on the compass they do not disclose) who want to help me win smiles from my life’s partner by permitting her to stand more pridefully in the wake of her satisfied smirk.

Because of such inundating interest in how erect I might be, I’d like to point out that I’m nearing eighty years old. At this age, all my body parts have begun to sag. At my zenith I stood a flat six-foot, no inches. Now I’m five-ten, so something is drooping, though I fail to consider it as life-threatening as one honey-eyed damsel from New Orleans suggested on Facebook. She also told me she could help, but one brief (very brief) once over of her picture and I decided I’d rather risk threats to my life from natural droops than by her forbidden charms.

Too, I’ve noted that the middle fingers on both hands aren’t as prone to stand erect as they once did when a discourteous driver cut me off at an intersection. They still work, though, and with a little forcible malice aforethought can yet act in the same sagacious manner to rants from ISIS terrorists or Washington politicians.

Examining others of my body parts that might raise (or lower) Roland’s self-esteem to casual observers from more upright sections of the world, I’ll readily admit that the hair that once sheltered my cranium can hardly stand as erect as it once did at the onset of a charging grizzly bear. But that deplorable circumstance is more attributable to the fact that said hair has simply checked itself out into the great beyond, never again to part.

No, my knees won’t lift as high as they once did, though how the statuesque blond from Kiev learned such a closely guarded secret bewilders me.

Can’t be my tongue either; it’s more prone to work out than up, especially now that the middle fingers have more or less retired from their former serviceable selves.

Ears? Nope, they’ve always flared out, though in my childhood years I kept them tucked under an oversized hatband in an attempt to keep them from embarrassing me in front of that cute auburn-haired 2nd grader from Ogallala Township.

That only leaves one other appendage that’s been with me since birth to be accounted for, and that’s the nose. But, bless me! that nose has always been hefty enough to stand fast in even the stiffest wind without support from the pretty ladies of Singapore, Kyoto, or Sydney.

So that’s it, ladies and gentlemen. Ask not what you can do for me. I can handle this job all by myself. But answer me this question, will you? What prompted such concern, world-wide. Why the rush? Why not dribble a little of that concern when I was shrinking to five-foot, eleven inches, instead of waiting until I’m five-ten?

Samezever,
Roland

P.S. Oh! I did discover one other little thing I’d almost forgotten. More’s the pity that we’ve run out of time and space. . . .

**************
May 30, 2015

ROLAND WASN'T ALWAYS SNOOTY

Somewhere, lurking hidden in my DNA, is a wistful dream that talent will someday win out--that someday the stars will align and I'll create something, somewhere, somehow that garners outsized attention: the Pulitzer perhaps, an Oscar maybe. Or might it be topping the charts on the "hit parade?" Yeah! I'd settle for my creative juices to soar to NUMBER ONE in most anything! Alas, though, church bells have never commenced donging, even with my most meritous endeavors.

I can write until I'm blue in the face, wear out three sets of keyboards, construct a dozen or two books, journalistically expose my own grandmother as "pit boss" for Barney Oldfields' race car days--and still I gets no attention.

I was something of a "ham" during my gradeschool acting days, but Hollywood never turned their shining face my way when I applied for the job as Shirley Temple's escort. No dice for Liz Taylor either (after her brteakthrough in "National Velvet"). So how could the Oscar judges be exposed to my on-camera talents if Ceci B. DeMille overlooked me?

I'M STILL IN THE RUNNING FOR MUSIC HALL OF FAME RECOGNITION, HOWEVER!

How so? Okay, I'm going to cut you in on my secret connection to Bruce Springsteen.

"WHAT HO! What did you just say?"

I said Bruce Springsteen. But I don't really mean Bruce himself. Oh! My heavens, no! However, there's this guy with a long-term connection to Bruce Springsteen's E-Street Band: Garry Tallent, Springsteen's base guitarist since E-Street's inception. Garry, you see, writes songs as well as playing and recording them. And I call him a friend.

Okay, picket-brain, what's this "Music Hall of Fame" horse pucky?

"Well (heh, heh) I once collaborated on a song with Bruce Springsteen's base guitarist. So there! The way it happened was Garry and I were lounging in a hot tub at "The Wave", a gym to which we both belonged. I asked him, "Garry, when song writers create a song, do they do music first, then craft lyrics? Or do they write the lyrics, then craft music around it?"

"It can be done both ways," he replied. "Personally, I struggle with lyrics, so I usually do my music first."

"Hmm," I mused. "Lyrics would come easy for me, but I don't know squat about music."

"Okay, write something. I'll put music to it."

So I did.

Want to hear it? It's about grizzly bears. The lyrics are mine, the music by Garry Tallent. The chorus is by a group of Garry's son's school chums who were dragooned into adding their vocals.

After the song was in my hot little hands, I took it to "Outside Media", a production studio located in my hometown where they added photos to it and uploaded it to YouTube.

Click on the link below; watch and listen. Then if you think the song is as likely to catapult me to stardom as I think possible, you can recommend, repost, and regard me in such a manner that you can tell all your friends: "I knew that guy before he became rich, famous, and snooty."

click here

*****************

May 23, 2015

SUFFERING THROUGH YOUTH

Sometimes the eagerness of youth must be suffered through rather than gorged upon. Such was the case when Jim and I decided to build a hideout cabin in a remote region of the Whitefish Range, near the Canadian border.

We found the logging road quite by accident. It traversed up a steep mountain near the headwaters of a prominent North Fork tributary and into an isolated basin where there was a huge logging clearcut. Grass waving above the bumpers of my Jeep station wagon sprouted in the roadway and across the clearcut. Obviously the place was seldom visited.

"This should be full of elk come fall," I muttered to my friend.

"Then let's hunt here."

"A long drive from home each day."

"What we need is a home up here."

"Yeah, a cabin!"

"Right here?"

"Yeah, here!"

We returned to the valley and pre-cut floor joists, studs, and rafters for a cozy 8X12 cabin. The plywood panels were also trimmed to fit, then we retrieved a window from a demolished building and a useable re-tread door. I had a few extra asbestos shingles and a spare roll of black tarpaper. By the following weekend, all was loaded in Jim's trailer and hooked onto my Jeep.

We never worked so hard! The cabin went up in one lo-o-ong day, complete with bunk beds in one end and a table beneath the single window. Then it was back to town for the "Great Majestic" cookstove loitering in my barn.

It was only after our hunting cabin was in place that our fertile minds really went to work. The road to the isolated basin was barely passable and we set about ingeniously making it appear even less enticing to casual travelers by placing fallen saplings across it. We even located a much larger windthrown tree and was able to balance it atop another log to work as a pivot that could be swung across the roadway by two husky men. 

Came Father's Day and the project was finished. I invited Jane and the kids (then ten and five) up for the weekend. 

Mosquitos ate us alive.

During an unseasonable September cold snap, we discovered the cookstove firebox was too small to hold fire for more than an hour and the cabin cooled off to frigid extremes shortly thereafter.

Hunting season opened with the first big dump of snow and we couldn't beat our four-wheel-drive way up the mountain to our sanctuary. Anyway, there were no elk tracks in the basin after slogging there.

Over the following winter, porcupines ate the plywood walls and when spring came, God took a hand by blowing in a windstorm of trees across our road.  t took us an entire weekend just to cut a path through to retrieve my "Great Majestic".

Did I learn anything? Well, yeah. I learned I'm smarter in old age than when I was young and dumb. But I'm lazier, too. And my sense of adventure isn't as often whetted. 

Or as often doomed.
*************
May16, 2015

RAISING THE FISHING BAR

They call the process "raising the bar." I've never really known what the term means, but I suppose it's likened to a high-jump or pole-vault bar, or maybe the horizontal for jumping horses in steeple chases. It means a higher level of sports endeavor.

Nowadays, the term means much more. It could mean sought after career levels or work performances. The "bar" might be educational standards or health and safety guidelines. Or, in many personal cases, the "bar" might imply our own private goals. I know one hunter, for instance, who claims only to be after bull elk in the six-point range. Another's bar might be much lower—like my friend who specifies only that a bull elk or buck deer have "horns longer than the ears."

With stream fishing season rapidly upon us, we'll see an entire range of "bar" heights as anglers across the Treasure State set different personal standards by bank casting, wading into, or floating down their favorite watercourse. Some will use bait, others lures. 

Those setting their personal bars higher will be ones using artificial flies. With bars set even higher are purists using dry flies. And the most pure of all are ones fishing dry flies with barbless hooks. (I may inadvertently qualify as an angler with the highest "bar" of all because I usually snap off both point and shank on lurking rocks during the backcast.)

Flyfishing, more than any other type of angling, is often the end itself rather than a means to an end. Baitfishing and spincasting aren't usually thought of in metaphysical terms. But flyfishing, by its very nature, anticipates corporeal enjoyment of the graceful abstruse. For a dedicated fly angler, actually catching fish is always secondary to the practiced poise and control and grace and peace of mind and spiritual aplomb afforded by relaxing along isolated streams to commune with one's own soul.

Wading, of course, is an integral part of flyfishing. Its purpose is to get you away from streamside rocks or brush that will snag your line or break your hook. Too, wading can allow you to present a fly in fishy-looking spots you cannot reach from the bank. Wading can also be hazardous to your health if you're not alert to potential danger. Here are a few tips:

Plan your entry into a stream so you can move with the current; don't let a swift current steer you into dangerous water. Cross at a river's widest points, where the water is usually shallower.

Understand that streams tend to speed up through turns, and that water is usually deepest on the outside edge of bends.

Try to approach fishable water around boulders that break the current from the downstream angle. The reason is simple: if you get into trouble above the boulders, you'll be in more trouble than if you go for an inadvertent swim below the boulders. Besides, the slackwater pool below each boulder is where trout lurk and is best fished upstream. The idea is to attract fish to your presentation, even though actually catching one is the last thing you wish to do. Casting upstream will allow your fly to drift more naturally with the current. 

Bingo!

*****************
May 9, 2015

LET MOM DO IT HER WAY

I suppose it may come as a shock to some of you fellows, but as popular as is fishing or hunting, they're not the top outdoors pursuits. Nope, not even lumped together will 37 million anglers and 13 million hunters match up against the really big outdoor pursuits.

What's tops? 

Well, bicycling counts 60 million adherents. And there are 115 million Americans who walk for pleasure and health. Even more enjoy slow drives on scenic roads.

Check these figures: Each year, 38 million people camp, 26 million go birdwatching, 25 million backpack, 16 million powerboat, 14 million downhill ski, 11 million ride horses, 10 million canoe.

Other outdoors pursuits include rockhounding, four-wheeling, kayaking, whitewater rafting, snowshoeing, snowboarding, hang gliding, wind surfing, sailboating, jet skiing, wildflower viewing, wildlife watching, archeological digs—and there are more; many more. But the point is there's something going on out there for everyone. Even Mom. Strike that. Make it especially Mom!

Analyze that list again and tell me which ones moms can't do. I don't see any. Moms snowmobile, ski, hunt, fish, ride horses, backpack, watch wildlife, join archeological digs. Moms also river raft, water ski, canoe, and four-wheel. In fact, over half those who walk for their health are women. And even half of that 115 million outpoll all anglers and hunters combined.

Your response might be that it's ridiculous to assume more women than men are into macho pursuits like power boating and sky diving, and I suppose that's true. But more women than men go birding and wildlife watching. And they're more into wildflower viewing, horseback pleasure riding, and archeology digs.

So where do us guys get off assuming the Great Outdoors belongs to us? Shucks, we don't just assume ownership, some of us insist upon it—which is a grave mistake given that over half our population are "she's" rather than "he's".

The truth is, guys and gals, there's plenty of room out there for all of us. At least my honey and I have found it true. She tried hunting and fishing and liked some of it. I tried wildflower identification and fossil hunting and liked all of it. But neither was coerced into the sampling. You might say she tried bird hunting and I tried wildflower identification because we wanted to do so. And we also enjoy fresh air, healthy outdoor exercise, and associating with the kinds of people who feel likewise.

The humorous side of all of the above is many of us men still don't get it. We understand it's desirable for our own interest that women engage in the kinds of outdoor pursuits that benefit us. So we begin projects that teach them to hunt and fish. We're the stars, they're the humble petitioners. Maybe the ladies should start a "Men In the Outdoors" program and teach us how to identify prairie primroses or watch meadowlarks at daybreak.

There's something wrong here and I can't put my finger on it. But aren't there enough outdoor options to allow each of us to engage in outdoors activities of our own choosing?   

So give Mom a break and let do her own thing her own way.

****************
April 25, 2015

HER SMILE TRUMPED THE BARTENDER'S BEST

There's claim that no breed of men existed who placed women on a higher pedestal than the cowboy. The cowboy, so it is said, considered calico-petite as something holy and precious. The reason for this phenomenon, we're told, is because feminine fluff was scarce in the land of the setting sun. Proof, so it's offered, is because cowboys tended to be abnormally shy around females of any age.

Ridiculous! While it's true the cowboy tended to silence around the opposite sex, it wasn't because he held her in such lofty regard that he was as hopeless and helpless as a pup with a porcupine. Nope, it's because all his natural talk was half-soled with language deemed unacceptable in polite society. So he falls back on listening and nodding. And blushing, too, if questions are put to him direct.

Naturally every cowboy worth his salt played with feminine fire when chance presented. What he should've known going in, however, was that he's taking a chair in a game as risky as branding a mule's tail. With the odds so heavily weighted to the house, many a good man bit the dust simply because cowboys are a breed whose word is as binding as the hangman's knot the belle just placed around his neck. 

Riding men have always been more romantic than a man on foot. Therefore cowboys had a leg up going in (so to speak) over the farmboy who came calling wearing bib overalls and clodhopper boots.

Truth tell, however, the farmboy might've been a better long-term investment, what with cowboys getting strung to cottonwood limbs and farmboys winding up owning thousand-acre wheat farms with rocker-arm oil wells pumping on every forty.

Cowboy or clodhopper, the West was, after all, a woman's market. If she didn't have a face built for a hackamore, and if she filled out her dress in all the right, round places, then she could beck and choose, shop and call. And men who were once good friends would soon be as benevolent toward one another as two wildcats in a gunnysack.

Being fickle was, of course, the all-too-rare woman's right to choose. But a fickle woman can sometimes seem a bunch like a careless man with a loaded gun—somebody is likely to get hurt. And that somebody was always the cowboy with the biggest Cupid's cramp.

After cow towns turned common, the first women most range hands met were the ones from the badlands, where the lights were red and the carpets deep. Even then, the cowboy respected their kind more than most men of the frontier. And because of that outsized respect, it wasn't unusual for the painted woman to fall for the quiet cowpoke, spending her time fussing over him like a sheepherder's daughter with a collie pup.

Occasionally a hurdy-gurdy woman married a down-at-the-heels range man and the pair settled in to make a handsome couple who became credits to their country.

The only thing I know for sure is a smile from a good woman beats a dozen from the bartender in the best joint in town.

****************
April 18, 2015

SEE HIM, ROLAND?

The electronic zzzt-click, zzzt-click—a sound not unlike a phonograph needle dragging over a broken record—crackled in the cockpit. A broad grin broke the pilot's studied concentration and he glanced at me. Then the man returned to his juggling act of keeping us from splattering airplane parts all over Spotted Bear Mountain, carrying on a conversation through the ear-mike headsets we both wore, and monitoring radio frequencies of Canis lupis, the timber wolf.

Spotted Bear Mountain was the one I wanted him to concentrate on the most.

Banking up the Spotted Bear River, Dave reached for a toggle switch in front of me and flipped it from neutral to "R". The zzzt-click died, so the pilot switched the toggle to "L" and the zzzt-click returned, stronger than ever.  He banked left. 

A few moments later, Dave worked his toggle again and got the stronger pulse from his right. It was then I realized the guy was activating or de-activating antennas duct-taped to each Cessna wing, using the method to pinpoint the wolf's location.

Soon he was flying in a tight circle with zzzt-clicks filling the cockpit. "Got to be right down ... there. See him, Roland?"

Hell no, I didn't see him—my eyes were closed! 

"He was right under that tree—didn't you see him?"

Good God, Hoerner, there's NOTHING but trees down there!

So, nice guy that he is, Dave stood the airplane on its wing to allow me to look straight down into the trees. "Should be ... hold on ... right ... THERE! See him?"

I felt lower than a snake's belly when I had to shake my head.

Dave leveled out and headed north. "Aw, don't worry about it, Roland. Maybe we'll find the Whitefish pack."

I watched the guy from the corner of my eye. Always was can-do, even as a kid. Little chunky—not built like everyone's perception of an athlete. But he became an unusually good one, unselfish, hard-working. I'd been privileged to serve as an assistant Legion baseball coach during Dave Hoerner's last eligible year, so I knew about his guts and brains and desire and work ethic. 

After school, he labored in local lumber mills, then turned to flying. Alaska beckoned. So did bush piloting. At last, the guy returned home, started a local flying service. Expanded. Does a lot of contract flying for state and federal research people. Grizzlies, wolves, sometimes elk or bighorn sheep. And still he's the same, nice kid he always was. Maybe a little older. No kid any more.

"Looks like the Whitefish pack is going to be tough to locate," Dave said a few minutes later. Huckleberry Mountain flew by on one side of the plane, Glacier View Mountain on the other. "They're a funny bunch, they've already been over the top of the Whitefish Range twice this winter." Dave banked his Cessna west.

Zzzt-click, zzzt-click came a faint pulse. He trimmed a little and began a slow descent. Zzzt-click, zzzt-click—louder now!

Soon we were down near tree-top level and Dave worked the directional toggle.  Zzzt-click. Then he was in a tight circle. "See the big dark one lying under the powerline, Roland?"

I swallowed and opened my eyes and ... and ...

I SAW HIM!

******************
April 11, 2015

POWER TO THE PEOPLE

The mother of all April Fool jokes came to the people of the Flathead Valley in 1943 via insidious rumors that the United States Army Corps of Engineers were planning to raise Kerr Dam (below Polson) and inundate Flathead Valley. ("Ha, ha.  That's a good one, isn't it Lars?") 

The soberest and most thoughtful Flathead residents dismissed the idea as rumormongering. The problem was the rumor was true, borne by what was said was a need for quick, massive amounts of electrical generation for use in producing massive amounts of steel for the war effort, but as later events proved, was needed for producing the atom bomb. 

Naturally, no one in Montana knew an atom bomb from an ankle carbuncle. Nor did all but very few Americans anywhere know we were in a race with Hitler's Germany to see who developed the first one. All a shop owner in Kalispell knew was suddenly he faced four feet of water in his showroom. And when that realization sank to the toenails, a mixture of disbelief and furor erupted.

By the time reality arrived, the decision to go ahead and raise Flathead Lake appeared to be a done deal. Still, Montana's Governor protested. So did the Treasure State's Congressional delegation. Virtually every organization across Montana joined the protest: county commissions, school districts, church councils, professional groups, Farm Bureau, Woolgrowers, etc.

The Corps of Engineers was forced to hold a hearing in order to inform and placate people who were on the verge of losing their homes, farms, ranches, orchards, businesses, ways of life. The people were beyond placating.

The hearing was held June 3, 1943 in Kalispell's high school auditorium.  Downtown businesses closed for the hearing. The crowd overflowed all available auditorium space and onto the school's lawn. Loudspeakers transmitted proceedings to those outside the building. Prestigious attorneys led by Wellington D. Rankin guided the discourse to an air of civility. However, testimony was often harsh. No one spoke in favor of the proposal.

The explanation offered by the Corps of Engineers was that power generated by flooding Flathead Valley could lead to the production of many thousands of tons of steel for the war effort. 

One respondent said, "If it is the plan to destroy this country, it is the best plan ever devised by man. Even Hitler couldn't better it...."

Another, staring at the Flathead map and its 449 blue stars representing area boys presently fighting for their country, and the 9 gold ones testifying that some had already given their all, testified: "What are those boys fighting for except to save your home and mine.  And if the Government should take their homes needlessly, I can't say that would be worse than the Japs...."

After a lengthy testimony by a minister of God representing the views of the Kalispell Ministerial Association, the speaker ended with these fiery words: "I think the spirit of the people could be thus stated—this project will go through over our dead bodies."

At last the meeting was over, testimony closed. Its results were dramatic. The Corps was stopped dead in its tracks and people power came to the Flathead.

Forever.

**************
April 4, 2015

IF NAPOLEON HAD ONLY KNOWN

Meriwether and William being current table topics around Montana and the nation, America needs this not-so-small-bit-of-trivia to round out future Lewis and Clark debates:

As any serious student of American history knows, Napoleon Bonaparte offered, in April, 1803, to sell Louisiana to the United States. Louisiana, of course, then extended from the mouth of the Mississippi to Canada and west to the Rocky Mountains—a huge chunk of territory. The selling price, it wound up, was the same as the asking price—fifteen million dollars.

As we all know, selling prices and asking prices are often at considerable odds. In fact, if they're not at odds it's usually because the seller hasn't access to the importance of the transaction to the buyer. Or the seller is under some duress. That Napoleon didn't know the importance of Louisiana to the fledgling United States is utterly amazing. Therefore, there must’ve been duress—and there was!

With the English fleet controlling the oceans, the French emperor stood to lose Louisiana anyway. So why not offer it to the Americans at a price they couldn’t refuse, thereby positioning a bunch of fractious rebels against England’s dreams of absorbing France’s New World empire.

Still, if Napoleon had only known. . . .

Consider, if you will, that President Jefferson had transmitted a confidential message to Congress on January 18, 1803—three months BEFORE NAPOLEON OFFERED TO SELL THE TERRITORY. (Imagine, too, if you can, a “Confidential Message” to Congress that stayed confidential. Also utterly amazing!)

Jefferson's message talked of the need for securing "a respectable breadth of country on that [Mississippi] river, from our southern limit to Illinois. . . ." Then he shifted focus: "The River Missouri, and the Indians inhabiting it, are not as well known as is rendered desirable by their connection with the Mississippi, and consequently with us. It is, however, understood that the country on that river is inhabited by numerous tribes, who furnish great supplies of furs and peltry to the trade of another nation, carried on in a high latitude, through an infinite number of portages and lakes that shut up by ice through a long season."

Jefferson goes on to say: ". . . The commerce on that line could bear no competition with that of the Missouri, traversing a moderate climate, offering, according to the best accounts, a continued navigation from its source. . . ."

Well, I'll be! American commercial aspects as premise for the Lewis & Clark Expedition. Did they teach that in school?

Marse Tom went on with his actual proposal:

"An intelligent officer, with ten or twelve chosen men, fit for the enterprise and willing to undertake it, taken from our posts, where they may be spared without inconvenience, might explore the whole line, even to the western ocean . . . (Twenty-eight men and one woman ultimately comprised the party.)

"The interests of commerce place the principal object within the constitutional powers and care of Congress. . . ." 

[and the clincher]: "The appropriation of $2,500 for the purpose of extending the external commerce of the United States, while understood and considered by the executive as giving the legislative sanction, would cover the undertaking from notice, and prevent the obstructions which interested individuals [Napoleon? King George?] might otherwise previously prepare in its way."

Ten or twelve men?  Exploring another nation's sovereign territory?  For $2,500 dollars?  Making Congress complicit? 

If Napoleon had only known!

Or could it be that Marse Tom had inside information. After all, he had been U.S. Minister to France, spoke their language, was a personal friend with the Marquis de Lafayette, and may have even met Napoleon in Paris. Might there have already been some collusion in the air to thwart the British?

Make a guess.

******************
March 28, 2015

DIFFERING AGES FAIL THE TEST

Nowhere is the chasm broader or deeper or scarier than in communications between humans with experience and aliens of the younger generation. Even well-intentioned youths and good-mannered elders have problems. I offer the following tale as example:

Jane recently helped a friend move to a retirement facility and late in the afternoon, after returning home, she hinted in a shamefully direct way that she wanted someone to take her out for dinner.  Being the kind, courteous, trustworthy, helpful (not to mention obedient) soul that she married, we went for hamburgers at a local pub. What helped tip the balance was she had a "buy one, get two" coupon and I never could refuse a bargain date with a ravishing broad.

The average age of the pub's patrons appeared to be around 25. Wanting only good hamburgers and already possessing great company, we chose an isolated table in a remote wing. The table was situated directly in front of a blank 52-inch TV screen—it being blank was part of the table’s appeal. 

The serving lady soon appeared at my elbow. But before she took our drink orders, she bustled over to the blank screen, saying, "I'll bet you'd like to watch the dog show." Though I snarled a few select words that Jane would find inappropriate at a church social, the lady cheerfully added as she switched the set on, "They have some really cute ones." Apparently noting my tasteful demurral, however, she left off the sound, then took our orders. 

Have you ever tried NOT watching a four-foot screen flickering inches from your retinas—it’s utterly impossible! It ruined our table conversation, ruined my disposition, and disclosed more bleeping breeds of dogs than I thought possible.

There were Kuvasz, Komondor, Bouvier des Flandres, Scottish deerhound, Borzoi, Otter hound, Manchester terrier, Papillon, and Rhodesian ridgeback. There were an Afghan, Shih tzu, Saluki, Maltese, Wirehaired griffon, Keeshong, and Tibetan terrier. And there were familiar mutts—fox terrier, Chesapeake, Standard poodle, Weimaraner, Pekingese, Bloodhound, Dachsund, Greyhound, Boxer, Saint Bernard, etc., etc.

Trainers had no doubt spent hours grooming their animals, as well as days training them. When their turn came, each trainer tightened her grip (most were women) on the choke-chain and trotted around the arena with their animal. If their's was an appealing mutt the crowd—which was massive—politely clapped and judges routed them to the next stage of competition.

Periodically, television producers cut to advertise various can't-do-without products for your pet. But prior to the ad, they showed the dogs that were up next. And lo! there was a BRITTANY SPANIEL (hands down, the best darned breed in all the dog world). We'd finished eating by then and the bartender, a fine-looking young muscles-in-the-eyebrows type guy with large dark eyes, a winsome smile, and a four-day beard, came to collect our dishes and ask if we'd like anything else.

We wouldn't, but I waved at the screen and told him we were going to stick around for a little while because a Brittany was next on tap. 

The young man's eyebrows shot to the ceiling, and if ever I saw a kindred soul, this was my guy! Until he excitedly exclaimed, "BRITNEY SPEARS?"

****************
March 21, 2015

A SENSE OF PLACE

Let's talk about loving a place, and melding into it. Without the first, one cannot have the second. Without the second, one will never see the first. 

It seems the most at-peace-with-themselves individuals I know are those comfortable with both their place and their station in life. Are they in love with what they do? Where they live? Their neighbors? Of course, otherwise they will have no peace.

As stark as the eastern prairies might seem to some, the freedom such a vast landscape afforded must've seemed like heaven-on-earth to the landless Old World peasant fleeing army conscription and involuntary servitude. To the Finnlander from the Baltic who could own a quarter section of land by simply promising to live on it for five years, it was manna from heaven. What a deal! So what that they nearly starved? They were on the threshold of starvation in their birthplace, anyway. Here, at least, they OWNED LAND.

Even if an Irish family held a tiny survival plot, there were only so many mouths that could be fed from potatoes it produced. Why wouldn't a new life in a New World beckon to their youngsters?

Montana is full of Swensons and Bergstroms and Hagermanns and Lundquists whose ancestors stepped of a boat at Ellis Island and found their way west to homestead their own little piece of heaven. Never mind that winter snows blew level with the prairie sod, or that summer rains never fell, or that it turned one hundred degrees in the July shade and there was no shade. It was, by yimminy, theirs and the devil take the hindmost.

Other men came to Montana for different reasons: Californians for placer gold, Texans for open range, Cornishmen for hardrock mines, Minnesotans for virgin timber. They came and stayed. Sometimes their women came with them, other times they sent home for their sweethearts.

But without exceptions, those who stuck—be they Norwegians or Germans, Irish or Jews, Russians or Mexicans or Metis—they learned to love this land. And they melded into it, learned its rhythms until their pulse rates matched the pulse of their surroundings.

I came to the Treasure State for similar reasons. I came because I so loved Montana's outdoor world that I gave my father's only misbegotten son so he could have everlasting life. The love of  my life trailed along because her damfool husband had a dream. And in truth, we both came because we wanted to raise our children amid an honest rural environment.

We melded because we genuinely wanted to do so. We learned to pay attention, to relax, to listen to the earth and its living things as they passed, to absorb that everywhere around us was purity and clarity and, yes, obstinacy among the inhabitants of our adopted land. We knew from the beginning that we must eschew the old and embrace the new, and we did.

Still, there are two differing polar fields to those who love this land:  desolation on the one hand, elation on the other. There's a certain loneliness of the spirit that eats at outsiders and fulfills insiders. 

Ain't it grand!

*****************
March 14, 2015

A DAY TO TRANSFORM WINTER DREAMS INTO SUMMER MAGIC

There's a green tinge to Treasure State history. It begins with Mike Fink, notorious brawling boatman of early fur trade fame.

Fink, a nefarious lowbrow the Irish prefer to forget was followed by Tom (Broken Hand) Fitzpatrick, a more noble adventurer who rose to command Rocky Mountain Fur Company brigades. Indeed, Fitzpatrick eventually became a partner in the company at a time eastern newspapers were running help wanted ads with the tag line: "Irish need not apply."

Thomas Francis Meagher began his Montana sojourn by blazing like a comet into the Treasure State sky. But the man proved little more than a shooting star—here today, gone tomorrow. However, Meagher was a bonafied member of the Auld Sod as a leader of the Young Ireland Party—the Irish Republican Army of its day. As such, Meagher was arrested and sentenced to death by the British. But the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in Tasmania.

Escaping banishment, Meagher wound up in New York City and eventually turned into an honest-to-God Civil War hero as Brigadier General commanding the Union Army's Irish Brigade.

Meagher was appointed Montana's Territorial Secretary in 1867, and upon arrival, became, in effect, the acting Governor. Shortly after assuming his duties, the man disappeared from a Missouri River paddlewheeler under what was thought unusually peculiar circumstances.

Meagher was followed in short order by another son of the Auld Sod. This Irishman, instead of beginning by blazing across America, began as a faint but steadily increasing light, until he burned a bright star in the Treasure State firmament. 

Marcus Daly arrived in the hamlet of Butte in 1876, at a time few people suspected the potential of what later became known as "The Richest Hill On Earth." Daly sought wealthy backers and eventually founded the Anaconda Copper Mining Company. He also founded the city of Anaconda and became prominent in Democratic political circles. He acquired banks, power plants, irrigation systems, ranches, railroads, racehorses, and timberlands. 

Along the way, Marcus Daly became a virtual patron saint to men of the Auld Sod, employing them in his mines and smelters by the thousands. With Daly, the word was "Irish need only apply."

There've been many prominent Irish men and women following in the footsteps of Fitzpatrick, Meagher, and Daly. Butte is still their lodestone, their power source.  Butte is where every good Irishman and Irishwoman goes on pilgrimage.  It's the battery charger for those with shamrock roots.

St. Paddy's Day is THE day.

There are many thought-provoking passages about the Irish. For instance, Sigmund Freud wrote: "This is one race of people for whom psychoanalysis is of no use whatsoever."

And John Boyle O'Reilly wrote: "Ireland is a fruitful mother of genius, but a barren nurse."

It was Adrienne Cook, however, who placed the Irish into proper perspective:

"St. Patrick's Day is an enchanted time—a day to begin transforming winter's dreams into summer's magic!"

**************
March 7, 2015

MAKE YOUR OWN SPECIAL EXCEPTIONS

In March, 1991, I wrote a "Wild Trails & Tall Tales" column with this lead: "My daddy's in Saudi 'Rabia fightin' the bad guy." That lead came from a three-year-old grandson who stood in front of my office chair and peered up with wide and guileless blue eyes to make that somber statement about his father, Jane's and my son.

Our grandson's father returned from Saudi 'Rabia and his fight with the bad guy.  The problem was that the bell rang on that fight before it was over. During its intermission, seconds have toweled the combatants, awaiting the next round.  Then we prepared for another Middle Eastern fight with the same bad guy.

In the interim that three-year-old grandson grew to a strapping, fine looking young lad on the threshold of manhood. In the interim his voice changed so much that I failed to recognize him on the telephone. He was still too young to get involved in this second round of the fight with the "bad guy" and I was grateful. In addition, his father is too old for a second round and I'm grateful there, too.

Without clear and present risk to immediate family members, Jane and I did not feel so directly affected by those unfolding yesterday events. But we deluded ourselves if we slept easily.  By then Justin was fifteen. And though it's clear those particular bad guy would fade into the sunset by the time our grandson reached an age to shoulder a weapon for his country, it's also clear there will be another bad guy. And another. And another.  That's why we must strike fast.

No, I'm not talking about striking fast as a nation—I'm talking about striking fast as a family. Though the boy lives 1,800 miles away, we must arrange wilderness adventures, Glacier Park hikes, whitewater floats, mountaintop highs. We must do these things with the lad while we still can. We must do them before the Saddam
Husseins, or the scum sucking bin Ladens of the world, or more generations of terrorists and terrorizing dictators raise their pointed and ugly heads.

What is said about us as a family should also be said about us as individuals. Too often we postpone allotting time to pursue our dreams while being overwhelmed by immediacy and complacency. Too often we're content in the belief that we'll do those things we wish to do "tomorrow" or "next year" or "the day after retirement."

These are especially sad stories. They're so very sad because "tomorrow" or "next year" or "the day after retirement" never comes. They're sad because life and youth and the spirit of adventure passed by while we waited for our stars to align exactly the way we wished.

The old adage about there being "no fool like an old fool" is incorrect. By the time one reaches advanced age, one is no longer foolish, but one is also no longer able.  Better, instead, to say there's "no fool like a young fool." Then the adage becomes one with a ring of truth because the young fool thinks he has an inside track on a once-in-a-lifetime journey to forever.

Lord God, if there's anything age teaches you, it's that WHOOPS! God made no special exceptions for us, after all. 

If there is such a thing as a special exception (to anything--adventure, romance, musical proficiency, professional ascendency), it’ll only come to those who make a place for it themselves.

****************
February 28, 2015

WAVING ARMS AND EARS

The lady waved as she passed, her smile such that any toothpaste maker would love to have pasted on a billboard. Jane and I skied up a forest road on a groomed snowmobile track. There was enough snow, but barely. The lady passed us driving a small model Subaru sedan. Her dog galloped along behind with a silly grin on his face, waving his ears as gaily as his mistress waved her hands.

The dog appeared to be a Labrador/German shepherd mix, with ample dosages of beagle, airedale, Chihuahua, and wiener dog in the potpourri. The flopping ears, except for being black, could've been grafted from a basset hound. The mutt was long, tall, small-faced, big eared, and carefree happy.

We caught up with 'em a little later. It was at a spot where the driver backed into a side road, I assume before heading back to the main road and home. The dog's mistress stood outside the Subaru throwing her canine buddy treats for which he bounced all over two counties in sheer dog-world enthusiasm.

Both mutt and mistress flashed their patented toothy grins as we skied past, waving arms and ears in an infectious happy-to-be-alive greeting that we decided was shared evenly with anybody and everybody.

Later, while laboring up the mountain, we discussed the pair. Jane said, "The lady was certainly cheerful, wasn't she?"

"Dog, too."

"But she looked like she could benefit by doing a little of the dog's roadwork."

I laughed. "And let the dog drive? Right?"

It's another year and we were back skiing on the same groomed snowmobile track. Again, there was only barely enough snow. Though we didn't see lady, dog, or Subaru, there was a set of going-and-coming auto tracks, with going-and-coming outsized dog prints running along behind.

We guessed it was the same lady and the same dog. She obviously takes the mutt for periodic runs. During light snow years she probably takes him away from beaten paths to keep him from being eaten by oncoming automobiles. He's a lucky mongrel—all that fresh air and regular exercise. She's lucky, too, because she has an interest that takes her out of the house and into the woods.

After meditating on the pair as we toiled up the mountain then glided back down, I told Jane we were lucky, too. "We're out here skiing, not only because it's physically good for us and might help us live a little longer, but because it takes us away from the office and computer and ringing telephones."

"Besides that," she said, "we flushed a grouse and spotted a snowshoe rabbit."

I breathed deeply. "Smell that. Smell the cedars and the pines and the tamaracks. The lady and her dog smelled that, too." Almost as if we had the same thought, we paused side by side and stared into each other's eyes. Our lips brushed. Then we poled alongside the other, following the groomed trail as it crossed the interminable flat, back to our car.

As we stepped from our skis, I murmured, “That other lady has her dog. Do I qualify as yours?”

****************
February 21, 2015

ATTITUDE MODIFICATION

It is said the only constants in all the world are death and taxes. But after almost four score years on this planet, I think one more can be added to the list of certainties: talking about the weather. 

Go to Puget Sound or Pensacola, Bangor or Baton Rouge, Green Bay or Green River, wherever two people get together they talk about weather. Age makes no difference. Male or female (or male AND female) makes no difference. Where two or more people gather, they talk about the weather.

Know what else? When people talk about the weather, it's always to complain. 

You ever hear anyone say the weather is perfect? Of course not. Even if the sky is blue and the temperature at 78 degrees, it'll be to grouse about the lack of rain and that the crops will "sure to God dry up if we don't get some moisture." Or if they do get rain, somebody'll worry about a flood because there's too much wet stuff.

Floods will be on minds, too, if there's a big snowpack in the mountains. Or if there's a light pack somebody'll say, "Won't be no use sowing crops 'cause they'll burn up in the field."

This winter is unseasonably warm. So to some folks it's for certain we're headed into a drought. However, others predict a cold, wet summer because of our warm, dry winter. The point is, both kinds of people talk about the weather. And none of them know squat about it. "Too damp," they'll say if the humidity is high. Or they'll complain about low humidity as being too arid on their skin.

It's too hot or too cold, too cloudless or too cloudy, sky too lowering, or sun too bright. And the wind! Let's not forget the wind. Like the story of the newcomer who asked a native if the wind always blows like this? "Naw," said the native. "Sometimes it turns around and blows from another direction."

When I was younger and even dumber than now, I thought proper topics for conversation would be the Green Bay Packers or the World Series. Or maybe talking about girls might be a normal guy thing. But no, the hottest topic, then as now, was the weather. The most boring topic, too, was the weather. And certainly the most
profitless topic was—and is—the weather.

Will we change it? No. CAN we change it? No. All we can do is commiserate about it. I can't change the humidity. Nor can I change the temperature. I can, however, modify my behavior in order to cope with the weather. If it's raining, I can huddle under a spruce tree. If the bottom drops from the thermometer, I can throw another log on the fire. If the red stuff hits the high-90s I can find shade.

Instead, we try to modify weather's impact by modifying everything around us. We build dams to provide rain for our fields. We've tried cloud seeding. If we could reach into the heavens, we'd alter the very winds that bring spring.

I'll submit that we should quit talking about the weather and quit trying to modify its impacts, but instead channel our energies into learning to live with it. 

******************
February 14, 2015

TO MY VALENTINE

An open letter to my sweetheart:

"Honey, I've loved you for longer than most people are old. You were the girl next door as we entered our teens. Our first date was when you were in the seventh grade and I was a senior classman in junior high school. We walked to a corner drugstore on a Sunday afternoon for a milkshake (two straws). And we spent most of that time discussing all the important questions of life, such as what’s the point of algebra? Would Bing Crosby ever amount to anything? Who was the better ballplayer—Joe DiMaggio or Ted Williams?

"Though not so elevated in America's consciousness back in those post-World War II days, I was already leaning body and soul toward the outdoors. You accepted it, though you'd been exposed to no more than an occasional picnic in a park.

"Our love, however, was hardly a blinding flash of light on the way to Damascus, but embryonic, germinating beneath the surface as you passed through a succession of beaus and I fell madly in love with every other girl I ever dated.
 
"We rekindled the old flame later in life: I had already escaped high school and you were a heady sixteen. Many of our subsequent dates were drives through the country as I regaled you of fishing and hunting adventure. We hiked. You sat on streambanks while I fished.

“There were some in your family who gave scant chance for our marriage to endure, believing I'd robbed their cradle—which was ridiculous, of course—I was but nineteen and not exceptionally long out of the cradle myself. 

"As with most marriages, ours had its bumps. We had children early and while we each loved the other, parentage was hard for ones so young. You suffered in silence my many absences, preferring my love for the outdoors to that of another woman or me sitting in a bar somewhere, drinking up my paychecks.

"Years went by. We moved to Montana so that I might engage in greater outdoors adventure. Though thinking me foolish, you still supported my decision to leave financial security for a will-o'-the-wisp dream of becoming a guide. By and by, our kids matured and you joined me in outdoors adventure. You, too, fell as passionately in love with wild places and wild things as the guy with whom you’d set up housekeeping.

"It took years, but eventually, we made a heckuva team, honey—recognized far and wide for our professional outdoors ability and caring aptitude in service to others.

"Now we're in our waning years, coasting down the backside of life. We still make a great team, though. After more than a half-century together, you still give 110% to support each of my wild-haired dreams. And I trust you've found my enthusiastic assistance for each of yours.

"Though most of the tangible things that our contemporaries think of as the finer things in life seem to have a way of trickling through our fingers, we have each other—in spades! If anything, you are more beautiful today than when you were blushing at the altar at age seventeen. 

"You are healthier, more mature and, I'm sure, more caring. You challenge me to become better at every thing I wish to do. Meanwhile, you've grown under my tutelage until I'd rather be in tandem with you than anyone else I've ever known, or even seen, or heard of, or read about in magazine or newspaper or book.

"You are tops. Thanks for loving me along the way."

*****************
February 7, 2015

THERE'S GOOD IN THE BAD EVERYWHERE

The letter from the Portland-based sportswear company began: "Greetings from the soggy, rain-soaked Pacific Northwest..."

Having been raised in the Pacific northwest, I knew exactly what that letter writer meant: rain and fog were two of the many reasons I left that land for Montana over half a lifetime ago. But it's not all bad there. Even as you read this, daffodils are blooming, lawns are lush and green, and arctic snow and cold comes but only fleetingly all winter.

The truth is, there are few (if any) places on earth where life is perfect. Perhaps it was so amid parts of the Sunbelt during the middle of the last Century; especially where fresh water was plentiful. But today, Southern California and the Florida Keys are overloaded with millions of humanoids and they're intolerable to tolerant people like you and me. 

So what am I trying to say? 

Don't bother looking for the perfect place. It doesn't exist.

It's that way in Montana, too. Folks over east think the end of their rainbow lies over the mountains, where westerlies blow. But that's a hollow mockery, as they discover when they cross the Divide, buy a retirement home and discover the last time the sunball shone was during the big freeze-up during the winter of '77.

(We resident ne’er-do-wells of deep-snow valleys and overcast winters claim it’s our way of filtering out undesirables who decide they’re not tough enough to guts-out a life amid the Northern Rockies.)

The truth is everywhere has things going for it and things going against it. Where the weather tends to the mild, second home subdivisions crowd right up to mountain fronts and neighbors tend to be un-neighborly to newcomers crowding them out of field and forest.       

If it's neighborly you want instead of just faces next door, check in with folks who wave at every vehicle they meet on their way to the coffee shop come morning. That's how it is with salt-of-the-earth folks who dwell along the Hi-Line or close to the ranching communities of central and southeast Montana. But be ready to stuff newspapers around doorjambs and sheets of plastic across window glass when a “blue norther” sweeps down from the Canadian tundra during January or April or June or August.

There's no panorama on earth to match that of the Rocky Mountain Front on a clear day. And Lord knows, they've a bunch of clear days. So many, in fact, rain seldom falls. And green grass dries into a ruddy brown when folks in the west are just beginning to blow out the gas lines on their lawnmowers.

There are green forests and tall mountains to the west and in Southcentral Montana. And there are rugged breaks, rich sunrises and unlimited vistas to the east and north.

There are rivers and lakes a-plenty in one, and hardly any people in the other. So there's a bunch of folks crowding into the one, and no limit to how much a man can grow in the other.

The truth is every place has things going for it and things going against it. And a body who insists on flitting around searching for just the right spot can spend the rest of his life flitting and never find a single place that's fit to keep.

Don't you reckon wherever we happen to be is worth taking another look to see that we didn't miss something the first time around. Sure, there are things not to like:  blizzards or winds or overcasts or people. But each has its advantages, too.

The moral?  Spend more time appreciating what you have, and less time bitching about it.

******************
January 31, 2015

MASTERING CROSSCOUNTRY TECHNIQUES

Ski slopes are fine. They bring international and out-of-state visitors who also bring money. Ski slopes contribute to community cash flows at a time of year when most Montanans were once wont to huddle around a fire and contemplate their navels.

However, Montanans are curious and some of 'em can't stand to see others having fun without sampling same. The problem arises when they discover it essential to pay the cost of a candlelight dinner for two in order to stand in a lift line that ultimately allows them to careen down Mount Everest with both eyes clinched.

Saner Treasure Staters, therefore, are migrating into crosscountry skiing. The crosscountry variety is supposedly better for your body and has the added advantage of no lift tickets.

Still, though inexpensive and good for its adherents, crosscountry skiing is an art form requiring skill, dexterity and a certain flair. Having engaged in the activity before development of smart bombs and guided missiles, I have a modicum of advisory qualifications. Therefore I've prepared a cursory list of both challenging and accomplished ski techniques that can enable novice and intermediate alike to blend with any veteran ski crowd:

The very first technique to be mastered is the uphill pant. This consists of sliding each foot forward beyond the other, always toward the highest spot on any distant skyline. The chief requirement for accomplishing the uphill pant is no discernible physical weakness.

Successful conclusion of the uphill pant usually leads to the peek at the peak shriek. This shrewd impromptu maneuver is usually accomplished near the halfway point of the uphill pant. It should always be employed as prelude to a course change.

There is little to be gained by continuing the "pant" past the "shriek" because one might incur Grand Canyon quiver. Grand Canyon quiver is a phenomenon akin to flying saucers and the Bermuda Triangle. Progress beyond the "shriek" at your own risk.

Instead, turn around and return to the valley floor from whence you came. Your quickest method is via maxi-glide/mini-guide. Maxi-glide/mini-guide is far and away the swiftest method down any slope. It is also the one most likely to provide supine transportation in a heated custom van with crimson crosses painted left and right.

Should you be reluctant to employ maxi-glide/mini-guide, try either the horizontal shuffle or the teeter-totter flounce.  Of the two, the teeter-totter flounce is more likely to be successfully concluded. Though the horizontal shuffle sounds great, it has a bad reputation because its practitioners are usually late for supper. The teeter-totter flounce, incidentally, obscures your tracks in case process servers are in hot pursuit.

There are several effective methods for descent control. Two stand out. Each is recommended if one must make a bathroom break amid a maxi-glide/mini-guide maneuver. First, of course, is the time-tested flying buttocks arrest; the other is the more spectacular (but equally effective) airborne face plant.

Sophisticated practitioners of artful crosscountry skiing have usually mastered each of the above techniques. Personally I've done them all.

Sometimes in combination.

****************
January 24, 2015

VISITING THE MEDICINE LINE

Montana historian Joseph Kinsey Howard called it artificial and ridiculous. The Sioux and Blackfeet, Assiniboin, Kootenai, and Gros Ventre called it the "Medicine Line."

". . . and that the said line shall form the northern boundary of the said territories of the United States, and the southern boundary of the territories of His Brittanic Majesty, from the Lake of the Woods to the Stony Mountains.

- (Article 2, Convention of London, Oct. 20, 1818)

Hammering out a diplomatic agreement amid the luxury and gaiety of a post-Napoleonic English autumn was one thing, making such an accord a practical entity proved another. It was not until fifty-six years later that a survey line was completed from Lake of the Woods to the "Stony" Mountains . . . and that boundary properly marked.

Wallace Stegner claimed the men who surveyed that line encountered all the discomforts and difficulties of bonafied explorers, yet their feat is little known and less acknowledged by history. Writing in his book Wolf Willow, Stegner says:

"They alternated between mules and dogteams, carts and sleds, skin lodges and brush shelters. Broken up into small parties for maximum efficiency, they were caught out in blizzards that neither horse nor dog would drive against, and fought their way in after days of exposure, half starved, half frozen. . . .  Along with the boundaries of their countries they surveyed the limits of endurance."

Jane and I once took a weekend hike to the "Medicine Line". We drove to Eureka, crossed the Rexford Bridge and followed the West Kootenai Road to the Amish settlement near its end. From there, we hiked National Forest land, skirting along the bench above Koocanusa Reservoir until we reached the border.

The boundary is well marked with a woven wire fence and steel posts. At the spot we intersected the line, there was also a concrete obelisk standing some five feet high and adding additional official standing. The obelisk carried number 243 chiseled into the concrete.

What does the number mean? I called the Border Patrol, was routed to Roosville Customs, and eventually found my way to Marvin Crabtree of the International Boundary Commission. Mr. Crabtree said the obelisks begin on Point Roberts in Boundary Bay, between Washington and British Columbia. They are numbered consecutively going eastward to Lake of the Woods in Minnesota. The last marker is number 925.

What is the spacing? "For instance," I said, "the marker Jane and I encountered is much more than 243 miles from the Pacific Coast." Crabtree laughed and told me they were line of sight. In other words, they are numbered sequentially and placed from point to point, within range of the human eye.

"Over on the plains," Crabtree said, "they are easier placed and average about a mile-and-a-quarter apart."

It was an interesting day, our hike to the Canadian border in three inches of powder snow. We saw lots of deer. Surprisingly, all were mule deer where I'd expect to find whitetails. Many of the deer whose tracks we followed to the border entered Canada without the benefit of having gone through customs. 

Shame!

***************
anuary 17, 2015

SIMPLE THINGS I MOSTLY FORGOT

* Did you know old linen dinner napkins make good dust rags because linen is usually lint-free?

* Or how about old newspapers? They can be used to wipe window glass after washing. They, too, leave no lint?

* Or listen to this:  a quarter cup of vinegar per each gallon of water used for washing windows reduces spotting (apparently acids in vinegar cuts lime in water)?

What does all the above have to do with an outdoor blog?

Simple. They’re everyday things my wife knows about house cleaning that mystifies me. Her simple household hints started me thinking . . .

There are, you see, a plethora of simple hints that make most endeavors easier. People familiar with them tend to take them for granted. Like me with outdoor stuff.

* Layering, for instance. I've read for years about how advisable layering is when dressing for foul weather. Layering sounds complicated—like one needs to understand garment weaves or the merits of polyester versus wool, or windbreaker nylon versus down-filled canvas. But it might be nothing more complicated than your wearing three sweaters during a blizzard while your buddy is shrouded in a heavy down-filled, satin-lined, Gore-Tex outer-shelled parka that is impossible for him to shed a portion of as the temperature and sweat rises.

* Or did you know gaiters—leg coverings lapping boot and trousers—are effective for more activities than the crosscountry skiing or snowshoeing for which they were designed? Fall hunting, for instance. Or while tramping through tall grass after a soaking June rain.

* A bottle of drinking water can be more important in winter when dehydration might sneak up on you while accompany lowered body temperatures. So you’re not hirsty—understood. But you also might more easily be subject to hypothermia.

* Have you ever had a boot eat your sock? That is, have you ever had on a pair of socks that seemed determined to work down to your toes while hiking? Of course you have. If not, you've done little hiking. But did you know stocking-creep can be prevented by tying a knot in your bootstring right at the peak of the arch?

No?  Try it. You'll be surprised.

* How do you apply water-proofing to your boot? The way we did it in our fall hunting camps or prior to our spring hiking trips was to heat a can of boot grease until it was liquid, then apply to boots with a small one-inch paintbrush. No muss, no fuss.

If you're insistent that spray is your ticket, then use it outdoors. The odor lingers indoors longer than the protection it gives your boots.

* For your day hikes or hunts, think about using a small pack to carry the inevitable things you'll need during the day, such as lunch, camera, field glasses, etc. Some people use a "fanny" pack that belts around the midsection, but I prefer a small packsack called a daypack. You can stuff more things in a daypack than in a fanny pack:  items like a windbreaker, plastic square to sit upon snow or damp ground, small first-aid kit. And you’ll not be as likely to come up sore in the lumbar region.

Simple things. So simple I sometimes forget to share them with others.

***************
January 10, 2015

SPECTATOR TO SNOWBOARDERS

They came climbing out of the fog and snow. There were seven of them. One carried skis, the other six packed snowboards. They overhauled us a little past half-way to the summit of Big Mountain (now known as Whitefish Mountain). It was just before Thanksgiving, the weekend prior to the popular ski mountain's opening.

Our friends, Ken and Phyllis Ausk, and Jane and I skied up the Jeep road, planning a one-time course back to the bottom. We were running out of gas, debating whether to stop for lunch, when we heard voices from below. Those young studs and studesses trudged straight up through 12-inches of powder. Talk about muscles in their eyebrows!

They paused alongside, friendly-like. I took the opportunity to ask about the principles of snowboarding. Having led a sheltered life that normally includes crosscountry skiing only on roads and trails where others cannot watch and laugh, I'd never seen snowboarders close up, in action.

One of the group—Robbie Fernandez of Whitefish—demonstrated how one stood upon a snowboard, illustrating guidance techniques. Then they were gone, trudging on into the clouds.

We'd finished lunch and I was just shouldering my daypack for the run down when Jane cried, "Here they come!"

 I stared up the hill into the floating mist. The first zipped out of the gloom, swishing from one side of the run to the other, standing sideways, crouching slightly, but leaning a little back on his contoured piece of flattened fiber that was no larger than a bath towel. He must have been traveling 30-miles-per-hour, shooshing over moguls and snow-covered outcrops, sometimes airborne, sometimes whipping right angles. It seemed breathtaking!

Fernandez, waving gaily, zipped past before I reacted, grabbing for my camera.  Others swept out of the snow, some more cautious, some equally devil-may-care. Soon they were gone. Probably all were hoisting a beer at the bottom before I re-slung my daypack. I felt like a ground sloth crawling after greyhounds.

Later, I asked a few questions of veteran snowboarder Greg Stenger of Rocky Mountain Outfitters. "Yes," Greg said, "there are certain similarities between snowboarding, skateboarding, surfboarding, and water skiing."

For instance, according to Stenger, one's "stance is the same for each of the 'boarding sports', but weight distribution is different."

Water skiing, on the other hand, employs some of snowboarding's rear-leaning weight distribution for its maneuver techniques, but the participant's stance is far different.

Techniques and body language for any of the above pursuits are far beyond the capabilities of a stove-up old ex-outfitter. This I know for I was once bounced halfway across the bottom of Lake McDonald as a power boat tried vainly to jerk me to the surface with boards strapped to my feet.

I've watched surfboarders at Malibu and skateboarders lickety-splitting down Seattle's hillside streets. But I've never—ever—seen anything like those crazy, carefree, devil-take-the-hindmost snowboarders on Big Mountain that day.

I'm impressed.

(P.S. One of ‘em broke a shoulder on their big run down that day.)

****************
January 3, 2015
* Perhaps the following story will help readers understand how ponderously commonsense and reason work in a democracy. I wrote the following column twenty-three years ago about Montana's policy toward road-killed deer:

ROAD-KILL POLICY STINKS

7:00am - Climbed from bed.  Still dark.  Accepted cup of coffee gratefully. "A truck must have hit a deer in front of our house," Jane said. "I heard his brakes, then a thud."

8:30am - Jane headed for work, then returned to say, "There's a buck laying in the ditch near our driveway. I'm afraid Tess (her Brittany spaniel) will find it."

"Okay, honey. I'll call Marc (our son) and get him to help me load it so I can haul it to a dumpster."

9:30am - Still hadn't called Marc. Happened to look out window as a man walks toward our house from where I presumed buck to be. Opened the door. Man said, "There's a deer out in your ditch that looks as though he'd just been hit and, well, I never got a deer this year. I wonder, can I take it?"

"Search me. But if you want, I'll help load it in your rig."

"Maybe I'd better call Fish & Game," he muttered. I dialed F&G number for him, then handed the guy my phone. When he hung up he said it was no go. Said he was told he'd be in violation of the law if he took a road-killed deer. He was also told the deer had been reported and someone was already on their way to get it. "Gee," the man said, "it's a nice 5-point, too."

9:40am - Man left.

9:45am - I wandered out to look at the 5-point. Its head had been severed from the neck. The head was gone.

10:00am - Deer still laying in ditch. I drove to town on business. Roads icy and treacherous. Two more fresh-killed deer lay in ditches within two miles of our
home.

11:30am - Returned home. Neighborhood dog chewed on one fresh-killed carcass near Little League ball field. Carcass of buck still in ditch near our driveway.

1:30pm - Called Fish & Game. Asked where person was who was supposed to salvage meat. They wondered themselves. Questioned them about policy. They said it was illegal for anyone to pick up road-kills without permission. Said the only ones to whom they gave permission was charitable institutions.  Said two people had called their office wanting to know if they could pick up buck. Said I'd be in violation of the law if I hauled buck carcass to dumpster.

4:30pm - Jane returned home; upset because buck carcass still in ditch after I'd promised to dispose of it.

4:35pm - Began making additional telephone calls trying to trace why perfectly good deer meat was allowed to go to waste when people wanted to utilize it. Unable to follow chain from agency to proper people from charitable institution contacted by Fish & Game. Asked for copy of law.

8:00pm - Was given considerable pertinent information, including copies of law. Buck carcass still in ditch.

7:00am (following day) - Buck carcass still in ditch. Read through info packet thoroughly. Do not believe law that was written to discourage poaching necessarily applies to road-killed deer. 

10:00am - Hauled buck to dumpster in violation of law.

Am convinced Montana policy—as does road-killed deer themselves—stinks.

* I'm pleased to report that twenty-two years later--in 2014--my state adopted a more enlightened Pennsylvania-style policy toward citizen consumption of road-killed deer. The near-speed of light that such commonsensical shift was inacted will forever stand as the yardstick for democracy in action for other governmental units elsewhere.
******************
December 27, 2014

TOP BILLING FOR '15

Wildlife will continue top billing in Treasure State news stories, with grizzly bears maintaining the lead by a rout. While I'm predicting no mountain huckleberry failure in '15, the great bears will continue to polish a taste for carelessly handled garbage, dog food, and birdfeeder suet amid Glacier's and Yellowstone's rapidly growing perimeter suburbia.

Though Ursus arctos horribilis is capable of turning most of we sapiens into sniveling wrecks during individual encounters, the bears have no defense against the immigrant who seeks his own private piece of heaven snuggling hard against a wilderness. First there's terror to find a grizzly wandering beneath his security light, then anger when the bear fails to fit the Disney mold. 

Simply said, we're heading for a train wreck. But there'll be no wreck in '15—only a few bumps along the way.

A second item high on the list of '15 news topics will be increased population growth. Coping with the strain of exploding demand for services (schools, roads, police protection, health care, welfare) will strain every affected local and county government. Clashes will continue to occur between citizens resisting encroachment on their way of life and government trying desperately to get a handle on problems before derailment.

But alas, no solutions will develop during the coming year; only talk.

Montana will continue to accelerate in the plans of high rollers with a vision about the West the way they'd like it to be. Isolated holdings of movie stars and internet tycoons will eventually merge one with another into ostentatious Beverly Hills or Scarsdale islands off limits for all but the elite. However, 2015 will prove only to move the inexorable a little of the way to the inevitable.

Tourism will continue an upward trend in the Treasure State, with more and more people seeking out portions that are less well known. Yellowstone and Glacier will, as always, receive tourists. The amazing thing is those people will at last actually become resigned to hearing of problem bears and experiencing highway construction that seems to go forever.

Taxes will rise. Do not believe otherwise. There may be a slight reduction accompanied by much political hoopla and media Fanfare on one isolated front while the knife is shoved to the hilt from another side. It's ironic some of that taxation may be hidden by loss through legislative weakening of environmental laws for which the next generation must pick up the tab. The most virulent form of that type of taxation may come via turning over the public's land for sale to the highest bidder.

On the other hand, the sun will come up, the moon will grow full. Chinooks will blow-dry the prairies and snow will blanket the uglies with silken white. Grass will green come spring and corn will grow in summer. Frost will kiss pumpkins and leaves will fall come autumn. Bucks will spar one with another and bulls will bugle and ducks will fly south before winter falls anew.

Compared to the really important stuff, anyone's predictions of woe somehow seems trite.

Actually, I'm predicting that 2015 is going to be my 80th great year!

******************
December 20, 2014

INCREDIBLE PERSONA

Like me, the guy grows long in the tooth and he's a tad on the pudgy side. He peers nearsightedly over the tops of his glasses and his cheeks are perpetually flushed by spending large amounts of time outdoors in all kinds of weather. Unlike me, the guy has hair—lots of hair. But like my little, his lot is white.

He laughs often and smiles a bunch and if you ran a popularity contest, he'd win hands down in any land on earth—with the possible exception of Bashar’s Syria, or maybe the ayatollahs' Iran.

But the queer thing about this bird is his popularity is based on no known public relations script. He employs no Madison Avenue advertising agency, no political advisors, no Gallup or Yankelovitch polling service. Yet his popularity consistently exceeds that of Pope or politician and Beavis and Butthead combined.

He has, of course, a hammerlock on the media. Word of him builds steadily to a crescendo, always reached in each year's waning days. He's celebrated in song and verse; stories are written about him; his profile is favorably and often visited by artists of all stripes. Yet he wears atrocious clothing that is gaudily colored to attract attention. His public appearances are pompous and dictatorial.

Refreshingly, the guy eschews corporate giants or politicians with influence to treat with the commonest of commoners who stand in line, sometimes for hours, to sit on his knee and spill their woes. Wisely this man with no talent for diplomacy slants his appeal to the young, assuring a consistent cadre of support into perpetuity.     

Still, his popularity cannot be well understood for he keeps his tradesmen in bondage and uses animals harshly and without relief.

He, himself, works but one evening per year. And while it cannot be argued that the guy in the red suit works like a Trojan when he works, one cannot but wonder how Santa Claus supports the missus and himself during the rest of the year? Is he on public dole?

Certainly there must be a horde of creditors after the guy. I mean, the heating bill along for a tawdry shack in northern climes would break J.P. Morgan ... before taxes.

Think for a moment the cost of mail delivery to the rest of us taxpayers. Gearing up for hauling tons of mail to the frozen North must cost the U.S. Postal Service an arm and a leg—our arm and leg. Without mail delivery to the North Pole, we could probably return to the 3-cent stamp. Or at least the 29-cent stamp.

What prompts this tirade?

The best reason:  I recently passed through a shopping mall on my way to an ice cream stand.  While entering I was accosted by bell ringing, red-suited Santas exhibiting forced smiles.  To top that, I had to fight my way through more tinsel-draped trees than abounds in a snow-laden spruce forest. What's worse is the line I thought led to the ice cream counter, wound to the knee of a union-suited, white-haired and long bearded fat old guy who exhibited a cheer he could in no way realistically possess. 

I know this because all his charm melted like a July snowbank when I reached the head of the line and took my place.

"Does this mean I won't get my Zeiss 10X50's again this year?" I asked.

****************
December 13, 2014

A CHRISTMAS TO REMEMBER

"Dear Mr. Roland Cheek. Hi, my name is Trevor Alton. I'm 11 years old and live in Montana City. I love to go camping and hiking. We don't get the paper so it was by accident I saw your column. I would like to learn more about how to 'survive' in the 'wild'. I was wondering if you could please write back and tell me some things I should know. This is of course if it is convenient for you."

Here are some excerpts from my letter to Trevor:

"... I've been caught in a driving downpour without raingear, lost a mitton during a blizzard; even been stupid enough to find myself without matches—or without dry matches. But if one perseveres and is smart enough to learn from his mistakes, then he’ll acquire the kinds of skills that makes him a survivor on any kinds of lands and in any kind of weather. I know no shortcuts to learning these things."

I told Trevor it was my good fortune to have several older mentors who were hard teachers:
 
"Some of that teaching included making fun of me when I did something stupid. But I learned to laugh along with them and their criticism served to insure the same error was not repeated."

And I told Trevor much can be learned by reading:

"I cannot emphasize how much you can learn of the outdoors through books and magazines and newspaper articles—by the simple act of reading. Nothing—repeat—nothing is as important in later life than is reading today. There's an old adage that goes: 'The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who does not read.’ And I used Lewis and Clark, Jedediah Smith, Bill Sublette, John Fremont and John Wesley Powell as examples of explorers and mountain men who rose to fame and fortune because they could read.

I told Trevor he could find tips on camping, fire building, map and compass reading, and an entire raft of other outdoor skills in his local library. And I told him he could find those books written for a youth level he could easily understand.

But above all, I told Trevor he needs to practice, practice, practice on his own, in his own back yard or hiking a trail near home. "It means getting wet and cold and thirsty and hungry. And it doesn't mean running home every time you are uncomfortable.

"If you do it right and do it often, you'll develop such a love for the outdoors that your week won't be complete unless you are out amid the fields and forests, watching leaves turn color in the fall or grass greening in the spring.  You'll learn the best dry flies to use for cutthroat trout on a summer evening and learn how to stay sheltered from biting wind in winter. You'll learn to appreciate nature and respect wildlife of all kinds, from beetles to buffalo, eels to elk, deer to deer mice.

So parents ... here are some Christmas ideas for the youth in your home: a good daypack with pockets on the side for storing necessary stuff like a compass and water bottle;  sturdy hiking shoes; a folding knife with leather carrying case to fit on a belt; a decent set of raingear; a lightweight down or Dacron-filled sleeping bag and/or sleeping pad.

But there is nothing you can do that will pay greater dividends for your child than to set aside time to take him or her hiking or camping or fishing of hunting.

That's when Christmas comes over and over again, all times of the year!

Dance On the Wild Side is the story of my own lifetime of outdoors adventure, from first learning to fish from an older brother until becoming an outfitter / guide in Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness. To learn more, click: http://www.rolandcheek.com/Dance_Wild.html

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December 6, 1014

THE BLACKFEET FOREST

What do you know about the Blackfeet Forest?

Nothing?

According to a 1964 book, "The Flathead Story," written and compiled by long time Spotted Bear District Ranger, the late Charlie Shaw, and assisted by dispatcher R. D. Rogers, the Blackfeet Forest Reserve existed from 1908 until 1933. It's boundaries extended from Rexford (on today's Koocanusa Reservoir) to the prairies east of what is now Glacier National Park and south to the Great Northern Railroad and the Flathead Indian Reserve.

Actually, the Blackfeet Forest was carved, according to Shaw's book, out of what had been the Lewis and Clark Forest Reserve that spread across much of northern and western Montana mountain country.

The Flathead National Forest also developed from the break up of the Lewis and Clark Forest. The Flathead Forest of 1908 included the land south from the Great Northern Railway to the divide separating the Flathead and Swan Rivers from the Blackfoot River and was bounded on the east by the Continental Divide and the west
by the Flathead Valley.

Legislation creating Glacier National Park was signed into law May 11, 1910 by President Howard Taft and came almost entirely from the Blackfeet Forest Reserve.  "As a result of this reduction in area," so goes Shaw's book, "and because of improved transportation, the Blackfeet Forest Reserve was divided between the Flathead and Kootenai Forests in 1933.

Shaw's book, commissioned by the Supervisor and staff of the Flathead National Forest, is a positive wealth of information, much of it applicable to National Forests elsewhere.  Shaw wrote: "The first National Forests were created by Presidential proclamations. At that time little was known of this vast, forested area. The West had not been mapped. No one had more than a general knowledge of the West's large wilderness areas."

In another place, Shaw said: "In 1898 Forest Service Rangers roamed the mountainous terrain ... at a salary of $60 per month. They had to supply their own horses, bedrolls, and subsistence out of this pay."

Times have changed ... but perhaps not as much as one would think. Shaw wrote: "The first major timber sale on National Forest land was in 1913. Somers Lumber Company purchased a large block of timber near the head of Swan Lake. This sale created radical changes in local logging methods, camp accommodations, and equipment. Railroad logging equipment was barged across Flathead Lake from Somers, hauled overland to the foot of Swan Lake, and barged across the lake to the sale area. Nearly 90 million board feet of timber was cut in this sale. Horses and oxen were used to skid logs before this railroad equipment was brought in."

That Lost Creek timber sale was the largest single Flathead Forest sale—ever!

"The Flathead Story" went out of print for some time. But with considerable public interest, the agency has recently reprinted.

It’s great history.

* Another work of historical significance is my tale of "Chocolate Legs," an entire book about a single Glacier Park grizzly bear who made national wire services and the pages of the New York Times.

Chocolate Legs cover

Available through my website bookstore: Click Here
Or wherever books are sold.
*********************
November 29, 2014

STOPPING A GRIZZLY

Here's a Christmas gift idea for the outdoors person in your life: a can of bear deterrent pepper spray. There can no longer be any question:  bear spray, used properly can, and most often will, drive an aggressive bear away.

What does "used properly" mean?

Like all aerosols, the spray works best when the can is held in the upright position while in use. Whether such geometric nicety is always achievable while being batted around by a grizzly bear may require additional analysis. 

Elemental, of course, is that one must use the spray only while the bear is near enough to be affected. This means mere feet instead of football fields away. 

Also there must be no wind. Or it must be blowing to the bear; although if a nasty grizzly is in full charge, making any sort of cool appraisal of wind direction seems hollow advice to me.

Don't panic, as did the lady who heard something snuffling around her camp during the night and emptied her can of Counter Assault inside the tent! Posterity has not preserved whether the bear was frightened away. But there's reliable evidence it was some time before the lady cared one way or the other.

What sort of information is out that pepper spray works?

The best: actual encounters. Here are a few excerpts from incidents reported in Glacier Park:
            "1986 (Grizzly)  Self Defense.  Began spraying at 18 ft. Bear cont. to 10 ft.  Sow appeared to attempt to avoid spray & circle to right. Aimed at her for a "crucial couple of seconds" before can emptied. Bear woofed a couple of times. All bears disappeared.
            "1993 (Grizzly)  Self Defense. A charge deferred by spray. Sprayed direct hit on face & head. It retreated.
            "1993 (Grizzly)  Self Defense. Charge. Sprayed by person other than injury victim. Bear retreated & not seen again.
            "1994 (Grizzly)  Self Defense. Person turned & ran. Did not note bear's response.
            "1995 (Grizzly)  Self Defense. Sprayed directly into bear's face at 3 ft. range, while bear attacking another person. Emptied whole can. Bear's face had wet appearance. Bear was growling. It stopped mauling & ran away."

Perhaps the very best recommendation for carrying deterrent spray while traveling through bear country came at a meeting I attended. There, bear research biologists who actually do the work of trapping and handling bears in the field discussed the efficacy of deterrents. When polled, every one of those working experts said they carry a can of bear spray for their own personal protection.

Most folks who've spent entire lifetimes amid bear country now consider bear spray as a safer tool to dissuade an aggressive grizzly than a .44 magnum. Stopping a charging grizzly with a firearm requires a well-placed bullet. That's a result most often achieved by a calm person trained in weapons handling. Stopping that same animal with bear spray may require nothing more than simply putting out a cone of spray the bear will run into.
 
If experts put their faith in spray, why shouldn't we?

Much of the information in this blog is also contained in my best selling book "Learning To Talk Bear" which would also make a fine Christmas gift for the outdoor person in your life. Available through my website bookstore: Click here -------- or wherever books are sold.

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November 22, 2014

IF IT CAN BE CONFUSED … IT WILL

As with most stories told in and about hunting camps, this one is not so much about hunting as it is about people who hunt....

The North Carolinians were fixtures in my hunting camp for a dozen years. In all, we served over thirty of those folks from a single Smokey Mountain Valley. One individual, Robert West, made a decade of annual odysseys to the Bob Marshall Wilderness in search of the wily wapiti.

Those Tar Heels were a jovial bunch, not in the least awed by our Rocky Mountains or their dour outfitter, appreciating good food, beautiful vistas, and ribald camaraderie of their fellows in adventure.

Obviously friendships were struck and strengthened over those years, both among the North Carolinians and with their guides and outfitter. My wife Jane and I have visited more than once in their Smokey Mountain homes and been visited, in turn, by many of them.

It was in a hunting camp in 1981 the following incident occurred:

I'd just hung a lantern in the big tent, enjoying my role as the heavy-handed drill sergeant rousing the troops from slumber. "C'mon, you lazy lay-a-beds. Elk are bugling in the meadow."

I dodged a boot and departed chuckling, pausing outside the tent to listen for familiar sounds of movement; hunters and guides awakening. It was late during their hunt and experience told a discerning outfitter that tired hunters are slower to get under way later during their once-each-year adventure.

Long time hunting companion and part time guide, Ken Ausk, though usually slow to awaken, was one of the first from his sleeping bag. But he'd misplaced his glasses.  "Where in the hell ..."

The man in the next bag asked, "What's wrong, Ausk?"

"Ahh, here they are. It's okay, Robert. I lost my glasses. But I've got 'em now."

Robert settled back into his bag. So nice and warm. Cold in this tent. Robert blew a cloud of breath and pulled the sleeping bag around his ears. "Roland!" he shouted. "How cold is it, anyway?"

I thrust my head through the tent flaps. "Twenty-two."

"You all a-goin' to make me get out there when it's this cold?"

"I grinned. "Come on, Robert. There's frost on the pumpkin and bulls on the mountain.

"That's what you said yesterday, but we didn't find any."

Ken, meanwhile, searched in his duffel for a clean pair of socks. Robert rolled over in his bag to watch. "Now what are you doin', Ken?"

"Looking for clean socks." Ken was running on remote, as he generally does until after downing his first cup of coffee.

Robert rolled back to stare up at tent canvas, thoughts turning to his charming and attractive wife. "Boy, I wish't I was home in North Carolina right now. You know that, Ken?"

"Uh-huh, Robert."

"If'n I was home, I'd be in bed with Donna right now. You know that, Ken?" Subconsciously, others listened as they stirred, in various stages of dress.

"Uh-huh," my guide murmured.

"It'd be great to be home in bed with Donna, wouldn't it Ken?"

Ken, still searching for clean socks and running on half-asleep-remote, muttered, "I don't know, Robert. I never been in bed with Donna."

The tent erupted.

*********************
November 15, 2014

LOST HUNTERS

"Hey guys!  You're early."

The first hunter swung from the saddle, jerked his rifle from its scabbard and brushed past, leaving his horse standing untied at the hitchrail. The second, slower, tied his horse, then reached for his saddlebags. I slipped his rifle from its scabbard and handed it to him. "How'd it go, Jim? See anything?"

He sighed, leaned against his horse. Two days of gray stubble sprouted on his face and the man's cheek appeared to have been swiped with a sooty hand. "Don't be too hard on him, Roland," he muttered. "He tried."

"Huh?"

But Jim, too, pushed wearily past, heading for the tents. I stared after the guy shaking my head in dismay, then turned to help the guide with his packhorse.  "What's going on, Ed?"

The guide jerked a sling rope loose, then paused with one end in his hand. It occurred to me that his patented grin failed to crack his angular Scandinavian face. "I lost my hunters."

I chuckled at the joke. 

"No, I'm serious. I lost them. They spent all last night lost in the middle of the Bob Marshall Wilderness." I stared at Ed. So that's why their bedraggled look; that's why Jim and Al were brusque.

I'd sent the two hunters and their guide to a spike camp near the headwaters of the Spotted Bear River. They were supposed to overnight there, and return. The reason they'd returned earlier than expected was simple—they'd done little hunting. 
 
"Yesterday I dropped them off at the head of the third basin past Bungalow," Ed said, "and told them to work around the hill into the next basin. Way I figured, they could get in a little hunting while I set up our tent and took care of the horses. Then I planned for us to drop down the other side of the ridge and do some bugling near dusk. But they never showed at camp. Apparently they'd worked too far down and took a wrong creek fork."

"So then what did you do?"

An embarrassed grin flitted across the young man's face. "Almost panicked. After it got dark, I took a lantern and a bunch of food and climbed up to the trail to look for them. We made rifle contact and I finally spotted their fire down in Christopher. But I was on top of a cliff and they were a thousand feet below. I got close enough where we could holler back and forth. Roland, they told me not to try scaling down that cliff in the dark. Said they'd be all right until morning. But until we made contact, boy was I scared."

"I imagine."

Later, after taking a bath and wolfing down a hot meal, Al and Jim joked of their ordeal. "All we had to eat for supper was two lifesavers in my coat pocket," Jim said. "I asked Al if he wanted red or yellow?"

"I said I'd like the yellow," Al broke in. "A sumptuous repast, indeed."

During my 21 years of outfitting and guiding amid one of America's wildest lands there'd been a fright or two. But Jim and Al were the only hunters we'd really lost—and I didn't even know about it until after the fright was over.

* My books about elk hunting, and one about my years as a Bob Marshall Wilderness outfitter can be found on Amazon, both in print and as e-books. My coffeetable book about the Bob Marshall can be purchased through my website: www.rolandcheek.com/bob marshall.html

BobMarshall bookcover

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November 8, 2014

MORE TO EDUCATION THAN SCHOOL

I've never quite forgiven my son's high school P.E. teacher for giving Marc a failing grade because I took the boy from school for a week's pack-in elk hunt into the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

It wasn't that the kid didn't try. Others of his teachers gave him make-up assignments to complete before he left. A math teacher told the lad he'd learn much more from his father on a wilderness hunt than he could possibly learn from a week in school. His science teacher even asked Marc if he could tag along?

But not the P.E. teacher. Nope. He asked how the boy could expect him to assign make-up work for physical education classes? (As if the lad wouldn't get adequate exercise clambering up 8,000-foot mountains.) 

The threat, of course, did not deter Marc and certainly not his father. Frankly, I didn't think the coach would dare deliver a failing grade for such an idiotic reason. But he did. And when my son brought the report card home, I wanted to make an issue of the reason for his failing grade in P.E. School board, administration--shucks I would've gone to Helena to see the governor. 

But the boy's mother restrained me. As she wisely pointed out, Marc wasn't going to make the honor roll in any event, and he was doing well enough to pass despite the coach.

One particular irony, however, was up until that point Marc had missed but four days through nine years of school. The coach's own athlete-sons missed much more time than that during each year's school sports schedule.

Despite the setback, my son accompanied me on hunting trips in subsequent years without any noticeable detrimental effects, despite prophecies of doom from what I figured apparently was a coach with advanced anti-hunting proclivities. 

Marc is 50-years-old now, served in the U.S. Army with distinction, holds a construction superintendent’s job on a 40-million-dollar mansion remodel in the quaint little town of Denver and is what I believe to be a credit to society and his parents, though not to his lousy-spirited former coach. That guy retired some years back and I shed no tears.

What's the point in all this?

Take your son or daughter hunting if he or she wants to go. Pay no attention to school system teachers or administrators who wish to loot the opportunity for you to share family values with your children. Makes no difference whether hunting, fishing, or visiting metropolitan opera; whether it’s Sea World or Seahawks; whether visiting far-off farm or nearby factory--your children need the opportunity to share with you. And losing a week of school is a pittance to pay for that necessary element in your child's education.

However, like all good things, it must be exercised in moderation. I do subscribe to the argument that one cannot miss too much school and garner an adequate education. 

What brought this subject to mind? 

My thoughts, for some reason, turned to a time when I came out of the wilderness with a group from southern Illinois. Two of the fathers took their boys out of school in order to share with them a special father/son relationship in the wilds of far-off Montana. Were those kids psyches scarred by the once-in-a-lifetime experience with dad?

Next question, please.

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November 1, 2014

PARANOIA BEHIND GATES

She was a tiny 65-year-old lady, standing but four feet, ten and weighing less than 90 pounds. A grandmother. Widowed. Light as a feather. Our horses loved to see Margaret "Mike" Wagner's return for each of her several summer horseback adventures into the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

"Mike" lived in a gated community near Rolling Hills Estates, on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, south of Los Angeles. At the time we visited the lady in her California home, it was the first gated community Jane and I had ever even seen. Since then we've visited another, at Manursing Island, near Rye, just north of New York City.

We found entry into these exclusive gated communities somewhat different from your run-of-the-mill neighborly visits. First came the guard gate—something akin to bumping up against a security checkpoint at White Sands during development of the A-Bomb. 

At the gate, we were required to state our business, give our name and address and the name of the person we planned to visit. That information was checked against a roster posted by those community inmates expecting visitors. Then, after taking our vehicle's license number and, we supposed, several surveillance camera shots of its occupants, we were permitted through.

It's a different way of dwelling, hiding behind locked gates. We decided, Jane and I, that people who live in such places must have more to lose than folks who dwell in more modest bungalows located across that part of the American landscape I cherish most. But alas, even our place is changing, as Jane and I discovered when we drove from the north to one of the Treasure State's largest communities and found a huge rambling subdivision going up—all of it behind guarded gates.

That means exclusive gated communities have come to Montana. In a land where once upon a time people never bothered to buy bolts for their doors, now they're barricading themselves behind locked gates to their entire estates.  One wonders why? 

Not being a qualified analyst, I can only guess at the paranoia of inhabitants of gated communities. What are they hiding? Or hiding from? Or from whom?  Is it that they're afraid for their accumulated possessions? Or are they afraid of mayhem? If so, how can they presume their neighbors behind those locked gates are trustworthy?

I'm reminded of the campground in Glacier National Park that was chain-link-fenced to guard occupants from rogue grizzly bears. Then someone asked what happens if the last person to enter the campground at night failed to close the gate? Wouldn't the rest be trapped? In a campground with a rogue grizzly bear contemplating smorgasbord choices for dinner? (The fence came down.)

Or perhaps people hiding in gated communities fear contamination from we of the great unwashed? Germs know no boundaries, however, and unless inhabitants do all their shopping on E-Bay they still must rub up against the proletariat. And even if they use the internet exclusively, who's to say the deliveryman isn't a card-carrying germ spreader?

I'm concerned for those delusional folks who commit themselves to gated enclaves. 

In effect, their gates institutionalize them.

***********************
October 25, 2014

SANTA COMES MORE THAN ONCE EACH YEAR

The land seemed devoid of elk. We'd hunted all week, hiking and riding hard and far, searching for sign of the wily wapiti. A single track here, an old rub there—nothing to write home about. Certainly nothing to put a serious hunter on red-alert.

Finally, I led one of my guests between two towering peaks, into a high, narrow basin. I'd been into the area only a couple of times previously and knew it a bad place to visit. What made it unusually bad was the difficult access, climbing up a goat trail and over a cliff to reach a narrow ravine leading to the basin.

It would be crazy to even try to get a packhorse up those cliffs and into that basin. If a hunter actually got lucky in that place, that meant I would be exceedingly unlucky—as anyone who ever backpacked a bull elk out of impossible terrain knows.

But the hunter was eager and willing, pleasant and engaging. And I felt so rotten that we were unable to produce anything but scenery and cuisine that I determined to take this last roll of uncertain dice. Besides, the day was bluebird, the place was beautiful, and the ordeal of getting there sufficiently exhausting that, at the very least, my guy wouldn't think his guide a slacker.

It took two hours from where we tied our horses to clamber, using the buddy system, up and over the cliffs. At the top, we rested while sprawled on our backs watching golden eagles ride the thermals above. Then I picked up my hand-axe and pushed to my feet. The hunter sighed, clambered up, and shouldered his rifle. We'd not gone a dozen steps before we encountered our first elk tracks. 

"My God!" I whispered. "They were made this morning."

My hunter scanned the slopes above our narrow ravine. The canyon bottom itself was filled with fir and spruce saplings of mid-growth, perhaps thirty feet tall. From this narrow ribbon of trees, the forest sparsed into beargrass and bunchgrass and finally, to talus on the steep mountainsides, either side. One could see at a glance that nothing moved in the open.

But why would it? The time was already ten o'clock and most creatures would be lying up by now.  Elk were here, however, and we were here and, while the wind was still in our face--the cooler, heavier air sinking down canyon--we'd better move along. Soon, it would start its afternoon rise to blow from us toward where we aimed.

I put the hunter ahead and told him to pick his best way along the canyon, being ready any instant to get his chance of a lifetime. Meanwhile, I followed noiselessly a couple of steps behind. Recalling the lay of this land, I knew it would soon open until we could see the broad open basin in its entirely. We were certain to jump elk. Certain to see them. Certain to get a good shot. My thoughts filled with the agonizing two-day backpacking job ahead.

Then my hunter stopped, raised his rifle and fired. A small four-point mule deer buck fell in its tracks across the ravine. 

Up ahead, just beyond view, the mountainside exploded as upwards of thirty head of elk leaped to their feet and crashed away through the scattered trees!

"Uh-oh," said the hunter. 

I put on my most solemn face and uttered a most resigned sigh. "It's okay, Ralph.  The buck will be easy to carry out of here."

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October 18, 2014

SEEING RED

During my 21 years serving as guide and outfitter in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, I wore a red hat. To me the hat was part of my daily attire. The color meant nothing. It was simply a red hunting hat. And after decades of exposure to all kinds of insults and weather, it fit my head to a tee.

Horses stepped on the hat and a packrat once nibbled the edge of its brim while nearby, I slept in exhaustion. A few times the hat was folded and thrust inside shirt or coat, or filled with a rock and left lying on the ground to keep it from blowing from mountaintop to prairie plain. I once spotted its tell-tale red flattened in the driveway to our horse corrals; there were pickup truck tire treads from brim to crown.

When it was soaking wet from rain or falling into a river, red dye trickled in rivulets down my temples and over my cheeks. Snow piled upon the hat several times each year and was just as often brushed off.

Red Hat

Pulled low, the brim shaded the eyes. With that brim turned down and a woolen scarf wrapped over crown and ears and tied beneath my chin, the head stayed warm, even in below zero weather.

That old red Resistol is retired now. The inside band is cracked and gaping in a couple of places and the outside string has slipped up a few millimeters. It is sweat-stained and the crease is long-gone from its crown. 

But it's mine, my trademark. Hell no, Jane, you can't throw it away! Leave it to hang on the hatrack where it belongs. After I'm gone you can do what you will, send it to the Smithsonian maybe. All the foregoing is why I must tell you the following sad tale:

It was a hunting group from Pennsylvania and Ohio. Each of the five had been guests of mine over several years and I thought I liked 'em all. In addition, their guides were three of my outfit's finest and had served for several years. Naturally, everybody was aware of the red hat's prominence and tradition.

We'd mantied their duffel into packs for the horses the evening before we were to kick off a ten-day hunt. And I should've known an ill-wind blew when I saw our five hunters and their three guides leave arm in arm for the bright lights of a nearby town. 

The following morning only one guide (a nice young man with a modicum of religious piety) and no hunters showed up on time for breakfast. "Where are the other guides?" I growled.

"I dunno.  No one else was moving," the lone guide said.

So I stomped to the bunkhouse and said nasty things to and about my young employees, then to the nearby motel where my hunters were lodged before their trip, moving down the hall pounding on doors and saying more naughty things each time a tousled head stuck out.

Faced with my wrath, they mobilized. But before they entered our dining room, they queued. Even Dan and Jane went outside to join them. Puzzled, I was just rising from the breakfast table to see what was going on when they began to troop in—everybody wearing red hats.

All but Dan and Jane were red-eyed and hung-over. But before they'd tied one on they'd bought straw hats then spray painted them red—ostensibly to annoy me (which they did).  Then they celebrated their coming tomorrow's coup on their outfitter.

Jane!  How could you be a party to such blasphemy!

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October 11, 2014
(Continuing my last "Campfire Culture" post about the distorted view some England dwellers have about the efficacy of their trans-oceanic cousins)

DISTORTED VIEW

"Wot can one hexpect from a country wot was settled by religious perverts?"

My friend is a real-live, honest to gosh Cockney, originally from London's East End district, but at the time of our acquaintance, of Calgary, Alberta. He's a likable chap; a world-traveled engineer with global intelligence and a droll sense of humor. Though departed from inner-city London for several decades, the man's cockney inflection becomes more pronounced as excitement rises. It was amid that excitement when I first discerned that Ron Hinchey holds a warped view of American history.

And it was then that I felt obligated to correct him.

The argument began with my asking an innocuous question: "What can you people possibly see in retaining your monarchy?"

Ron's reply was hardly the academic exercise I'd envisioned. He opened his lecture by recounting English royalty's glories, beginning with King Arthur and his Knights of the Roundtable, and ending 1,200 years later with Queen Elizabeth II.

Unfortunately the man gave little consideration to my attempts to tastefully interject questions of the madness of George the Third, or how Henry the Eighth routinely changed queens via first housing each model in the Tower then beheading them. I also mentioned Edward the Eighth's and Wallis Warfield Simpson's love nest, and when I tried to elevate our discussion by bringing up the antics of English royalty's recent crop (Charles and Diana, Margaret, and Fergie) they guy dynamited both conversational tenor and tone with the rather extraordinary statement that we Americans are nothing less than a bunch of ingrates for failing to appreciate that our Mother Country granted us independence.

"Granted?" I squeaked. "Did you say GRANTED?"

"Surely, gov'nor, you don't think you could beats us if we 'adn't already thot you as more trouble than yer were worthl?"

"GRANTED! YOU REALLY THINK YOU GRANTED...!" And that's when Ron Hinchey sniffed his riposte about America being settled by a bunch of relgious perverts.

I was dumfounded. But wanting to cool the fervor of what threatened to be a rancid debate, I began to sing--low key, of course--the first song that came to mind, made famous by Johnny Horton:

"We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin'.

Wasn't quite as many as there was a while ago.

Fired once more and they began to runnin',

Down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico."

Ron Hinchey and I are still friends; our families visit back and forth across the 49th Parallel. Obviously the guy and I agree to disagree over both cause and effect of the American Revolution.

But the debate with Ron caused me to think in depth about our two truly American holidays: the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving, and how America is steeped wtih traditions of both.

When I think of Independence Day I think of a ragtag army without shoes or blankets or adequate shelter camped in snow at Valley Forge. I think of the courage and wisdom of fifty-six men gathereds in Philadelphia at the First Continental Congress in July, 1776, and how they pledged their lives, their all, to the proposition that all men are born free.

No, I don't think of anyone giving we Americans anything. But of us demanding--and seizing--our rights. To somehow distort that view to believe Cornwallis bestowed liberty on the thirteen colonies by handing over his sword to General Washington at Yorktown may rank among the utter zaniest of England's New World errors.

Religious perverts? If fleeing persecution makes one a pervert, then long live my perverted ancestors!

Which leads to this observation: Isn't our Declaration of Independence somehow inseparable from our Thanksgiving?

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October 4, 2014

IN TROUBLE --- AGAIN!

I recently commented on a Facebook video about the good wolves were doing in Yellowstone to help revegetate the park by culling the "deer" population. The deer they pictured was, of course, elk. I mentioned that I'm on the wolves' side, but bemoaned the fact that the Limey narrator erred by calling our elk by the European name "deer".

Gawd, did I get savaged!

My point was not to debate the point that their red deer and our elk are fundamentally the same creatures. After all, that point was quite well exhaused in ch. 9 of my elk book, The Phantom Ghost of Harriet Lou. When I tried to reiterate that, after all, the narrator was talking about the Yankee decision to re-introduce wolves to America in an American National Park to prey on an animal we Americans call "elk", and that if the narrator wanted to affect the outcome, it might've been better if he tried not to alienate American people who would be the decision-makers in whether the experiment went forward or not. That's when the vitriol picked up.

A sample:

"I think if you check, you will learn that, as others have pointed out, "Deer" is a broad biological family (Cervidae) encompassing moose, reindeer, caribou, many types of what Americans call deer (Mule Deer, White Tail Deer, Black Tail Deer, Rusa Deer, etc.), and, yes, ELK (properly called "Wapiti"). This American "Limey" has no problem with people being interested enough to look it up in order to "prove that Limey WRONG, by God," and (well, waddya know?!) learn something more in the process. Unfortunately, that's NOT what happens. The Narrator is pronounced "WRONG!" or, "OK, he's technically correct, but this is 'MURRICA, by gum, and WE'RE the target audience, so DO IT OUR WAY!" Even if we are technically INCORRECT! WE call 'em ELK, so DO IT OUR WAY! And for God's Sake, don't EDUCATE ME! Lordy. Get over yourselves, already, and stop showing your ignorance or trying to justify it. This narrator has a spectacular voice and enthusiastic delivery that nails it."

Well, okay ... I guess.

It must be okay with these people if they "share" this video around to their Facebook friends in the British Isles, but I think I'll forego doing so to my American friends because my American friends won't believe I would associate my name to wolves killing "red deer" in Yellowstone, despite the fact that I wrote a reasonably factual scientific book about the animal misguided Limeys take us to task for calling "elk".

Meanwhile I'll take the heat and ignore any futher attempts to denigrate my ancestry.

Until next week, that is, when I'll want to bring to light some past arguments I've had with my Cockney friend Ron Hinchey, who has a decidedly warped view about the outcome and events surrounding the American Revolution.

* Just in case anyone wants to review what I wrote about the animal we call elk:

The print version

The e-book version

Both available on Amazon

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September 27, 2014

FUNDAMENTAL TRUTHS ABOUT AGING

Here are some truths about the aging process that time has made clear to me:

One:  I'm sometimes asked what the single most important change a person encounters while aging? My answer: learning to live with pain. A good example is that the rotator cuffs on my shoulders went sour from too many years of lifting too many heavy loads on too many horses. Then came a time when pain developed in both knees from too many hikes over too many mountains.

What am I doing for the pain? As a matter of fact, time--time, along with a regular exercise campaign at a local gym, has, after several years, nearly healed my rotator cuff problem. So how about the knees? What knees? My old, wore-out ones are gone, replaced with slick shining ones made out of titanium steel. So, my knees and shoulders still ache a little if I sit home and mope about such an unfair world--so if there's going to be pain anyway, why not forage for adventure while I wait for other body parts to demand a little sympathy? As a matter of fact, Jane and I just came back from Many Glacier, up in Glacier Park, where we watched bears forage and frolic. Pain? Phooey on it!

Two: Learn to shorten my circles. A very wise person once told me, "If a man says he can do as much at sixty as he did at thirty, then that guy didn't do much at thirty."

How true. I once blew out a calf muscle trying to walk a treadmill into retirement. The last time I pulled that stunt was when I was 57. The second time came when I was 67 and still thought I was indestructible. I didn't blow out a muscle 57. At 67 I did. Recently I took another treadmill test. Now I'm past 77. I'm also smarter (I hope). The treadmill is still there ... and so are all my muscles. These days my hikes are shorter, with more rests along the way.

Three: Learn that recovery time is longer than during our youth. When I blew out the muscle in my calf, I wound up flat on my back for three weeks. There've been other problems, too: back, spirit, head, willingness. But I'm recovering sufficiently to still "go" and "do" in a manner resembling the spirit I once had. And now that I've started to pay closer attention to the things my body is telling me, perhaps such decline as is inevitable will be accomplished with grace instead of a precipitate free fall in psychic good humor.

Everyone is born. Everyone will die. Age 28 is generally considered to be—all other things being equal—the point that we hit our physical peak. After 28 we'll begin a steady decline until death. But it's after age 28 when things get a little snakier.

Draw a straight line across the bottom of a paper from one end to the other. At the left end of the line place a dot indicating birth. At the right end, place another dot indicating death. Now go to the top of your page, say a third of the way across, and place a dot indicating the peak of your physical being. Now draw a dotted line from the birth dot to the age 28 dot, then another to the death dot. Your graph pictures your lifetime well-being. It graphically depicts your decline, too, doesn't it?

You can, however, draw yourself a better graph: You can do nothing about birth to peak—it'll happen, trust me. But from peak to death, you can level out that decline through personal fitness, at least until it free-falls just before your end. 

What we're talking about here is quality of life, right? Physical peak is reached at 28, but physical life can be made better during the years thereafter because of lifestyle, zest for adventure, some modest diet changes, and a regular wholesome outdoor exercise routine.

It's not too late for anyone to get with a better program.

* Remembe my newest book, Sapphires At War, is at Amazon's Kindle Store on pre-sale for just $3.99 until Oct. 25. Click on book for the link:

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September 21, 2014

READER ALERT:

Two things -

1. I'll again be a day late with this blog because grizzly bears call.

2. I'll want to share with you all I know about serendipity.

The common street name for serendipty is "luck". I choose to use "serendipity" perhaps because I wish to become "uppity." But other names describing serendipity or luck might be good fortune, blessings, godsend, prosperity, success, triumph, ad infinitum ...

Enough! You get the drift, don't you? Let me explain:

When I finished writing my latest book and finally, after a long search, selected its title: Sapphires At War, I could at long last search for the very best cover designer available (I finally fired ME as a possible choice after being less than enamored with my last several attempts). So I pulled out all stops in that search, finally winnowing down and corresponding with an obvious professional from Australia who said all the right things, except her inability to assure me that she could meet my goals of a suitable cover to permit us to market to Christmas sales.

So I gravitated to Minnesota where I thought I'd found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Only thing is, that one fell through the cracks when I made it clear there were several criterions that I wanted in a cover for this book.

So, back on square one, I once more began a search. Then Jane (wife, partner, bottle-washer, chef, lover) popped into an office in our hometown of Columbia Falls, Montana to ask a relatively new business called "Outside Media" if they might do a bookcover for her husband. They said they'd be delighted!

When I dropped in to talk to them the next day, I asked Hilary Hutcheson if Outside Media had ever done a cover for a book?

Well, no. But they've had several magazine covers and she thought they could do it. Then she asked what my vision of a cover might be? And right then--together--we collaborated on drafting some ideas.

Hilary is co-owner of the company with her husband Shane, and its PR director. Besides being attractive, what made her even more winsome in my eyes (and ears) is that she's a Columbia Falls High School and a University of Montana graduate, that she listened to me on the radio before school each day, and that she'd read my book Chocolate Legs and loved it. Then co-owner/husband Shane chanced through her office and told me he thought my elk book was one of the best he'd ever read.

Outside Media also produces an outdoor flyfishing television show called Trout TV that stars Hilary as one of its top fishing consultants. And they're big into winter sports stuff.

Hilary also introduced me to Collin Hamman, who was (and is) their premier computer image designer.

Altogether, Outside Media--in my very own hometown--who're staffed with young and eager talent--who love the kinds of outdoor things that I've lusted after for 70 years--who're every single individual, responsive and committed to quality--is exactly what I needed; what do you think? Is that serendipity, or what?

Oh yeah, here's the kind of work they do:

SapphiresWarCover

I'm offering this story as an e-book "pre-sale" in Amazon's Kindle Store at $2.00 off its regular $5.99 price until October 25, when the book will officially launch. Click Here for the book on Kindle.

What I really want you to do, though, is tell me whether this is a serendipitous tale, or one of mere luck?
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September 13, 2014

THE GREATEST SOUND IN NATURE

Though it was unsigned, the letter was typewritten, all in caps. It was postmarked 9 Dec. 1996. Apparently the letter was in response to one of my columns where I'd shared a wistful dream with my readers that someday I'd hear a wolf howl. The letter said, in part:

"In reading your usual enviro-whacko drivel it makes one wonder why, if all you people want is to hear a wolf howl, you don't just cross the border? Columbia Falls is just a short way from the border and we promise not to miss you if you decide to stay...."

Many years have passed since that letter. I've since heard wolves howl. Not only have I heard them howl, I’ve watched 'em in the act. The sound is indeed mesmerizing, but far more ranging than I’d been led to believe. In fact my friend Lacy Sayre recorded those wolves on the move as we watched and thrilled to their vocals and actions. You can hear them, too, by clicking:

www.rolandcheek.com/AV%20stuff/wolftone.mp3

The first (louder) sound you hear will be my friend howling to get them tuning up. After that it’s all wolf-speak. And it’s all thrilling! But, then, I'm the kind of guy who pauses to listen to a coyote pup tuning up for a next-year's “yip-dog”-athon.

God created many resonant virtuosos amid nature. The hollow, mocking cackle of a lonesome loon comes immediately to mind. Having once heard—at a distance—the tuba-challenge of a bull moose, I can imagine the hair-standing-on-end swamp booming of a bull alligator.

Have you heard a screech owl? It's the cat-clawing-a-blackboard thing that'll bring you out of your sleeping bag between heart thumps. A cougar's scream is, I'm told, attention getting, to say the least. But so is the John Deere start-up of drumming spruce grouse. And who could not lean against a fence post and listen to wave after wave of migrating honkers in the spring?

But wolves, coyotes, loons, moose, gators, owls, cougars, grouse, and honkers be damned—nothing, not one nor the other—can hold a candle to the sonorous, deep-toned, mountaintop-to-mountaintop reverberations of bugling bull elk.

Stick a regal bull elk on a forested mountainside in September, give him a frosty morning where the fog drifts from bogs and seeps and little clouds of vapor puff from his majesty's nostrils, let the fever of the onrushing rut overtake him. Strain to listen as he tunes up first with occasional querulous yelps; then thrill as the feeling he feels when he is about to feel a feeling takes grip through whistling intakes that surely carry to downtown Chicago. And finally, as he descends into the full fury of passion and anger and chest-thumping dynamism that commands full-throated repertoires of whistles, grunts, threats, fever, rage, frenzy, delirium, and finally, tapering off to exhaustion, you'll know you've been treated to the greatest sound in nature.

The tremendous, tremulous-rending exhibition you've been exposed to—provided you've been within earshot for the full two hours from development to conclusion—will leave you weak with wonder, forever grateful for God's great gifts. 

And if there chance to be a second bull on a cross-canyon mountainside who takes up the challenge and replies in kind, then, as God is my witness, you can expect to compound the extravaganza by a ratio of times three.

One need not be a hunter to thrill to bugling bull elk. It's my idea of the greatest sound in nature (excepting no sound at all, of course). Period.

What's yours?

Same book, different cover: Phantom Ghost in print, Learn Elk as e-book. Both available at Amazon. Or you can purchase a print copy from my website bookstore:

http://www.rolandcheek.com/bookstore.html

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September 6, 2014

THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT!

Rock House NV

Okay, so I'm a day late in posting this current "Campfire Culture" blog. But there's good reason--like the ranch house pictured above. We call it the "Rock House" and I'll confess that neither Jane nor I know what our friend (the owner) calls it. But out of his overt generosity, our friend Don Crail has invited us to visit this most special, most beautiful place for 19 of the last 20 years.

We visit the Rock House in order to sit here . . .

red bench

. . . and contemplate our navels.

Sometimes, like for the last two days, we can contemplate our navels for several hours, occasionally even during the wee hours of the night.

Jane and I have watched grizzly bears and black bears from this red bench. It overlooks the Lubec Hills to the south and the mountains in Glacier Park to the north. The only drawback with this red bench is the long walk from the Rock House, where one might refresh his evening cocktail . . . as you can see from the following picture:

Rock House south view

The Rock House and its red bench is central to lots of my publishing history. It's where we made the decision for the bookcover and title for what became our best selling book, "Learning To Talk Bear":

Learning To Talk Bear cover

(Available in our website bookstore, or on Amazon)

It's where we made the final decision to combine a number of my former magazine pieces into my book about elk, and it's where we sat when we made the decision that I needed to publish a book each year.

There's a great deal of history for us in this special place, where we go to get my head screwed on straight. It's where we go to blow dust from our ears, garbage from our guts, and distress from an unfair world.

(the three Rock House and red bench photos by Bill Lepper)

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August 29, 2014

WHAT AGE ARE KIDS SUITABLE FOR PACKTRIPS?

Talk about a doting grandma! A lady who'd once been a guest of ours on a trip into the Bob Marshall Wilderness called to ask what age we'd recommend a child must be before we'd take them on an extended packtrip?

"I know you and Jane aren't guiding any more," she said, "but perhaps you'll give us the benefit of your advice."

"How old are your grandchildren?" Jane asked.

"Two and four."

Jane, of course, was as astonished as I when she shared the grandma's question. Jane told her that our bottom line was six years of age for girls accompanying their parents, and eight for boys, the lady seemed dismayed. "Why?" she asked.

Jane explained to her that we found girls seemed to love horses and riding at an earlier age than boys. "But on a float trip down a river, our age formula was reversed: boys like water and fishing and getting wet better than girls."

Grandma seemed to mull the info around for a period, then said, "You know, Roland should put this information in one of his newspaper columns—it's something a lot of people would like to know."

When Jane told her she was sure I had already done so, the lady asked, "When?" Jane told her she didn't know, but she thought it was some years back. Grandma said, "That's the kind of information that should be periodically repeated.

She's right, of course. Certain fundamental advisories about critical subjects bear repeating. Perhaps I forget that not every person reads each of my columns week in, week out. Then there are new readers who came on stream after a column on a particular subject ran.

The challenge for a columnist is first, not to be too repetitive and second, to find a fresh new way to present an old subject so that readers both learn and delight.

As a matter of fact, Jane's and my age rules for taking children horseback riding and river floating were mere guidelines. I usually sidestepped the question when I could by saying to the parent, "You're the one who knows your child best." Then I'd throw in the bit about girls liking horses and boys liking river rafting.

And finally I'd add that we've guided family groups with teenage kids in tow who hated being away from their hometowns, computers, friends. It was our observation that some kids much preferred "hanging out" at their local shopping malls where there were eight-plex movie theaters showing the latest teen-flick. Horses? Huh-uh.

Splendid vistas? Paramount or Metro Golden Mayer could do better.

"You know your kids," I'd say. "But I really don't care to be out with somebody who doesn't want to be there. Give me a six-year-old who loves horses and loves to be with her pony all day for a week. She's much more charming than a sixteen-year-old who pines over her absent boy friend and takes it out on everyone else because she really believes the world conspires against her."

S'funny thing, though. Some of the things we thought we endured as teenagers seems not so bad from the vantage of hindsight.

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August 22, 2014

THE BOB'S MOST COLORFUL FAMILY

Ted Potter writes: "I certainly wouldn't expect you to remember who I am, but I purchased one of your books at Barnes and Noble in Kennewick, Washington a while back. I'm the fellow who grew up being a neighbor to the Brash family. (I remembered him, I suppose because I remembered thinking the "scablands" west and south of Spokane must run to people who spin tall yarns.

Of all the colorful people who tramped the land that is now the Bob Marshall Wilderness, none were as colorful as the family Brash. It all began back in the 1930s, when the area now comprising most of "the Bob" was made up of three U.S. Forest Service Primitive Areas: the South Fork, Pentagon, and Sun River Primitive Areas. Guy Brash, young wheat farmer from Spangle, Washington, loaded a couple of horses and his wife, Dolly, in an old truck and headed to Montana to go elk hunting. 

Guy and Dolly wandered the land along the crest of the Rockies for a month. It became a yearly tradition. When they had children, Gene and Gary accompanied their parents on the annual wilderness elk hunts. When the children married and had children of their own, those children came to know and love the Bob, too.

Gene Brash, who later turned into the best mule packer the forest service ever had, once told me: "When I was a boy, we only had two horses, so we walked everywhere we went." (Gene told me this when my string met his string in the middle of a creek crossing. He paused and opened his saddlebag to pull out one of the old fold-out carpenters rule with a tin Sierra cup attached to its end, using it to dip a cup of water. "Now," he continued, "I don't even get off my horse to get a drink."

Later, the family owned a string of buckskin horses, some of which went on to become bucking stock in National Rodeo Finals.

Russ Baeth, long-time outfitter in the Bob Marshall and a good friend of the Brash bunch, told me the entire family seldom worried about anything. "Whenever they got ready to go hunting, Roland, they'd catch whichever horses was closest to the house—whether they were broke, or not."

And Gene said: "By the time we loaded 'em in a truck and hauled 'em 300 miles, then unloaded 'em, turned 'em upside-down and nailed shoes on 'em, saddled and packed 'em for a couple of days into the heart of the Bob, they were broke."

In his letter, Ted Potter writes: "The Brash Place was right on the transition line from the Palouse type soil to the scabrock tree country around Cheney. Their's was not the best place to farm, so they had kind of a combination farm and cattle place. They were farming with horses long after everyone else had gone to tractors, and even after they had machinery, it was usually broke down or about to break down. They were a colorful lot."

"Guy Brash," according to Ted, "didn't worry much about seeding time, or anything else which ruled the lives of most farmers. He was laid back and took things as they came."

Ted said the last time he saw Guy was in 1965, shortly before he died of cancer. Guy was in a lounge in Cheney, living it up. "He had quit smoking but had a cigarette behind each ear and had an unlit one hanging out the corner of his mouth."

Apparently the Brash outfit descended from tough stock. Ted Potter again: "Guy's mother was a small little lady. One time in the late 1940s, when she had to be in her late 70s or early 80s, she was out loading up a hay wagon and fell off and broke her back. She crawled nearly a quarter mile back to the homestead. As I remember it, she recovered quite well."

Ted Potter should write a book about the colorful Brash family.

He thinks I should.

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August 15, 2014

A TIME TO ACT

I spotted the thunderhead as it first peeked its puny topknot above the western ridges. Nothing to be concerned about was my first thought. But after repeated glances over my shoulder as that tiny cloud swelled to block the sun and fill the sky, I commenced doubting first impressions.
  
Marc had the cloud in his sights, too. He'd twisted in the saddle to check the loads on his packhorse and spotted the darkening mass as it was building.  "We going to make it to camp first?" he shouted over the head of his friend.

I held my palms out. A few minutes before and I would've said yes, but these thunderheads seemed to be taking on a life of their own, heading somewhere at a gallop.

A few minutes later, the sun blinkered out like somebody bumped a celestial light switch. 

The two boys and I were on our way into the wilderness to set up a hunting camp.  It was late August, just before school started. We still had three miles to go to our destination. Then we must unpack and unsaddle horses and set up a tent before we could presume ourselves sheltered from the elements.

I looked at the boy riding just ahead and wondered what help we'd get from him.  Marc was something else—already a mountain veteran at thirteen. But his school chum, although a brilliant student, seemed a tad retarded to me.  I thought about the old adage:  "One boy, all boy.  Two boy's, half a boy.  Three boys . . .”

Above our heads the billowing, churning black mass spread until it reached from horizon to horizon. I could see it plainly now—no way would we make it to our campsite before the heavens dumped.

Marc's friend looked around, seemingly startled. His voice was already beginning to crack. "What happened to the sun?" he said. Then he peered at the sky for the first time. "Where'd them clouds come from?"

Just then the first hailstone fell. It was as large as a golf ball, clipping through scattered lodgepole pine branches, twenty feet to the right. Another fell a few feet ahead of Marc. Then another bounced off a pack carried by my second packhorse.

"Head for the wolf trees!" I shouted to the boys.

Our trail snaked along a gentle slope of scattered lodgepole pines. Up the hill, a half dozen large, shrubby bull pines grew. Marc needed no encouragement, reining his little gelding for the shelter. The stones fell thicker and thicker. I reached the first shelter tree and leaped from the saddle, lashing my pony's halter rope to a stout limb. Two packhorses started bucking as the hailstones pounded them.

"Ow!" came a cry from the trail.
 
I wheeled. Marc's friend still sat his horse where we'd left him. A hailstone struck him squarely atop the head. "Ow!" he cried again.

"Dammit boy!" I shouted. "Get off that horse." He leaped from the saddle, then stood looking perplexed. "Now get under a tree."

"Ow!" he cried as he sprinted for my tree. "Ow!"

The hail ended as suddenly as it began, turning to a drenching, mind-numbing rain that was more "Oh!" than "Ow!"

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August 8, 2014

IMPOSSIBLE FOCUS

I suppose it's true that I began my outdoor career stalking polywogs and frogs and garter snakes in the marsh that spread just across the fence from the rural school we kids attended. And while it's true clambering over that fence invariably led to having my hinder paddled, I wasn't the only repeat offender. Nor was I the only one to surreptitiously introduced reptiles and amphibians to the seats of female higher learning.

Later I graduated to hunting and fishing, learning to first stalk trout along the creeks flowing through my family's land, then moving on to hill country deer, and eventually to elk amid the mountains west of my home.

Wildlife was, by my late teens, the primary focus (with occasional detours to investigate the turn of a pretty girl's ankle). But concentration on bucks and bulls was near-total and I learned to pick out the twitch of an ear amid a forest of young firs, the outline of a body screened by a rhododendron thicket, a gray swatch amid a distant brown-grass hillside.

Of a necessity, I developed a reasonably unerring sense of direction and a driving need to view what was over the next hill. One spectacular vista led to another until that need turned into a burning desire to see as many of God's best places as a lifetime might accommodate. Eventually that expertise in mountain travel, hunting, fishing, and wildlife viewing developed into a career as a guide leading others to adventure.

That girl with a pretty ankle-who-became-my-wife's interest in wildflowers led us both into plant identification. But that focus on vegetation, I found, began blunting my wildlife viewing edge. Then I became interested in rocks.

By incorporatiing a geologist as landform interpreter for some of our wilderness trips, I learned about the mountain building process and how soil developed from that process led inevitably to certain plants that, in turn, attracted deer and elk.

Additional focus led to a lapsing of focus on the areas of expertise I'd already mastered. For example, one can miss a tiny fairy slipper growing in a wet spot in a rock cleft if he's altogether concentrated in searching for fossils amid those same rocks. Spot an ear twitch when one is memory-cataloging the varieties of wildflowers growing in a hidden swale? Forget it. 

I even sometimes caught myself paying more attention to puzzling how distant mountains were formed than the sheer magnificence of the mountains themselves.

Even thinking time was disrupted. Instead of conjuring up images of a bull elk standing at a mineral lick, I spent most of my waking time strategizing on ways to analyze soil and water from that lick in order to discover the mineral's attraction to the creatures—and why?

What browse plants were primary food sources for deer? What made them more palatable at certain times of the year? Where, in particular did they grow? As you can see, the process in which I was engaged was primarily to benefit the hunter, right?

Then explain the following: What tree species grow on which aspects? Why does some mountain sites receive less rainfall? Why is it that winter snow depths are inevitably greater in some areas than others? Why do bears claw certain trees, yet leave others alone?

Above all I learned I can't focus on everything.
 
Now I'm wondering how God does it?

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August 2, 2014

A PH.D FROM M.I.T. ISN'T ENOUGH

The place is sometimes a zoo, a carnival of kids and elders, canines and comedians. They range from terrorizing to terror-stricken: There are teenagers and toddlers, grandmas and biker-brutes. All spill into a tiny mountainside parking lot at the Camp Misery trailhead. Camp Misery is the primary jumping-off point into the Jewel Basin Hiking Area.

It was the Fourth of July and we left a vehicle at the 5,600-foot parking lot, driving another to the valley floor, then climbing ten trail miles back to Camp Misery. When in mid-afternoon we arrived at our waiting vehicle, the lot was jammed. And cars were parked along the approach road for at least a half-mile. Obviously Jewel Basin is no longer secret.

Tony Dumay, then Jewel Basin ranger for the U.S. Forest service, told me that the day before he'd logged 248 people into "the Jewel" through this single entry point (Camp Misery is but one of eight trailheads jumping off into the Hiking Area--though by far and away the busiest).

What makes this particular piece of real estate so popular?

Proximity to the Flathead Valley's population centers, for one thing—it's less than twenty miles east of Kalispell. Jewel Basin is, as the name implies, a lovely piece of God's handiwork, a fitting equal to vistas anywhere amid the Northern Rockies. Many hikers choose the unfettered access to "the Jewel" over what they perceive as over-regimentation in Glacier National Park. In addition, trails leading from Camp Misery begin near the mountains' crest, a big advantage for toddlers, aged, infirm, or someone with limited time.

Oddly, despite its heavy utilization by the mostly local visiting public, Jewel Basin is not loved to death from its use. Its saving grace is called dispersal—there are a dozen trail forks within three miles of the Camp Misery parking lot. Myriad lakes or mountain summits beckon from every direction.

We've seen grizzly bears and mountain goats, mule deer and elk and moose. Cuttroat trout leap--not just rise!--to bug hatches from its lakes. Eagles soar the air currents.

Neither entry nor camping require a permit. Instead, there's a sense of freedom—without any need to file a “flight” (route) plan. Visitors tend to spread out. As an example, my friend Doug hiked to the summit of Mount Aeneas on the day the ranger counted 248 people heading into the Hiking Area. Yet Doug only encountered two other folks until, in early afternoon, he neared the parking lot.

Jewel Basin is a special place. So is Glacier National Park. But there the comparison ends. Restrictions are oppressive in Glacier, virtually absent in Jewel Basin. Impacts aren't more severe in the Jewel than in the Park, so Glacier must receive appreciably more hikers, right?

Perhaps. But there’s still plenty of folks accessing “the Jewel”—upwards of 248 people per 15,000 acres. The Jewel Basin Hiking Area, via Camp Misery, received a 1997 average of 106 visitors per day, totaling 8,000.  That's less than two acres per hiker. Yet the Jewel still produces a high-quality outdoors experience. 

Glacier contains a million acres. To approximate Jewel Basin's per-acre visitors, Glacier would have to see a half million hikers per year. And though over two million visitors drive through America’s “hiking park” each year, most do no more than stretch their legs at the Logan Pass visitor center before clambering back into their vehicles for their return to Poughkeepsie or El Paso, Minneapolis or Santa Monica.

One doesn't need a Ph.D from M.I.T. to recognize there are reasons why some veteran outdoors folks choose their adventures amid National Forests instead of National Parks.

Black Lake

Black Lake - Jewel Basin Hiking Area

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July 26, 2014

SOARING WITH EAGLES

I have a friend who pilots gliders. He's a trained civil engineer, a veteran of World War II. My friend lives in Wisconsin and flew his own float plane. Because he's naturally venturesome, Bob also had a high-performance aircraft that he used for aerobatics—which is a high-toned word for stunt flying.

I guided the man twice for Bob Marshall elk hunting, then he and his wife for a summer horseback trip through the Bob Marshall Wilderness. They are splendid people, but I have trouble reconciling the psychological paradoxes in a man who chooses to pilot both gliders and stunt planes. "Isn't there something strange about doing both?" I asked.

He laughed. "I don't think so. Aerobatics is physically and mentally challenging, whereas soaring is quiet and peaceful. I believe one can enjoy both."

In order to indulge his passion for soaring, however, Bob must travel from the poor gliding opportunities of Wisconsin to Arizona, where soaring is both popular and practical. "You try to see how long you can stay up in a glider," he says. "You can't believe how peaceful it is up there!"

Perhaps I can. I've sat alone on mountaintops on clear, still days while eagles or hawks or vultures soared and banked on air currents beneath my perch. As a result, I can understand how Bob feels in gliders because dozens have been the times I've envied those eagles, wished for their wings, wished to have a bird's-eye view down to the mudholes, meadows, ridges and pockets where bull elk spend their mornings and evenings and midday solaces.

But strange things happen the longer I watch the eagles floating their lazy circles on the updrafts, seldom bothering to beat a wing. After a while, I care less about bull elk and more about simply soaring out there with the eagles.

It's an age-old wish for mankind. Greek mythology had Icarus rescuing his father, Daedalus, from imprisonment on Minos, using wings of waxed feathers. Unfortunately, Icarus flew too close to the sun and the wax melted, plummeting the youth to his death.

Pegasus was another component of Greek mythology—a winged horse. Perhaps some readers are old enough to remember the emblem from yesteryear's Mobil gas stations?

Flight has always intrigued the human creature. About the time Columbus sailed west from Spain in search of Cathay, Italy's Leonardo da Vinci studied the flight of birds and drew the first conceptual diagram of a flying machine. Since combustion engines were yet to be developed (circa 1492) development of Leonardo's flying machine must have been conceived as a glider. Perhaps that glider's design wasn't much different from the one in which my friend Bob soars with the eagles over Arizona's Superstition Mountains.

Meanwhile, watching my eagles, I'm land-bound and wistful. On the other hand, watching eagles has many things to be said for it: mountaintop vistas, the fragrance of rarified air, the careless grace of birds in flight. 

And most of all, my time to be there, to observe, to dream. . . .

Cliff Top

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July 19, 2014

MISCHEVIOUS MALE MACHO MISOGYNIST

Like most—or at least many—mischievous macho male misogynists, I went through the vroom!-vroom! stage of equating "roar" with "cool." Like the 1940 Plymouth with straight pipes and the Falcon Sprint with the big engine and four speeds forward. I even had the first couple of trail bikes to hit the land where I came to maturity. This blog is about those trail bikes....

Oh the glory of them, tearing around switchbacks and racing through mudholes and streams! Why, I could cover more ground, go to more places! Until I understood that I was actually seeing fewer wild creatures and learning less about the land I traveled than prior to BTG (before Tote Gotes).

But I get ahead of myself; it's my wife Jane's relationship to the mechanized monsters about which I really want to tell:

It would be fair to say the woman never had an overweaning desire to have a trail bike of her very own. At least I can't recall her crying into a pillow all night because her mean husband wouldn't buy her a Tote Gote. Perhaps that's why it was such an elegant surprise when I unloaded two bright lemon-yellow trail machines by our front porch, arranging 'em so she couldn't miss them.

"Whaddaya think?" I asked.

"They're nice," she said with bread dough still clinging to her hands. "Now, do you want broccoli or brussels sprouts with your liver and onions?"

She never did get the hang of operating her machine. She's left-handed, you see, and perhaps left-brained. You see, the throttle and brake operated on an unlevel playing field for the backward woman.

Oh, she'd ride her rig around in a circle at home. But then she'd go inside and rinse her hair. When I tried to talk her into going for a day of National Forest trail travel, she developed a medley of excuses that ranged from morning sickness to garden club. And the woman turned so pious that she'd not miss a Sunday service—unless I was going without the trail bikes. Then she misplaced her religion and whipped up an extra lunch to fit in her daypack.

Came vacation time. It was seven arduous miles into the remote and beautiful little valley. But the only way I could get both Jane AND her trail bike into the place was for her to walk in while I rode my bike, then for me to walk out and ride hers in. Only then would she ride amid the flat, grass-filled meadows.

There's a meandering stream in Fish Creek Valley. The stream winds through rich deep soils, leaving high cutbanks plummeting into deep pools. We stopped atop one of these cutbanks to admire the scenery.  Jane, ever the cautious rider, paused far back from the bank, killed her engine, then turned to "Ooh" and "Ahh" all around.

When we decided to leave, she set her brake—or thought she had—and reached down with both hands to pull her starter rope. The engine roared to life—BUT she'd not set her brake. Instead, she'd opened her throttle!

Jane and her Tote Gote roared the thirty feet to the cutbank and sailed off into space with the woman still clinging white-knuckled to her starter rope. I thought she looked a little like a frog as gravity took the heavier Tote Gote down first.

Both machines went up for sale the following week.

Years later, in Montana, I purchased a horse for her. She didn’t exactly love that gift, either. But at least it was four-on-the-floor, instead of a two-cycle engine, no starter rope, and could not be induced to sail off into space with her screaming for it to stop!

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July 12, 2014

LOBO

I've heard the term "ugly as sin" most of my life (usually using me as a reference point), but that hip-shot cross between a sway-backed Guernsey and slab-sided camel was the first I laid the term to. As it turned out, he didn’t confine himself to just being sinfully ugly—he WAS original sin!

He was big, rawboned, clumsy-footed and bubble-headed. His bones were heavy and knobby and looked as though every single one worked double-time to push through his mangy hide. The color was dirty white and his eyes were both glassy and filled with an empty determination to forget everything he'd ever learned or ever planned to learn.

He led well with a halter, but his idea was to go someplace besides where the guy on the other end of his halter rope wanted to go. Why I bid on the proud-cut, vacant-eyed gelding, I haven't a clue.

It was at a benefit fundraiser. The owner had donated the horse for auctioning to the highest bidder. (I use the term loosely—it may be that the owner didn’t so much “donate” the animal as he did “get rid of”). In order to get a bidding war going for the benefit cause’s sake, I raised a hand and shouted "thirty-five dollars!"

There was no war. The auctioneer droned, "Thirty-fie, thirty-fie. Do I hear forty?" He paused only a second, then pounded his gavel and said, "Sold! For thirty-fie dollars to Roland Cheek."

His name, I was told, was Lobo. It might've been more accurately descriptive if the third letter in his name was swapped for the alphabet's next letter. Naturally being the nag's new owner made me the butt of ridicule as the auction progressed. 

Not figuring on a horse-buying foray, I had no means to get the mangy cayuse home. So the auctioneer unilaterally offered to let people with horse trailers bid on the service of providing Lobo transportation—the fat humorist started the action at $5,000, with a plan to let the bidding go down until finding its comfort level. The harder people laughed, the lower my own comfort level fell. And when the glassy-eyed Lobo decided to try exiting through a window, it was time for him and me to lead each other outside for a breath of fresh air while the crowd bid down my horse transport.

My neighbor, who I thought was also my friend, got the bid for hauling Lobo home for $3,565, then graciously agreed to do the job for several grand less. But the creep was still laughing when we unloaded the ugly-as-sin pony and laughed even harder while I shoveled horse biscuits from his trailer as part of my plea-bargain.

We got even with the guy a few years later, though—me'n Lobo—when the horse stepped on the arch of his foot as he adjusted a pack along a steep mountain trail. "Ow! Ow! Ow!" my friend yelled, kicking the horse in the belly with his free foot. Lobo lifted his hoofs one at a time—all but (you guessed it) the offending one—while my friend cursed and railed.  Finally Lobo tried to spin in order to better see what was wrong—and fell off the trail, freeing the foot of my (former) friend.

Lobo packed big loads for us for fifteen years. Stupidity does not, however, make for what you might call a trustworthy packhorse, so he carried no eggs, no whiskey, no watermelons. Every guide, every packer, every wife, every son and daughter, and every camp cook wanted me to unload Lobo on an unsuspecting glue factory.  But I resisted. After all, our 29 other pack and riding horses were reliable.

Besides, Lobo made life interesting.

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July 5, 2014

EVOLUTION OF CAMPING

"Yes, we bought one four feet longer than the one we had. The other just didn't have quite enough room."

I remembered how it'd only been a couple of years since our friends had traded in their 19-foot motorhome for a 23-footer. The 19-footer, "in addition to being too small," the guy said, "was also underpowered." Now he and his wife have a 27-footer with a turbocharged diesel under the hood.

Our friends' experience in motorhome evolution started me thinking of our own camping metamorphosis:

Back sometime shortly after Noah, but before the Ark of the Covenant I began my camping career by the simple expedient of pausing when God put out the lights, then sleeping beneath the drooping canopy of a western red cedar or hemlock. But that plan turned iffy each time clouds blew in and Somebody Upstairs turned on the spigot.

With necessity as the mother of invention, I discovered I could rip great slabs of bark from windthrown Douglas fir trees and make a fair-to-middling impromptu lean-to that shed water (provided I laid the bark with its grooves sloping down, instead of horizontal).

From there, I discovered military surplus stores and shelter halves that were used to make pup tents for foot soldiers. Then plastic came along—great sheets of it that weighed very little and could be easily stretched over a horizontal pole or rope and its corners pegged down. It was this makeshift plastic shelter that our family used in our first camping trip to Glacier National Park back in 1964, while I visited the Treasure State to look for work.

Naturally open-air plastic shelters weren't conducive to creature comfort while snow lay in patches or, worse yet, fell amid lowering temperatures. That method also proved dicey to my wife when a bear stuck his nose in the open end just as Jane's eyes fluttered open. But soon we had our first horse and could afford our first shopworn 10x12 canvas wall tent. That first wall tent had only two-foot sidewalls and had been bad-used by previous owners. But to us, camping with it was pure sylvan luxury after the flimsy plastic.

Later, as my career careened into outfitting and guiding, there were other more spacious tents—14x16s with 5-foot sidewalls. They even sported wood stoves; the Taj Mahal could've proved no more comfortable.

Meanwhile, our family was also into backpacking. And when I chanced on what looked like a lightweight backpack tent for a very low price, I bought two. It was not the best investment ever made.

Armed with the knowledge of what wouldn't work, we started exploring top-of-the-line backpack tents, finally purchasing a couple of two-person Eureka Timberlines.  Our new tents were well made, but two people were all they would hold. And we had a dog. So we decided four-person Timberlines would be roomier and more to our liking. They were. Unfortunately the Eureka company had no idea we planned to live forever and neglected to produce products to last so long. So after a few years they began wearing out and leaking in. Meanwhile, Jane, not being one to resist a bargain, picked up another tent of stouter fabric and with a vestibule!

The problem it presented, however, was weight. We solved that problem by throwing it in the back of a pickup and leaving our horses home.

Then we bought a conversion van—which trumps any tent we ever had for creature comfort.

What's next?

Search me. Hospice care maybe. But until then, I’ll go along with whatever comes.  Evolution of camp gear is a thing always among us. And hey, there's no use fighting it!

windfunnelCamp

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June 28, 2014

WHAT'S UGLIER THAN A TURKEY?

I slammed on the brakes and pointed into the old logging clearcut, blurting, "What kind of birds are those?" I let the pickup coast back a little, to where the view was better. "If I didn't know better," I muttered, "I'd say they were buzzards."

"I'd say you're right," Jane said as she peered through my binoculars. "They have red heads, too."

Turkey vultures were plentiful in the southwestern Oregon of our youth, but I thought non-existent along the crest of the Northern Rockies. Now, however, in a clearcut high on the side of the Swan Range, two of the birds perched atop an old spruce stump. They seemed unconcerned at our excitement.

Since that time a half-dozen years ago, we've watched other vultures over our valley, circling the updrafts, watching below for the carrion that means they need to drift down and go to work.

Vultures suffer from an unfavorable press. While they're depicted as perching on a dead tree limb, waiting for the cowboy with a broken leg to die of thirst, they're actually a formidable agent for our own health and welfare, eating the dead, sweeping God's living room for winterkill and sometimes other kills.

There are few birds as adept as turkey vultures at soaring the wind currents. As warm air rises, thermals form. Buzzards can sometimes ride these air columns for hours with nary a wingflap, their vee-shaped wings tilting from side-to-side as if rocking in the wind. All the while the birds are searching for food with extremely sharp eyes and a surprisingly sophisticated sense of smell. That keen sense of smell is uncommon among birds, but serves the vulture well when it comes to locating overripe carrion.

When one bird locates a food source and spirals to the ground, others are watching from afar and converge to share the feast. That's one thing about the carrion cleaner-uppers, they're socially gregarious at suppertime.

Only a Rio Grande turkey can rival the vulture for close-up, head-and-shoulders ugliness. Is that why buzzards are called "turkey" vultures? It is said the reason for the buzzard's lack of head and neck feathers is because the bird is perfectly adapted for feeding on half-rotted carrion. But nobody explains why turkeys—who stick mostly to seeds and grasshoppers—are similarly shorn.

Turkey vultures, in my Oregon youth, routinely fed on road-killed deer.   Many's the time I rounded a bend on a graveled road, hauling a load of lumber on an army surplus six-by-six truck and startled a flock of vultures from a roadside carcass. Only my first date at the Junior-Senior prom demonstrated less grace as each bird ran, hopped, fanned his wings, and finally thrashed into the air enough to wobble maybe forty feet into an open field.

I understand those Beaver State buzzards have since drifted away from carcasses strewn along today's macadam, high-speed roadways and modern souped-up roadsters. To do less would, of course, lead to the species' demise—Lord knows, a full-bellied bald eagle from Montana has a hard enough time getting airborne when the occasional Chevrolet hoves into distant view.

Of course, if it was anything but a Chevrolet, the eagle might not make it, either.

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June 21, 2014

SWITCH ON "DOG-SAVES-MAN" STORY

We once were young, Bill and I. We thought ourselves indestructible, imperishable, impervious to ordinary patterns of human existence. Even more so than most young men, neither of us planned ever to die.  However, we didn't plan to do anything stupid, either.

Bill had a gift for working with animals. He studied horses and dogs and cats and could—I tell you this in all seriousness—communicate with them. The guy also communicates well with the lowest orders of human being; one reason Bill and I were such good friends.

Bill is a fine welder and a superb gasoline and diesel engine mechanic. He was an excellent horseshoer, too, and for years took care of my ponies feet. Then my friend and his wife, Beryl, moved away. It was several years before they returned to their home country.

Bill and Beryl grow long in the tooth now. And the last time Jane and I visited them at their spread along Little Bitterroot Creek, they looked as if they would, indeed, live forever. More to the point about this remarkable couple, is that they're as close as anyone I know to living exactly the kind of life everyone dreams about: First of all, they're very much in love and need no more than the other's company. It takes little for them to live. Bill works at his welding trade only when they need additional income. Or when, for whatever reason, he wishes to do so.  

They have a modest but beautiful home on a few manicured acres in which they take a lot of pride. Theirs is a sylvan existence.

The couple have a small, old, cocker spaniel dog, about the size of a football and far more winsome. Naturally the dog can do tricks—lots of tricks. So can the domestic finch that occupies a cage in front of one of their picture windows. They're uncanny with wild animals—robins will eat from Bill's hand.  Still….

"Do you know what happened the other day?" Beryl said. "He and Misty (the dog) went outside to carry in wood from the shed."

Bill chuckled.  "I know what you're going to tell."

A hush fell.  Jane said, "Somebody tell!"

"Well, Misty stopped at the shed door," Bill said. "And she wouldn't go on—sort of stood there giving out tiny little whimpers.  I called her, but she ignored me. So I said, 'YOU GET BACK HERE!' and she whirled."

"And there was this big mountain lion…!" Beryl said.

"He just bounded right out behind the dog," Bill said.

"So what did my husband do?" Beryl said. "He rushed right at the mountain lion!"

Bill said, "I don't know what I was going to do. Pick up a stick—anything to save Misty. But the cat turned for the creek."

Beryl smiled, too. But she was also shaking her head and looking at me to see what an old friend might think of her idiot husband. What I thought was unprintable. But I wasn’t surprised—after all, Bill and I traveled a great many miles together in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

Bill said, "He was hungry—you could count every rib on him. And he was about to make a meal out of Misty. I just couldn't stand there and let him do it."

As we headed on down the road to a Spokane booksigning, Jane said, "There's a column for you:  a switch on the normal 'dog saves man’ story."

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June 14, 2014

WITH KIDS, YOU PAYS YOUR MONEY AND TAKES YOUR CHANCES

"I am proud to have roots in Montana. I grew up in a small rural town near the Canadian border, in the 1960s and '70s. My father was an outfitter by profession, meaning that my family and I spent a great deal of time in the outdoors. This was not such a great thing if you were a teenager wanting to go to the drive-in movie theater with your friends!"

Our daughter, Cheri, now a high school English teacher in California was, at the time this was written, still taking night-school English classes. She had, at age 40, quit her job as bank manager to go for a teaching degree. The above—and most of what follows—will be taken from a paper she wrote for that night-school class assignment:

"... Mother nature again taught reverence when a wildfire burned rampantly, rearing its powerful head as we camped in the remote wilds, far from help. We were near enough to feel the heat of the fire. It was only 4:00 in the afternoon, yet it could have been midnight, due to the darkness in the sky. We sat on tree stumps at the edge of our camp and watched. Embers burned fiery red as they danced in the sky, only to turn into black ash, which fell and covered our once orange tents. 

"To be sure, our campsite was next to a river!

"The wilderness offered a means for contemplation while enjoying the breathtaking beauty of all things wild....  Wilderness neither blushes or wears mascara.

"... My father encouraged my brother and me to study and make choices. At 12 years old, I took my seven year old brother and two of our friends to meet the Superintendent of the Ranger Station in our District. I wanted to find out for myself if our dad was correct in his assessment of land usage (or over-usage in this case). I vaguely remember the meeting now, 25 years later, but I do remember the encouragement Dad gave me to learn and ask questions.

"My father was the 'leader,' the strong front person influencing my life. I have only recently begun to understand the influence that my mother made on me. She was the 'supporter,' and thank heavens for her. Without her, I would have edges. She loved her children and she was not afraid to say so....

"My mother helped my father live his dream of being an outfitter. When friends dropped by my parents' home, they came to hear my dad's stories and ask his opinions. They stayed because there was a fire in the fireplace and the house a home. My father was the storyteller. My mother was the spoke in the wheel. I know he told her how grateful he was. I hope I have. It was more glamorous being the storyteller. But a wheel needs spokes, too. I am glad to be a product of both of these people. I am glad to have grown up in the great outdoors. I hope I have told them so.

"Thank you mom and dad.  You are my heroes."

********

Indulge me, readers—the essay from which these excerpts were taken seems appropriate for Father's Day. It is among Jane's and my most prized possessions. It’s affirmation that we done good.

That's the trouble with raising kids—by the time parents find out whether they did right or wrong, it's too late for them to do any different. In essence, all any parent can do is to simply do the best they can—and don’t look back!

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June 7, 2014

WHAT STORIES AN OLD FARM MIGHT TELL

A rusted spring-tooth from a horse-drawn harrow surfaced beneath the lawnmower as soon as the snow melted and I tried bulling the mower into the maze of thick grass on the south side of the house. There were rusted coffee cans and broken bottles, even an old Log Cabin syrup can.

Out near the lilac bush that grows near the septic tank was an ancient cast iron forge with a treadle-operated blower that still worked. All three legs were there, too. A triangle-shaped piece about 4 inches on the base was broken from a section of sidewall.

Round disk blades were scattered in the dead grass surrounding several of the outbuildings. One building must have been a tool shed because it contained tin cans half-filled with old grease-and-dirt-choked nuts and bolts. An empty pint whiskey bottle was tucked inside an equally empty bucket of whitewash, then covered with an oily rag.

Two more empty whiskey bottles were discovered between barn walls, obscured with cobwebs and old straw. When we took down half of the barn at a later date, we found other hidden bottles; the building must have been a refuge of choice for someone who lived on the place before us.

Axles from ancient Ford Model Ts, complete with wooden-spoke wheels, rusted and rotted in our fields. Old pitcher pumps sprouted from the ground in two locations like they were planted by a pump-growing Johnny Appleseed.  The handle was missing from yet a third pump that leaned forlornly in a barn corner.

Junk from an earlier century even yet seems to mysteriously surface out of the land.  Just the other day, my wife stumbled on a piece of 3/8 steel rod protruding from ground we've mowed for the past 50 years. 

The old house on the place Jane and I bought the first year we moved to Montana was, like other country farmhouses constructed in the 1920s, small, and of square crackerbox construction. It had two tiny bedrooms, a living room, kitchen, dining room, and pantry—all in less than a thousand square feet. The bathroom had been added sometime in the 1940s by halving the pantry. What we didn't know until we began a remodle to double its floor space was that our old crackerbox place was actually a Sears & Roebuck prefab home.

Closer examination shows each piece marked for placement: rafters, joists, studs, sheathing, headers, jambs, moulding. All were, of course, cut to fit. I'm told the pieces for each home made up a compact package for a single railway car and was shipped direct from manufacturer to consumer. It's interesting that the pre-cut Sears lumber of the 19202 is of superior quality to lumber going into today's construction of new homes in upscale subdivisions.

Someday I'd like to sit down and talk to this house and this land.  I'd like to listen to their stories and the stories of the Model T axles and bellows forge and hidden whiskey bottles. I even wonder if the land might remember when Indians stalked between the huge yellow pines that once marked this place as one of outstanding beauty.

Or even back to the days when a giant ice sheet smothered it....

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May 31, 2014

IT DON'T GET NO BETTER'N THIS

It's probable that only a veteran outdoors adventurer can appreciate the pleasure of pulling into a campsite in adverse conditions while accompanied by experienced and competent companions. 

Why only a veteran? Because in order to appreciate the pleasure, he or she needs to draw upon similar occasions where teamwork and competence were either temporarily absent, or never present to begin with.

This is not a matter of whiners or bitchers or moaners. They belong in an entirely different category—Ideally left alone, at home, in school, or in jail. I have no patience with complainers and, at my advanced age, don't expect to become less resolute.

On the other hand, my admiration for individuals who suck it up and endure personal discomforts when the weather turns sour or packhorses turn cranky is enormous. And when those individuals can pitch in during adversity with poise and proficiency and work to the same end so we can all relax together and admire the same sunset in the same place at the same time—well, why wouldn't a grumbling old-timer who had it opposite a time or two go to his knees in thanksgiving when he falls into such company?

During our outfitting years, Jane and I pulled into hundreds of campsites where the buck stopped with us. It wasn't that we were accompanied by lazy or incompetent guests from Poughkeepsie or Kalamazoo or Walla Walla; it was just that these people had little or no experience.

Even if they'd ridden horses in stables back home, they had little knowledge of which of our ponies to bell and hobble and loose for grazing. Nor when to bring them in and loose the others.

Few of them knew how to erect the maze of aluminum rods and nylon fly and sleeping cubicle into their private tent, anchoring it against the wind, out of the path of ponies, and away from the campfire. None knew how to help erect the big dining fly, or stack the saddles, or help set up Jane's kitchen.

Many of those guests wanted to help, of course. But the most thoughtful and observant chose a spot out of the way, then waited patiently until our well-oiled human machines cared for horses, erected tents and flies, set up the kitchen, and built a campfire.

As one can imagine, it was far more difficult for them not to get underfoot when wet or cold. Naturally they all wanted to speed up the process of developing creature comfort. What they did by getting in our way was retard it.

If one or two couldn't resist the urge to help, we usually asked them to carry water or bring in firewood. Still, even those chores took one of our team from the order of his or her business because the eager guests had to be shown the waterhole or coached on the type of dead and downed wood suitable for burning at camp.

That's why today it's such a pleasure to ride with friends who, should their horse suddenly start limping, swing from the saddle, lift a hoof and dig out the offending stone.

And if the heavens scowl and the gods pee upon us, it's awfully nice to be with the kind of folk who grin and say, "It don't get no better'n this, does it?"

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May 24, 2014

FISHING POX CONTAGIOUS

Victims are usually irritable and restless. They suffer from acute mopiness, often losing a train of thought, even when talking to their stock broker, paramour, or auto mechanic.

There're continual complaints about the need for fresh mountain air, sunshine and relaxation. There's little taste for work of any kind, whether at home or abroad (translated job). Lawns go unmowed, dandelions unplucked. Storm windows stay up. Even man's best friend, the dog, is occasionally kicked.

It's called FISHING POX—a reoccurring malady that strikes its victims most often in the spring. Difficult to diagnose in its early stages, FISHING POX can be suspected by blank stares and non-stop daydreaming.

Advanced stages can readily be determined by victims poring over Orvis catalogues and fondling fishing tackle (even while in the bathroom). Mumbles to self. Spends inordinate time hanging out in sporting goods stores. Drools a great deal when there.

Terminal stage is reached when victim accosts strangers to exaggerate size and number of fish caught, even back as far back as childhood. Sometimes picks up hitchhikers, entrapping them at high speed freeway chases while regaling them about drifting a winged caddis.

There is no known cure. Medication is useless. However, disease is not fatal and effects can often be mitigated by the victim going fishing as often as possible.

WARNING—FISHING POX is extremely contagious. Records have it that entire offices and factory complexes have been summarily closed while the disease is rampant; most often on opening day of fishing season.

It is suspected that fish themselves are disease hosts. Top authorities imply a correlation between trout rising to bug hatches with the phenomenon of epidemic FISHING POX.

To the south, bass appear the predominant carrier, though it's suspected to be latent in all piscatorial strains. There even appears to be saltwater varieties of FISHING POX, though it's rumored fish size has a direct correlation to disease intensity in the saltwater classes.

Only the high desert regions of North America appear relatively unscathed by FISHING POX, though two widely-spaced enclaves—Manhattan Island and Beverly Hills—attract attention for their apparent immunity.

Medical history documents that one Izaak Walton, a 17th Century historian, was first to identify FISHING POX in its virulent form. Izaak is also thought to be first to study a means to ease the plight of its harried victims.

But it was a 20th Century American political leader who elevated recognition of the disease to national prominence. President Herbert Hoover brought treatment to the commoner when he said, "The good Lord does not subtract from a man's span of life the hours he spends fishing."

Should you see any individual wandering about in a torpor, grab him and slap a fishing pole in his hand, then lead him to the nearest lake or stream.

Their gratitude can be gut wrenching.

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May 17, 2014

BEWARE FLOOD STAGE

The big palomino stumbled in the muddy, rushing stream, lunging for footing amid suitcase-sized boulders. I grabbed for the saddlehorn as the raging torrent swept over the saddle, wrenching me from my seat. Then the big horse caught his footing and lunged forward; slipped and plunged once more before scrambling out on the other side. Brown water streamed from my clothes and from the horse.

I stood in the stirrups and waved an arm back and forth to warn my two companions, still saddling their ponies. No way were we going to bring a packstring across that torrent!

I looked at the frothing, angry waters, stared across at the truck, my friends, at the rest of our horses still munching grain. Now I had to take my horse back across to safety.

One friend hurried to the streambank, a manty rope coiled in his hand. I spurred the palomino. The horse leaped into the flood, eager to get back to his buddies standing safely only a few yards away. Water surged and he was swimming.
           
I clutched the horn with both hands. Then his hooves struck boulders and he was lunging near the bank. I breathed deeply in relief. He stopped, then twisted and was swept from his feet!
           
It all happened so quickly. Safety was only four feet away. I leaped from the saddle, thrashing for the bank, swallowing torrents of muddy water. A rope hit my shoulder and I grabbed for it, was swept downstream clinging to the rope for all my life. I bumped a rock, drifted into an eddy, then scrambled on all fours, only to be jerked down again by my friend, rope dallied around his mid-section, pulling for all he was worth. Our other friend rushed to help.

I scrambled up the bank, tossing my end of the manty rope aside, running after the palomino, swept downstream amid the torrent. Fifty yards. A hundred. I fell to my knees, puking muddy water, then leaped up to run on. More yards. More. Then the palomino disappeared into the raging waters of the Flathead's Middle Fork River.
           
That's when I learned to use the following guidelines when crossing streams during flood stage:

            1. Cross only where access is easy and the exit point gentle.
            2. When the stream is too muddy to see bottom, cross swift-running water only if it's no deeper than a horse's knees.
            3. Even when a bottom is visible, never cross a swift stream in water so deep it can sweep a horse from its feet. (Ponies can stand in a torrent as long as it's not striking their bellies.)
            4. Swim with stock only when absolutely necessary and only in near slack water.
            5. If swimming is likely, loosen saddle girths to allow ponies to take on more air for buoyancy.
            6. If the rider must do so, get out of the saddle downstream—take no chance of being swept beneath the horse.
            7. "Water hypnotism" is a danger to horse and rider alike, beguiling both into drifting to crisis without realizing it. Do not watch the water during stream crossings. Instead, pick out your exit point and keep your eyes fixed upon it. Rein your horse relentlessly to it.

Don't forget to pray!

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May 10, 2014
* I'm posting a day early, but my kid's mom has a habit of wanting to look for grizzly bears on Mother's Day weekend, so .......

LET MOM DO IT HER WAY

I suppose it may come as a shock to some of you fellows, but as popular as is fishing or hunting, they're not the top outdoors pursuits. Nope, not even lumped together will 37 million anglers and 13 million hunters match up against the really big outdoors pursuits.

What's tops? Well, bicycling counts 60 million adherents. And there are 115 million Americans who walk for pleasure and health. Even more enjoy slow drives on scenic roads.

Check these figures:  Each year, 38 million people camp, 26 million go birdwatching, 25 million backpack, 16 million powerboat, 14 million downhill ski, 11 million ride horses, 10 million canoe.

Other outdoors pursuits include rockhounding, 4-wheeling, kayaking, whitewater rafting, snowshoeing, snowboarding, hang gliding, wind surfing, sailboating, jet skiing, wildflower viewing, wildlife watching, archeological digs—and there are more; many more. But the point is there's something going on out there for everyone. Even Mom. Strike that. Make it especially Mom!

Analyze that list again and tell me which ones moms can't do.

Personally, I don't see any. Moms snowmobile, ski, hunt, fish, ride horses, backpack, watch wildlife, join archeological digs. Moms also whitewater float, water ski, canoe, and 4-wheel. In fact, well over half those who walk for their health are women.  And even half of that 115 million out-poll all anglers and hunters combined.

Your response might be that it's ridiculous to assume more women than men are into macho pursuits like power boating and sky diving, and I suppose that's true. But more women than men go birding and wildlife watching. And they're more into wildflower identification, horseback riding, and archeology.

So where do us guys get off assuming the Great Outdoors belongs to us? Shucks, we don't just assume ownership, some of us insist upon it—which is a grave mistake given that over half our population are "she’s" rather than "he’s".

The truth is, guys and gals, there's plenty of room out there for all of us. At least my honey and I have found it true. She tried hunting and fishing and liked some of it. I tried wildflower identification and fossil hunting and liked all of it. But neither was coerced into the sampling. You might say she tried bird hunting and I tried wildflower identification because we wanted to do so. And we also enjoy fresh air, healthy outdoor exercise, and associating with the kinds of people who feel likewise. Especially ones that we also love.

The humorous side of all of the above is many of us men still don't get it. We understand it's desirable for our own interest that our ladies engage in the kinds of outdoor pursuits that benefit us. So we begin projects that teach them to hunt and fish. We're the stars, they're the humble petitioners. Maybe the ladies should start a "Men In the Outdoors" program and teach us how to identify prairie primroses or watch meadowlarks at daybreak.

There's something wrong here and I can't put my finger on it. But aren't there enough outdoor options to allow each of us to engage in outdoors activities of our own choice?   

So give Mom a break and let do her own thing her own way.

* Jane's and my book, Dance On the Wild Side is about our life, how we beat the odds to experience a full life of outdoors adventur, while engaging in committed love for each other. Dance On the Wild Side is available, both in paper and as an e-book, from Amazon. Click Here to view.

DanceCover

Or you can buy autographed copies directly from our website. Click Here
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May 3, 2014

GOING BACK TO THE DOGS

I have trouble picturing what Northern Plains life must have been like before advent of the horse. Imagine if you will a lifestyle that included dogs as the sole domestic animal. Were canines as treasured to early Native Americans as were horses to the hard-riding Plains Indians of recent history?

I've read where Indian dogs were capable of carrying up to 50 pounds on their backs or pulling 75 pounds on a travois. Man's best friend as primary beast of burden! Will wonders never cease? Think about an entire Indian village on the move: hundreds, perhaps thousands of snarling, barking, whining canines strung out for miles. No fireplugs. Dog fights common. Slippery moccasins. A bitch in heat. What a din!

The pre-horse era is referred to in scientific circles as the Pedestrian Culture. When modern folks are apt to refer to a drive from Idaho to North Dakota in an air-conditioned automobile as a "hard day"--think about having to walk the distance! And doing so in train with a noisy dog pack howling for a can or two of Alpo.

How, come to think of it, did they feed that canine multitude?

After all, dogs competed directly with their masters for available meat and bone. Hunting, we assume, was more difficult before advent of the horse, so how did a tribe go about providing fresh meat for themselves and a slew of transport animals?

How valuable were those animals? Did enemy tribesmen conduct dog stealing raids as happened with horses in a later era. What clamor might have ensued in an encampment of hundreds of dogs had even one pup discovered a skulking enemy amongst the tipis?

The horse, we're told, apparently nibbled its way to the Northern Plains around the mid 1,700s. What a godsend! They carried warriors to battle, ran down buffalo during the hunt, packed huge loads for long distances. More importantly, horses never competed with humans for the same food supply. Kill a buffalo during the pre-horse era and feed a large percentage to your canine beasts of burden. Kill more buffalo using horses, then turn the ponies out to graze and keep all the steaks for yourself—who wouldn’t see that process as a Great Leap forward?

Valued horses, on the other hand, couldn't be kept in the lodge overnight and they seldom served advance warning that strangers neared. Did protecting grazing herds from enemies turn into an endless chore?

With advent of the horse, luxuries—impractical during Pedestrian Culture days—suddenly blossomed among the tipis: roomier skin lodges, ceremonial clothing and decorations, superfluous pots for cooking, bundles of trade gear. Avarice developed a certain social acceptance and with it, the unforeseen necessity of protecting one's material wealth from thy neighbor's greed.

But, then, I'm only recounting history everywhere, am I not? The industrial revolution was to bring us more leisure time, a more relaxed lifestyle. . . .

So where are we now? Working longer hours in order to buy more tinker-toys; commuting extra hours every day in order to live a more relaxed life that we hardly ever glimpse because we're seldom home.

Perhaps we'd all be better off if our own culture went back to the dogs. . . .

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I'm a little tardy in uploading this blog. Sorry. I had it written and ready to go, then became so anxious to get away on our Canyonlands vacation that I simply ran away--far away--from computers, cell phones, highway noise, and all other civilized manifestations. Call it Alzheimers, ignorance, or lack of multitasking skills--all would be true.
April 12, 2014

EASTER'S GREATEST PROMISE

It's neat that Easter comes in the spring. How appropriate that the spirit of renewal explicit in Christendom comes at the precise time when evidence of that renewal is everywhere about us.

Vees of ducks and geese and swans are continuously overhead, heading north. Lambs and calves gambol amid greening fields. Wildflowers and yard flowers pop out everywhere. Field grains zoom from the soils. Trees have budded and leafed; many are blossoming. Lawnmowers are being tuned; some already in use.

Songbirds warble from treetops and fenceposts, pheasants cackle from windbreaks and brush clumps, crows and ravens caw overhead, seagulls and hawks and falcons wheel amid azure skies.

It is said young folks' fancy turns to thoughts of love and I know it's true, though time has dulled my former young man's fancy beneath balding head and wrinkled features.

Could we appreciate as much the promise of Christian renewal if it occurred during the depths of winter? Would we have found Easter's promises easier to refute were there not such burgeoning abundance all around us, everywhere?

Personally I'm not certain—despite others' claims—that any particular individual or group of individuals has the inside track in interpreting God's plan for me. But after witnessing each spring for going-on-to'ard 80 years, I am certain in my own mind that there is a God and that He, She or They do indeed have a Plan that includes a new life for all living things, me included.

So join me, why don't you, in celebrating God's renewal this week. Do so in any church of your choice, be it Protestant, Catholic or Hipshot's. Tell Him, "Thanks Boss." Tell Him you got the idea from flowers blooming in the park or in the wilderness, robins chirping from outside your bedroom window, or rainbows shining in a freshet's wake.

 

In the same vein as above, let's consider what Easter means to us and our kids. The Easter bunny seems harmless enough and the tradition of coloring and hiding Easter eggs are great fun for young and old alike. But one of the poorest practices to come down the pike is one where baby chicks and rabbits are peddled as Easter gifts for adolescent children.

All too often the novelty wears away, the child loses interest, and parents want nothing to do with caring for formerly cuddly creatures that seemed such a great delight a few weeks earlier. That's when animals are often released into the wild, unprepared and unequipped for survival.

It's a shameful retail practice to sell live baby animals as Easter toys. It's a practice that hardly squares with Easter's message of renewal.

It's a practice that should cease.

Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Then it is the brave man chooses, while the coward stands aside,
Doubting in his abject spirit, till his Lord is crucified.
- Lowell

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April 9, 2014

SWEETER THAN CANDY

A treatise on bird hunting and retriever-loving - by Paul Vang

I recently read Paul Vang's book on serial Labrador loving and upland bird hunting (with a smattering of ducks and other sundry fluttering types. Here's the review I posted on Amazon:

"Sweeter Than Candy" is a fine testament to bird hunting with canine companions, particularly Labradors. It's a great study in upland bird hunting, with a particular emphasis on ruffed grouse. The problem with Mr. Vang's laser focus on ruffed grouse is that other feathered creatures, such as blue grouse, spruce grouse, sharptail grouse, partridges and pheasants, ducks and geese (for the man dwells in a hunter's paradise that he's learned to superbly navigate) keep getting in the way.

A novice bird hunter can learn a bunch by reading "Sweeter Than Candy." They'll learn about unkempt field corners where birds hide; about field "seams", willow thickets, and brush-filled draws. Most of all, one can learn most everything one needs to know about coverts (pronounced as such, without the "t") that is most often habitat of choice for ruffed grouse.

Yes a novice bird hunter can learn a bunch by reading "Sweeter Than Candy." So can an experienced hunting aficionado. Both will enjoy the read.

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April 5, 2014

DUMB LIKE A FOX

It's raining. Has been off and on for several days; flooding in some places. I just came inside after going hand-to-hand with my woodpile and I'm wet and cold. The exercise triggered memories of other wet, cold experiences that seemed to drag on for an eternity, unpunctuated by a hot toddy or crackling fireplace blaze.

The June, 1964 flood is, of course, an excellent example of the gods gone insane in their focus on the northern Rockies and the old Great Northern Railroad's mainline through Glacier National Park.

Fortunately I was neither experienced or equipped to roam remote mountains during that '64 era, thus missing the agony of being trapped for days or weeks in the backcountry. But it's easy to recollect the week of inundating rain and snow following Mount St. Helen's eruption a couple of decades later. 

We were spring bear hunting in the middle of the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the Angelenos with us lasted three days before remembering they could as easily be in Palm Springs during their vacations. So we fled back for neon lights and television antennas, cutting trees from our path with crosscut saws and fording raging streams that had, a few days before, been but mere rivulets.

November, 1989 saw another flood pouring from heaven's gates—I later learned a house floated down a street in Libby during that one. I sent a guide out for a hay run 'midst that deluge, not realizing how serious rampaging waters were downstream. He returned as expected, when expected, but the story he told gave pause to think for a somber outfitter responsible for a whole bunch of people. 

But a few days later, when we broke camp and headed out, the rains had quit and floods abated. There was ample evidence of prior catastrophe, however: uprooted trees, ate-away stream banks, mud-slides and still-flooded bottoms met us at every trail bend. 

"I'm never coming back to this place," one of the Angelenos said. "I was in New Guinea in '44, where it rained 120 inches a year. And I've never seen rain the equal of both my times in Montana."

Another house floated in downtown Libby during another flood in February, '96, but the country where I dwell largely escaped that one. Oh, a few nearby basements were swamped and one neighbor had to replace his septic system during the height of the deluge.  But it helps, you see, to be located atop a vast bench of glacial till, far from streams carrying rampaging run-off.

There seems a paradox here, however, that the Treasure State sometimes goes through decades-long agricultural drought at the same time floods might occur. Think nothing of it--we don't.

In a way, I suppose that's Montana: big, brawny, untamed, and a tad rebellious.

It's an image we natives prefer to foster. We like newcomers to find our weather daunting, mountains imposing, waters unpredictable, wildlife frightening, highways shameful and cultural attributes lacking. We'd prefer that foreigners not see eastern grasslands during green-up, mountain fronts after first snowfall, the fantastic colors of tamarack and aspen and cottonwoods in the fall. 

Go on Angelenos, Houstonites, Chicagoans and New Yorkers.  Keep on thinking we Montanans really are a dumb and gullible lot....

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March 29, 2014

TREASURE STATE CULTURE

I've always admired culture. Got a nice ring to it. Goes beyond obvious phonic similarities, like vulture, rupture, suture and troglodyte. Makes a body think uplifting thoughts: "Jane, did you sew a new button on the back flap of my union suit?"

Cultural sites are supposed to be tourism's new wave. Distinct possibilities arise for history's previously undisclosed centers of Treasure State enlightenment, such as Havre's underground town, Butte's Mercury Street, and Helena's Capitol Dome.

We Montanans have distinct cultural advantages over folks elsewhere—unfortunates who have to make more ado about much less. Take transport, for instance:

While Californians can only trace reliable conveyance to post-World War II and the advent of BMW's and Toyota Land Cruisers, Montana's mobile record can proudly be tracked to the American Indian's embrace of the horse; and before that, to their dog culture days.

Montana waterways spawned canoes and pirogues and steamboats while Kentucky was settled via ox-drawn wagons lumbering through mountain "Gaps". 

Tennessee travelers wearied of slogging the mud of their Natchez "Trace", while up in Montana nail-driving men laid steel across a Continent so that fjiord-loving Norsemen could search for dryland wheat farms in comfort. 

Early Santa Fe traders went mad for want of vistas and water while crossing New Mexico's Llano Estacado—the Staked Plains. But up north, Canadian-bound whiskey haulers plying Montana's "Whoop-up Trail" enjoyed scenery galore and used water sparingly to add to rotgut pilfered from barrels amid their freight.

Montana's first inhabitants were much less mean and conniving than those of today's eastern persuasion, engaging in spirited fun-filled competition with newcomers in places like Little Bighorn, Big Hole, and Bears Paw. Eastern natives, on the other hand, bilked the pale-skinned newcomers of $24 dollars worth of valuable trinkets in trade for Manhattan Island—at least twice what the place was worth then and now, even after 350 years of inflation and development.

The Treasure State has a leg up on artists, too, as a quick comparison between Charlie Russell and anybody else will tell.

And ours is not called the Treasure State for nothing—even though a few other places, like Mesabi iron, Comstock silver or Homestake gold, make idle claims. Why do the "ayes" have it? Only in Montana can folks point with pride to the "richest hill on earth" (now the deepest lake in town).

In Montana, citizens hung their sheriff, and not the other way around. Meanwhile, corporations distributed suitcases full of largesse to legislators, and bought office for their very own U.S. Senators … until the companies went belly-up by trying to practice their own brand of restraint of trade in one South Ameican country too many.

We've got grizzly bears snoozing in suburbs, mountain lions adjacent to schoolyards and wolves innoculated against canine distemper. We have horse sales where rich folk bid real money on ponies who stand every wannabee cowboy on their punkin’ heads. 

We snag prehistoric fish that sport built-in paddles, still shoot buffalo, and hunt sandhill cranes. 

You want culture?  In Montana, we got all anybody needs.

We also have vultures, ruptures, sutures, and troglodytes.

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March 22, 2014

MARCH SIGNALS CONFUSING

March ranks high on my un-favorite list. The month means the mud of spring break-up and highway potholes to trap Sherman tanks. March is supposed to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb.  But in my mountain homeland, lions and lambs sometimes lay down together on the same day. And inevitably Simba exits into April, picking his teeth.

March is end-of-the-woodpile month, and track-gumbo-in-the-house month. It's a period when the foolhardy among us slip into a pair of shorts and a tank-top and wind up sunburning the tops of our goose pimples.

March is stir-crazy month, when no man is worth being nurtured into adulthood and no woman can be cajoled into pandering to their helpmeet's needs all month long. It's when female Attila the Huns tie up their hair with kerchiefs and directs furniture arrangement with a wet mop in one hand and a straw broom in the other, accompanying the funereal waltz with running commentary of admonishment and complaint.

Still, March does have its high points. It's just that one must look for points to admire harder than in May or September. March is "herds of animals" month; time for our annual Glacier Park's St. Mary's elk watch and even a time or two in the past, a chance to eyeball bighorn sheep while skiing up Swiftcurrent Valley. 

March is first-buttercup-of-spring competition between Jane and me. And from there it's a race to see who finds the first spring beauty and parsley and birdbill. April? Naah—It's no fun competing when multiple first flowers pop up every day.

March is when horses snooze in the sun while north-bound flights of Canadas honk overhead. It's a month where I'm prone to examine—on the hour, every hour—stark tree branches for their first buds of the season; pray for the brown drabness of roadway barrow ditches to again turn green; am constantly in search for the cerulean splash of that first illusive bluebird. And I mope until all three are in hand, pledging my future life to legendary accomplishments ... just as soon as sun and moon and stars and chlorophyll and bluebirds all align. 

If only ambition could be bottled come March, in order to provide energy needed when plowing and tilling and mowing and pruning is nigh. March, you see, has its place. No telling what would happen to psyches or sacroiliacs if the pulse from winter's forced leisure to spring's frantic pace wasn't delayed by the third month in order to accommodate our physical acclimation.

Still, Jane has never quite lived down the ignominy of having her garden club committee stuck amid the spring break-up of our March driveway. And I haven't yet forgotten those highway potholes and the busted mainspring leaf on my old stock truck. But who wants to accentuate the negative? After all, I won this spring's race with my wife, stooping to pluck the first buttercup just as the first bluebird fluttered past on his way from fence post to chokecherry branch to bluebird house nailed to the far pasture post. 

Though this season's first hardy yellow flower is clutched in my palm, I'm in no dither to rush back to the house in order to flourish my find. No indeed. When I left, the woman was tying a bright red kerchief around her hair. And a mop and broom stood near to hand.

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March 15, 2014

DEFINING MONTANA

We who dwell in God's favorite place sometime flail wildly at emotional expressions of gratitude at our good fortune. I, like many others, have made such attempts. But to-date, I've seen none better than a poem composed back before Century's turn by Roger Erwin of Sunburst, Montana. The poem was called to my attention by friend Hazen Lawson of Polebridge and Roger very graciously allowed me to bring his fine work to readers through my long-running "Wild Trails" newspaper column. Though it ran 22 years ago, I'm of the opinion there's nothing wrong with an occasional refresher on the "What", "Where", "Who", "When", each contributing to "Why" we live were we do.

Here again is "MONTANA" by Roger Z. Erwin:

God looked around to find a spot
On this great earth that He had wrought –
Where the beauty and grandeur of this land
Could all be concentrated by His hand.
He found this place out in the west
Which He selected from all the rest –
It's called "Montana" the Treasure State.
A state that was destined to be great.
He touched the glaciers and moved the rocks
That formed the mountains and their tops –
Trees sprang up on mountain sides,
To give them beauty, depth and size.
In Alpine meadows high in the Mountains
Wildflowers came forth like gushing fountains –
The pink mountain heather sprang up with a rush,
With the Avalanche buttercup and Indian paint brush.
Into these mountains God moved the bear,
The mountain lion, moose and hare –
The mountain goat, so nimble and spry.
Majestic elk with their antlers high.
The bighorn sheep with their little flocks
Standing like sentinels on lofty rocks –
While the sky blue waters far below
Cast their shadows deep in the snow.
God plucked some colors from the sky
And gently mixed a perfect dye,
A dash of blue and a little green –
Which formed the lakes and the rushing streams.
Stardust and moonbeams dropped from His hand,
Fell into lakes that dot this land.
They formed tiny beacons of celestial light –
That dance on the water all through the night.
Wild ducks and geese came from afar.
Dropping down like falling stars;
To nestle on these lakes and streams
That God had formed from soft moonbeams.
From deep in the sky a rainbow dropped
Into these lakes and they were stocked –
With rainbow trout that lie in wait
To strike a Royal Coachman bait.
The beavers came and work began
On cutting trees and making dams.
The storage of water for future use –
Forming their homes from mud and spruce.
The buffalo came in stately herds
To live and die on this reserve,
That God had planned for their domain –
Where they could roam across the plain.
The beautiful colors of the setting sun,
And the bright Northern Lights when day is done –
God created both to shine on this earth,
But to stay in Montana, the place of their birth.
When God had completed his work of art,
He settled back to watch it start –
To live and glow as a human span,
As men pushed forward to this land.
Across the plains and the great divide
The Indians came from all the tribes –
To settle near their hunting ground;
This chosen spot that God had found.
Strong men came from east to west
To make their home and meet the test –
As pioneers in this beautiful place
With its endless miles and open space.
They hunted game and dug for gold,
Raised their families and suffered the cold.
Started the mines and discovered the ores
Built their churches, schools and stores.
They settled down on plains and hill
To till the land, or build a mill.
Some cut the timber, or drilled for oil –
And they built an empire through their toil.
Now when we enter that "Montana Gate"
That welcomes all travelers to this state –
With its boundless treasures for all to see,
We'll know that God made it, for you and for me.

Nice! Evocative! True! Thanks again Roger.

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March 8, 2014

SPRING TRAVEL CAN BE HAZARDOUS

We'd glided down the stream just a couple of weeks before; our only danger was from our skis' failure to grip the windblown glare ice. Now, however, water gurgled ominously beneath the rotting surface and open leads of riffles were common. Perhaps most to be feared were the collapsing snow bridges we'd depended upon to cross what we'd expected to still be a winter-locked stream.

Two weeks of unseasonably warm days, accompanied by chinook winds, foretold change. Spring rode those winds. And because of it, there should be an unconscious (but automatic) "traveler's advisory" in the mind of every backcountry adventurer.

We tested a couple of the remaining snow bridges and when they collapsed with probes from our ski poles, we turned and headed back the way we'd come.

Spring beguiles. It caresses with soft winds and warm sun. There's promise of new life in tree buds, greening fields and old bones. Yet for the backcountry traveler, a multitude of dangers lurk behind spring's beckoning wave.

We could have crossed that stream on our ski trip.  Perhaps someone would've fallen in as a snow bridge or ice bridge collapsed. But the day was so warm, the weather so mild, such mishap would've been more inconvenience than life threatening.

Not so two weeks before, or two weeks after. Slip through the ice two weeks before and one would have done so amid chilling temperatures and a 30-mile wind. Two weeks after, and one would attempt crossing a raging torrent at spring flood.

Spring travel amid Montana's mountains harbors other dangers as well:

Avalanche-prone hillsides should be avoided or, if one must, crossed rapidly, with an ear cocked for the slightest strange and unidentifiable sound--the beginning avalanche.

Pre-planned routes can be hard to follow. Low country trails can be blocked by winter's accumulated blowdowns or by mud slides, and mountain passes are often locked tight by snowdrifts higher than a tall man astride a tall horse.

Even vehicle traffic can be chancy along off-highway roads gripped by breakup.

Emergency rations should be carried just in case your F250 winds up stuck in a bog. Or in case you must retrace your last 20 miles with your packstring. Or in case your backpacking journey is held up by avalanching snows or rampaging rivers.

All the foregoing doesn't mean you should cower at home, however. You needn't crawl into bed and pull all covers over your head during the "traveler's advisory" period. No indeed. But if you choose to venture into Montana's backcountry during spring, you should be aware of potential dangers, keep your options open, never tempt fate, and prepare for contingencies. That's all. 

If you prepare and are prepared, spring is a most delightful time of year.

I know. I've been in the middle of the Bob Marshall Wilderness in early Spring. And you know what?

There was no one else there!

Was that a terrible experience?

No.

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March 1, 2014

DIFFERENT STROKES FOR DIFFERENT FOLKS

The last year I led folks on guided hunts into the Bob Marshall Wilderness was 1990—a  most memorable year:  a) for the first time in 21 years of outfitting, one of our hunters shot an illegal game animal (cow elk) and I was forced to report him; b) I was eye-witness to the finest piece of shooting I'd seen during my half-century with guns and elk; and c) my last year in the business was the year we were visited by three gentlemen from Mexico.

Their names were Julio, Jorge and Francisco (pronounced Hoo-lee-oh, Hor-hay, Fran-sees-coh) and they hailed from Culiacan, a vegetable growing region on the west coast, approximately 130 miles north of Mazatlan.  It's a city of around a half-million and is the capital of the state of Sinaloa.

Julio owned a couple of hardware stores, Jorge was a dentist and rancher, Francisco a top orthopedic surgeon.  All were extremely nice people; courteous and patient and uncomplaining. 

I was, of course, intrigued by our cultural differences.  There was, however, nothing in my Scots-Protestant upbringing, flavored by an Angle-Saxon work ethic, that prepared me for their laid-back lifestyle.  They would not be hurried.  Never mind that we planned to drive 70 miles over a slow and bumpy road, then ride 27 miles over an abysmal trail, those south-of-the-border gentlemen seemed to treat our need for haste as though they planned a day of duck hunting in the marshes around Altata.

Never mind that I got owlie as a sore-toothed hound.  They seemed not to notice, chattering among themselves in their own language, like I wasn't standing nearby, drumming fingers on a doorjamb and glancing testily at my watch.

The problem was aggravated by the fact only Julio spoke English, and then only haltingly.  Finally, in dismay, I tossed a few Latin-sounding words their way; ones I'd picked up while watching "Cisco Kid" in movie matinees a half-century before.  "Andelay!  Andelay! Mucho pronto!"

It had an immediate effect.  They looked surprised, then smiled broadly and crowded around, chattering, apparently delighted they had the foresight to obtain a guide who spoke their language.

I finally threw up my hands and stomped out to load horses in the stock truck and drive away, leaving Jane to bring our hunters along in our old Chevy station wagon . . . if they were ever ready.

It was an hour before daylight when she and the still-chattering hunters rolled from our yard to begin the tortuous drive to the trailhead.  She enjoyed these courteous men and with Julio acting as halting interpreter, asked them many questions about their homes and families.

She hit a bump with the old station wagon and the headlights flickered, then brightened.  She drove on, talking to Julio about his hardware stores.  They hit another bump and everything went dead -- lights, engine, everything!  She dynamited the brakes in the sudden blackness, then coasted to a controlled stop in the moonlight. 

The men pulled out flashlights, raised the hood and . . . found nothing.  Jorge and Francisco looked at each other and wagged their heads.

Julio smiled wanly at Jane as he crawled back into the wagon, turned up his coat collar, and shrugged. Then he said, "Welcome to Mexico."

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February 22, 2014

HOW NEWCOMERS CAN FIND THEIR WAY

A pickup packing a huge camper carried New York license plates. A small sedan was from Mississippi and another's plates showed the distinctive mountain silhouette of Colorado. Scattered between were mixtures of vehicles sporting Montana plates; some from Missoula, others from Helena, one from Glacier County, another from Ravalli County. Most, however, were from the to-be-expected Flathead and Lake Counties.

"That must have been quite a challenge to drive that pickup with that big camper up this road," I murmured.

"How in the world did they even find this spot?" Jane asked.

Those out-of-state strangers had come to the right place. From this jammed parking lot at the end of an abysmal, poorly marked road, trails snaked off in three directions to jewel-like lakes and scenic mountain vistas. Then, within short distances, other trails fork from those three "starter" trails to provide an entire spider web of trails into, and through, scenic slpine country. But my wife's question started me thinking: How, indeed, do newcomers find their way to remote places?

Well, how would I find my way around in a new (to me) land?

One way is to know somebody. For instance, a friend from Oregon suggested that, one spring, we spend time in Southeastern Oregon's Malhuer country, searching for an illusive band of wild horses. He knew that land well. (We found and photographed the rare strain of wild Spanish Barb animals.)

But supposing I have no friends in the area I wish to visit--say the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota. How would I go about choosing where and when to go? What to see? What to do?

Obviously one needs to make contact with folks knowledgeable about the area; perhaps forest rangers, guides, local canoe enthusiasts. A place to start might be to write the Chamber of Commerce in Ely, Minnesota.

I have no idea about the quality of Ely's C-of-C package, but I suspect it'll contain little of the kind of information really needed. But it will have a name and telephone number. Now call. Ask for the address and phone number for the nearest U.S. Forest Service administrative office. Ask also for phone numbers of a couple of Ely sporting goods stores. And if the original C-of-C packet never contained them, ask for a list of area outfitters who rent canoes.

Now call the Forest Service number, using your very best telephone presence. Your objective is to get past the bored receptionist who fields hundreds (or at least dozens) of such calls every day. The one you want is a field person who knows the canoe area intimately, and with whom you can brainstorm a route especially designed to achieve your objectives.

Do the same with sporting goods stores. Ask for names of reputable canoe rental outfitters. Ask also for names and phone numbers of local outdoor folk with extensive area knowledge.

Call those knowledgeable local folks. Because you're asking information of people who will gain nothing from the telling, you'll once again need your best telephone presence.

At last, compare info on places to go, best times, routes. Choose. You'll spend a few bucks on phone calls and it's not something you can put together overnight. But the payoff comes when, as happened to us, local people arrive at their favorite jumping-off place and find your vehicle already parked there.

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February 15, 2014

HISTORY SAYS THERE ARE TWO CHOICES

Critics charge that folks who want to keep a piece of land the way God made it are selfish. They refer to those people as preservationists or protectionists or environmental extremists. There's implication something is wrong with preserving a mountain or forest or valley for tomorrow's Americans.

To those critics, a land is "wasted" if it's not roaded or logged or mined or subdivided or changed from God's handiwork to man's sleight-of-hand. Preservationists, they say, would keep public land from being utilized for the greatest good for the greatest number.

There's little use in denying the charge. "Preservationists" are trying to preserve, just like "protectionists" protect and "conservationists" conserve. To folks of their ilk, Americans have but two choices with their public lands--develop or preserve.  

And that's the way it's always been. 

- Sequoia National Park came to pass as a means to prevent the giant trees from being felled by railroad barons.

- Yellowstone was protected in order to keep the world's foremost geysers from folks who would claim them in order to turn 'em into a gigantic private health spa for their own profit.

- Glacier Park was preserved in order to save world-class scenery from the uglification of denuded forests and mine tailings.

Oh, but we can save the land without protecting it, can't we?

Unfortunately the answer is no, we haven't done so thus far. Thus far, the only successful preservation of America's natural treasures have been via designating National Parks, or through their late-arriving cousins, National Forest Wildernesses.

The only reason we still have unclassified, undeveloped Montana tracts is because they're the last remnants of America's last frontier. They're still natural simply because they were farthest from markets, most difficult to access, or of low productivity.

Now we're engaged in making the final determination of those last of the last frontier lands. There are those folks who would tell us that the scenic backdrop for half of all Flathead Valley's picture windows can be protected without making it National Forest Wilderness or National Park. And they're the same folks who put out printed literature that says--and this is an exact quote--"Another area of concern to us in the Wilderness proposal is the Columbia Mountain area. This area has 6,500 acres of tentatively suitable timber, or 60 million board feet . . ."

Two choices--preserve or develop. 

Just what is the highest and best use for the trees on the mountain rampart that towers 4,000 feet above Flathead Valley? To road and clearcut it? Or to keep it intact to define the future of one of the fastest growing and most beautiful valleys in all the mountain west? Do people who look at Columbia Mountain every day wish to risk loss of their visual backdrop, perhaps risk declining property values on the family home?

Columbia Mountain was once included in one of the many Wilderness bills that failed because of political obstruction. Then, because of Senator Burns' intervention and Senator Baucus' cave-in, Columbia Mountain was dropped from the bill.

Still, though Columbia Mountain's integrity is still intact, let's not grow complacent. Hal Borland once wrote:

"Save a priceless woodland or an irreplaceable mountain today, and tomorrow it is threatened from another quarter. Man, our most ingenious predator, sometimes seems determined to destroy the precious treasures of our own environment."

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February 8, 2014

DOING FUN THINGS TOGETHER BUILDS LOVE

            The earliest I recall these things called valentines was during my first year in school. Each first-grade girl's name was dropped into one basket; boys' names went into another. Then we drew.
            It all sounded exciting until I looked at the name on my slip of paper and threw up. The one I really wanted was that LuAnn Nockelby. True, her hair was stringy and she wore glasses and her knees clattered together when she walked. But she had this wonderful attribute, see? Her parents gave her a nickel each week to spend at the candy counter of the country store near our school.
            Instead, I drew the name of Lorelei Saffelmeier--the loud one who chased after boys and kissed them in order to watch 'em blush.
            I would've played hooky that whole month of February in order to avoid the doomsday valentine swap, but a domineering mother and sadistic teacher dug in together to thwart any escape.
            I've mellowed over the years, for Valentine's Day doesn't conjure up the same frightful images. Oh, I still draw a girl's name from a basket and I always buy that girl the prettiest card I can find. But today's basket contains only a single name and the girl who packs that name can chase and kiss me anytime she wants.
            That girl and me--we've run in the same harness for more decades than most of you readers are old. And it'd be okay with both of us if we log a bunch more decades before climbing our Last Divide. We might do it, too, for both of us enjoy excellent health, the will to learn, and a zest for life. We attribute much of our good fortune to the fact that we exercise together. hiking a bunch, working out at an athletic club, visiting unusual places at unscheduled times.
            Though not as active as we once were (or would like to be, we still  fossil hunt, visit archaeological sites, or spend a day or three partaking of any other of the many fine outdoor pursuits Montana has to offer.
            We still float rivers, camp by lakes, watch wildlife.
            I still wear with pride what I call my "super bowl" ring: with a string of 47 straight years visiting the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
            Clearly, physical regimen has become a way of life to us.  And we've been able to meld its habit-forming benefits into our mutual love for the forests, mountains, rivers and plains found so readily throughout the Treasure State. But as beneficial as is physical regimen and exercise, we don't credit our good fortune so much to that regimen so much as the fact that we exercise together.
            Neither Jane nor I have degrees in psychotherapy, but we both recognize our love-relationship has been immeasurably strengthened by doing fun things together. If those fun things also develops physical élan and tends toward mental repose, so much the better. 
            I suppose doing fun things together could be attending concerts or visiting Disneyland or the Metropolitan Museum. But this seems an appropriate place to make a pitch for Montanans to take a long look at what they've got just outside their back door.
            I recall a lady from Buffalo, New York, who was visiting Montana some years back. Jane and were seated across from her and her husband at a Kalispell banquet table. She was nice enough, I guess, but I'll never forget how horrified she was at finding our access to cultural exposure so limited.  "What on earth do you people do out here?" she asked.
            "Do out here?  DO OUT HERE?" I exploded. 
            How could any man love such a woman?

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February 1, 2014

BLURRING THE LINES

I'm coming to realize that each individual given a chance to live a full life, actually becomes an escapee from an age they do not understand. I'm sure it was so with my mother and father who were born at the turn of the 20th Century. They coped, of course, big-eyed and wonder-filled, with flying machines and the loud, obnoxious horseless carriages that hogged the road and frightened otherwise gentle horses spitless.

They saw vaudeville turn into motion pictures and silent movies give way to sound tracks. They were in young adulthood when the first sack of mail was delivered via airplane. And I know for a fact that they made every sacrifice to stop Hitler and Tojo and the fat guy from Italy from running roughshod over the rest of the world--including the ultimate loss of their eldest son.

They heard radio in its infancy and watched television in its infancy and was listening when the bomb exploded over Hiroshima that changed the world.

They saw the beginnings of America's interstate highway system and were more than observers in the changing structure of our country's "Arsenal of Democracy" until it became the manufacturing hub for the rest of the world.

They suffered acutely during the Great Depression, but they emerged from that traumatic period proud and unbowed. And they gratefully embraced the better post-WWII life for themselves and their children.

But I'm not so sure they were overjoyed about the tempo of that life: the never-ending flow of new neighbors and changing neighborhoods. I'm not sure they grasped altering values among their contemporaries, and I know for a fact there was total confusion on their part about shifting morals.

So they stuck with what they knew. Their code was strict, but to them it was comfortable.  They believed in a fiery diety who punished far more often than He blessed. They were gregarious, however, and as well as they knew, remained pleased with their lot in life without fully understanding it.

So it is with me. I witnessed humans walking on the moon. I saw the first Sputnik, and watched satellites become common. I saw unmanned space voyages to distant planets in our solar system. I watched computers from near infancy until today they've taken over our home office, as they have most offices in America and the world.

I saw trade embargoes collapse and free trade encompass the world. I've watched the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of many Third World countries to become economic powerhouses.

Yet as an escapee from another, older age, I can't quite grasp why more people can't see and understand that there are limits to the earth's resources; that if we're greedy today, we consign our children to lesser life quality during their age.

I can't understand how economic conservatives can be so spendthrift with the country's natural resources, nor how environmentally friendly liberals can spend our nation into insolvency. 

Or are even those lines blurring?

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January 25, 2014

TODAY FROM YESTERDAY FOR TOMORROW

I've decided the face peering back at me from the bathroom mirror ain't as young as it was when I brought it to this country back in '64. When did that irrigation ditch develop between my eyes? Do I frown that much?

I know when a bunch of the present character...istics came--when Polebridge Pete rearranged my nose from long and straight to crooked with a hump in it. I can also pull down my lower lip and see where Pete and his malamute knocked out as fine a pair of wolf teeth the Good Lord stuck in a 20th Century Montanan.

Age, a little wildness, and lots of stupidity takes inevitable toll; it's a pearl of wisdom this old and retired outfitter can authoritatively decant--and does so free of charge. Truth tell, I'm not the same guy I was before I froze to death on Pentagon Mountain, back in ninety-three. Nor do I shed off as early in the spring.

Yet even after all the wear and tear, I still fancy myself some. Maybe I can't hoof it with Fred Astaire, but Ginger Rogers hasn't lately ask me to dance neither. And it's entirely possible, was she to do so, that at this stage in my game, I'd have a tongue hanging out so far a body could strop a razor on it.

Despite my own infatuation with self, there've always been a few who figured I was born to be hung--maybe because of the six inches of throat waving above the turned down collar of my old flannel shirts. And I'll admit that during my younger days there was one too many bouts at various and sundry watering holes that put me in the right frame of mind to look forward to gallows swingin'.

But though those days are gone forever, neither memory nor wishful recollections have disappeared entirely.

Am I at peace? Absolutely.

You see, somewhere there's a baby coming with a tiny cottontail nose and eyes without focus; one with a fat and innocent face and arms full of folds; one beginning life with no more hair than I'm ending mine. Look at it close and the baby will look like an old person who got shrunk in the wash. But the baby will grow and ...

A teen-age boy stopped at our home. Several time now, though he's no longer a teenager. The first time was to tell me how thoroughly he enjoyed my book about elk--"The Phantom Ghost of Harriet Lou." Naturally I bloated some with his telling and invited him into the house where he struggled to take his eyes off the elk rack that hangs over my desk.

Right away, the lad commenced asking particulars about elk and elk hunting, each of which reply I could refer to sections of the book covering the subjects in question. He could--and sometimes did--quote salient phrases from those sections, so I knew the lad actually had studied the book.

The second time the young man came a-knocking was to give me a blow-by-blow account of his latest elk hunting adventures, one of which had a bull elk at the end of it. Again, the lad did me the honor of using tactics I'd revealed in my book. Again the lad blew enough smoke up my rear that my ego stretched over yonder horizon.

He's the one--that 19-year-old lad--building memories for tomorrow. And may that fat little rascal born today turn to that elk hunting lad who was born yesterday for his own tomorrows.

* By the way, that elk book, formerly "The Phantom Ghost of Harrsiet Lou, but now re-titled to "Learn About Elk" is for sale through Amazon as an e-book. Click Here To learn more about the book, even reading the first chapter, visit my bookstore: Click Here To View
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January 18, 2014

GUIDE FOR ZANE GREY

Perry Wright was my second hero. Perry might be unknown around Montana's Rockies, but he was a legend of no small proportions in Oregon's mountains where I came to manhood. A big, gruff man with a booming voice, Perry took out a homestead amid the wild, untamed land north and west of Crater Lake, in the Southern Oregon Cascades. The year was 1908.

Perry came into the North Umpqua country as a youth, around the beginning of the last century. HIS hero was a bonafide mountain man named Bill Bradley, who held squatter's rights to a section of land below Caps Illahee (a large natural meadow on a flat bench where Umpqua Indians held summer encampments and raced horses).

That particular Indian tribe had fallen on hard times, more or less since they'd massacred a Jedediah Smith-led party of American fur trappers who were driving Spanish horses up the Oregon Coast. The massacre occurred near the mouth of the Umpqua River.

Perry took out his homestead on Caps Illahee, also bringing his wife Jessie to the homestead in 1915, when she was 15-years-old and he was the ripe old age of thirty.

Later, Perry and Jessie Wright acquired Bill Bradley's Deeded Land Claim, and moved from the upper bench down to a home near the North Umpqua River.

For the sixty years before I knew Perry, he scrounged a living from the land by running a few head of cattle on the National Forest; by taking occasional guests (he called them "pilgrims") to Crater Lake and the surrounding mountains, and by bounty hunting for cougars and wolves and bears (the Oregon of that day offered liberal bounties for animals then considered "varmints").

Naturally, as a young man just beginning to explore and hunt the North Umpqua country, I'd heard of Perry Wright but never dreamed I'd get a chance to meet him. Nor did I dream if I should, that I'd actually get a chance to talk to the famous mountain man.

It was 1959 and there were two of us out deer hunting. We'd paused to eat lunch with our backs to a fallen tree when a big, old man ambled by on the trail. He stopped to talk, acting for all the world like we were old friends he'd chanced upon. Then I discovered he was Perry Wright and my talking days were over, while my listening days were just beginning.

That chance encounter led to dozens of other visits. And my knowledge of the country and former days blossomed. One of Perry's foremost clients was the famed Western writer, Zane Grey.

"I thought Zane Grey fished the Rogue," I said one day as Perry began a tale featuring the cantankerous writer.

"No," Perry said. "He wrote about fishing the Rogue, but he actually fished the North Umpqua. I myself asked him one time why he never wrote about the Umpqua. He told me he wasn't going to ruin the Umpqua by writing about it, like he did the Rogue."

Perry and Jessie had some old photos of Zane Grey taken on the Umpqua. Perry said Grey always had a man-servant with him, and he would give Perry and his servant fishing rods. Then when guide or servant would shout "Fish on!" Grey would come and land it.

One of my heroes, Perry died while cougar hunting in 1967. He was 82-years-old. By then I'd followed my dream to Montana and to emulate, in my own small way, my hero.

FYI

* Monday morning (Jan. 20), I'll begin a 3-times-per-week serialization of my newest book, YOGO, a novel about the fabulous discovery of the world-famous Yogo sapphire mine. For more information, CLICK HERE

YogoCover

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January 11, 2014

DEFINING THE HUNTER

I lost my temper. If you'd been there, you might've not noticed. But I knew.  And Jane knew. She couldn't tell, though, from what I said—which to begin with was very little—but from the fact that I wasn't saying anything, which isn't like me at all.

Of course she was angered, too, which helped her excuse my failure.

It was at an author signing in a big discount store. The fellow had strolled to our table, browsed through my book about elk, then let us know he was a fine hunter—perhaps the world's greatest. He asked if I hunted, which I accepted with considerable amusement while deciding not to reveal that I had served as a Bob Marshall Wilderness outfitter for twenty years. It was okay with him, though, because he already had all the answers to everything, needing (nor wanting) anything from me. But when he shoved his view out that only REAL hunters should be allowed to hunt, I blurted, "What?"

By way of explanation, the guy told us he'd spent time in a hunting camp this past autumn where some folks there merely wanted to sit around camp and talk about hunting. "They got no right to call themselves hunters!" he spat.

I guess the guy must have taken my shocked silence for acquiescence because he commenced to tell where the camp was located and who was in it.

By then, I didn’t care whether the guy wanted to buy a book, or not. "Why are you telling me this?" I softly asked. Apparently the wasn't listening as he launched into more of his diatribe. "WHY ARE YOU TELLING ME THIS?" I interrupted.

"Huh?"

"What do you expect me to do?" I said, "write a column about these friends of yours; tell the world how rotten their collective hunting talents are?"

"Hey, don't get me wrong," the man said. "If they want to come to camp and cook, or wash dishes, or cut wood, okay. But if not, they ought to get out and hunt."

Knowing I had to rush before he got another breath—and began more of his ridiculous proclamations—I asked, "Did they throw you out of camp?"

He was more sensitive than I expected because his eyes narrowed and he fell silent.

Jane stood nearby, pretending to stare elsewhere but listening closely as she usually does. Not trusting myself, I followed my wife's gaze while thinking about the indefensible corner the guy had painted himself into, yet was too dense to understand.

Who does he think he is defining standards for others? The license any hunter carries in his pocket is not a meat license, it's a permit to go huntiing. That license money provided the funds that saved a hell of a lot of game animals this turkey can hunt today. He should get down on his knees and kiss the lounging slippers of those who buy licenses, yet don't compete with him in the field.

How much one chooses to hunt may, in truth, make the license an expensive proposition, or an inexpensive one. But it's available to most any resident Montanan for a set fee. 

An invitation to a hunting camp, on the other hand—especially one filled with levity and camaraderie—does not come cheap. It's an investment one must make in friendships and equipment-pooling and, yes, hunting acumen, storytelling, and work sharing.

Who is this turkey who believes one seeking to rest and recoup among comrades in the fall of the year should be relegated to any more or less chores to make a camp function than one who chooses to hunt diligently?

The guy almost ruined my good humor.

* By the way, the elk book in question can be seen in our website bookstore: CLICK HERE
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January 4, 2014

ANCHORING THE DOG FLEET

"Gawd," I said to my wife as we both stared at the huge motor home towering above our van, "no battleship ever built beat that monstrosity for size."  (I spoke with some authority because I once strode the decks of the U.S.S. Texas while the old battleship floated, as a Lone Star State tourist attraction, just off the Houston ship canal.)  In addition, the gargantuan motor home trailed a sedan bigger than hearses used to transport my ancestors to their final resting place. 

A man's head disappeared from the vehicle's control bridge and, I presume, clambered down several flights of stairs to reach ground level.  "He's coming to talk to you," Jane murmured.

"Are y’all folks here for the dog show?" the man asked. 

... And everything clicked into place.

The place was a campground at the Boulder County fairgrounds in Longmont, Colorado.  We were visiting there while attending booksignings at stores in the north-Denver area.  The evening before, a motor home the size of the Star Ship Enterprise had pulled into a nearby space, followed by a classy one-ton pickup in firehole colors that might've just departed a showroom floor. These were definitely NOT "Grapes of Wrath" orange pickers headed for California.

No sooner had motor home and flame-painted pickup rolled to a stop than a crew of three descended to set up a wire dog-run alongside.  The wire itself was encased in form-fitting black plastic.  We thought it was to keep their mongrels from spotting something to howl at.  But, in retrospect, it was designed to keep peeping toms from eyeballing their canine royalty.

From sounds stemming from their sequestered dog-run compound, it must’ve contained royalty from several different breeds.

In another sector of the campground was a third monstrous motor home that could easily be used for delivering assembled 747s to airports around America.  There was an unshrouded dog-run connected to this airliner delivery vehicle.  Two artificial, full-sized fireplugs crouched in opposite corners of the dog-run.  Other assorted dog toys lay scattered about.  A leviathan schnauzer bounded out of the coach's open door to stand menacingly at the dog-run's perimeter fence.

"Oh isn't he pretty?" Jane said.

The mutt wriggled a stub tail.

I reminder her that I hate schnauzers.

The mutt growled.

Later, as we sauntered around that Boulder County Fairgrounds to better observe the Pearl Harbor-sized fleet of enormous motor homes at anchor, I said, "And I thought horse lovers were conspicuous."

"What?" Jane said. 

"Just oversized dog houses," I muttered.

Then I pointed down the street at Boulder County's animal shelter, a domed building less than a block away.  "Isn't it funny to think anybody here could go over to that dogpound and pick out a mutt for less money than it would take to dump the holding tanks on any one of these Taj Mahals."

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December 28, 2013

ICY BENEFITS

Ice. 

Ice is, along with bitter cold and blowing, drifting snow, the bane of wintertime Montana. Ice comes in several different forms, all of which can most consistently be found in driveways and on most treacherous road corners.

A few addled fisherfolk relish freeze-up, chomping nervously at their bits until lake ice reaches a consistency to support both body and sufficient toddy to deter frigid furies.

Glare ice is of course the bane of motorists, skiers, and sledders, but can be a godsend to winter campers, especially those pulling toboggans over frozen lakes or up frozen streams. 

Jane and I once skied to Stanton Lake, in the Great Bear Wilderness, and discovered the lake covered with a sheen of four-inch-thick, clear ice. It was exhilarating striding and gliding the mile-and-a-half to the lake's upper end. Once there, we could see through the ice to reeds waving from the lake bottom.

Winter camping is, to some, a crazed adventure. But accomplished properly, with a few basic skills, prudence, and solid equipment, it can be immensely enjoyable. 

A word to the wise: it can be more comfortable, and thus more enjoyable, if one pulls a toboggan carrying a slightly larger tent, a stove, a lantern and more palatable food than to depend on the Spartan existence one can carry in a backpack. Another word to the wise: toboggans are easier to pull and control while on snowshoes rather than skis.

Winter camping requires learning the importance of layering and how to regulate your body warmth by taking off or putting on layers of clothing, depending on temperature and wind velocity. But what the heck, thermo-regulating for winter camping is no different from thermo-regulating for ice fishing, downhill skiing, feeding cows, logging, fixing fence, or building snowmen. One must, if one is smart, dress properly, meaning lighter-weight wools and polar fleeces in layers.

Ice climbing is a relatively new winter activity. Its aficionados are enthusiastic. They're also daring and, to me, as addled as ice fishermen. 

Ice flows don't just pop out, they flow out. They flow in great blue-hued flumes. And that flume can change from day to day. Yesterday's successful climb may not have solved today's problems. Ice climbing, I'm told, is just like rock climbing--but with the added stress of cold and wind—and changing climbing faces.

Tools include an ice ax for each hand, pitons. Climbers also use belay ropes and harnesses to catch them if the worst occurs. Metal spikes called crampons are worn on boots. Mittens and face masks are stocks-in-trade.

My only real contact with ice climbing is with a friend who was on a rescue team that transported a climber with a broken back from a frozen waterfall a couple of miles from my home.

My conclusion about ice? Goes good in a glass, with fruit juice. 

Or something stronger.

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December 21, 2013
* I'm doing something different with this "Campfire Culture" by reprinting a story of mine that first ran in Petersen's Hunting for Christmas, 1986. I hope you like it.

THE OLD BULL AND THE RANCHER

A door slammed at one of the feared human’s small lairs and the gaunt old bull’s antlers made a sweeping arc as he swung his head to peer through leafless tag alders, studying the distant figure, chewing methodically on a bitter alder stem as tiny puffs of condensing fog drifted from his nostrils. Partially melted clumps of snow, knocked earlier from brush as the animal foraged, clung to his prominent backbone and into shallow rib troughs along the animal’s weathered sides.

Those tag alders thrust from snow that was belly deep to the old elk, sprouting near the meadow’s edge, roots seeking dampness from an underground spring. The emaciated bull had been among them since daylight, shoving snow with  his chest to forage. He’d begun by mouthing the few remaining shriveled leaves, then turned to ripping off smaller shoot ends with still strong teeth, seeking nourishment necessary to fend off the penetrating cold.
It’d been an early winter, with repeated heavy snows—the first actual blizzard tearing into his high country before yellowing leaves fell from the aspens. Then it turned bitterly cold for endless weeks. Flesh melted from the old bull, already weakened from advancing age and by frenzied weeks of the annual rutting cycle.

With the rut long since finished and the proliferation of orange-clad humans at last gone from his domain, the gaunt old elk drifted before following storms, pushed from his white-shrouded mountain fastness, always through trackless powder and increasing cold. Down, down, into foothills he’d seldom before visited, surviving on the last vestiges of stored body fat and what little forage he could scrounge in the deep forest: a few pine and fir needles, bitter hawthorne and russet buffaloberry shoots. Once, he chanced upon a patch of succulent red-osier dogweood where tarried for two days, pawing away snow, antlers digging and dozing until all tender stem ends were exposed and chewed down to their stubs; until nothing life-sustaining remained.

Lower and lower the old bull drifted. Wallowing where his fading body chose, he found no mainstay winter elk foods: no evergreen and red-stem ceanothus, no mountain maple or serviceberry. At last, despair drove the old bull to the valley flloor—a place he’d never before visited; to the very home range of hated man.

That desperation drove the old bull was apparent by the fact he fed on bitter, low protein tag alder. Hunger blunted the elk’s fear of humans and during the early darkness of this last night, he’d plowed through the snow-covered meadow, circling the man’s biggest lair where the scent of cured alfalfa hay lay heavy within. Then he’d circled the two tall haystacks, only to find them well protected by high, closely spaced boards.

The “elk panels” were constructed of eight-foot, one-by-fours, laid parallel and wired tightly together. They’d been placed around the haystacks nearly two months before by men of the State’s Fish & Game Department as part of an on-going program to help control critical haystack depredation by wintering elk. Dan Connaught’s isolated ranch afforded a vital link in a major elk migration route and he’d been hard hit in prior years.

“Well, there they are, Mr. Connaught,” the game warden said, as he and his helper threw tools into the back of their truck. “The panels should help.”

Connaught nodded, tiny crowfeet wrinkles deepening at the eye corners of his sun and wind-tanned face. “They’d better,” he said as tiny snowflakcs began once again drifting from heavy-bellied skies. Then the rancher muttered, “As early and hard as this winter looks to be, won’t be enough hay to go around to my own cows. Won’t be none to buy nowhere, neither.”

“Likely not,” the warden agreed. He was a native of this valley and well knew what an early, hard winter could mean to struggling high country ranchers. “Captain said to remind you these panels belong to the Department. They’re just on loan to you, Mr Connaught. We don’t figure on it, but if the panels are needed worse someplace else, we could come and get ‘em. Okay?”

The old man stared thoughtfully at his protected haystack. The beginning of a smile softened his lined features and he nodded again. “If this winter winds up to be as hard as it began, won’t be no elk wintering this far up-valley anyway. That be the case, you’ll need the panels farther down.”

The helper finished loading the Fish & Game truck and drifted to stand by the warden. Both agency men turned their coat collars up against the blowing snow. The warden said, “Captain also said to tell you we appreciate you going along in the past—when we were strapped for money, people and panels. We know darned well the elk took a lot of your hay.”

Connaught flashed a wry grin, uneven teeth flashing. “Wasted a sight more’n they ate, damn ‘em.” His grin widened. “But, what the hell. I been huntin’ them critters longer than you boys are old. Makes man respect ‘em some. I reckon they gotta eat, too.” The helper shifted feet impatiently as the old rancher added: “They don’t all need to eat off me, though.”

It’d been a tough early winter—as bad as even the eldest old-timers could remember. Just as Dan Connaught predicted, the elk herd normally wintering near his ranch drifted farther down valley amid the deepening cold. It’d been three weeks since the last two elk—both respectable bulls in their prime—had bucked drifting snow to follow the windblown tracks of the herd.

 

Connaught stepped from his porch as the ranch house door slammed behind. He paused and slapped his mittened hands together against the cold, glancing up a pale, clear sky. He thought of their son and his wife and their kids coming out from town for dinner and a smile broke the angular face.

He whistled tonelessly while ambling along the plowed trail to the barn. It was feeding time for his cattle, held in a nearby sheltered pasture. As he did every day at feeding time, Dan Connaught mentally measured his hay, added in feed requirements for weather extremes and wondered if the hay would stretch. He stopped abruptly as his path crossed huge elk tracks laid down the evening before. The rancher waded into the deep snow, following the bull’s circuit around the barn and haystacks. Then he returned to the barn for his tractor and hay sled.

Later, after filling the sled from the top of one of the stacks, Connaught leaned on his pitchfork and let his eyes wander along the old bull’s tracks to the clump of tag alders less than a hundred yards away. Sweat coursed from beneath the man’s wool cap and down his backbone as he studied the bull’s gaunt half-hidden form.

The old bull saw the man working atop the nearest haystack, of course. Some inner instinct cried to him to flee! Now! Before it’s too late! Always before the bull avoided the foul-smelling, two-legged creatures his decade-long span of years. Now, however, his body simply failed. Even while his brain told him to flee, the gaunt old frame moved not the slightest muscle.

Eyes locked over the scant hundred yards. Each was aware of the other’s presence. Each knew the other knew he was being watched. The man wondered what the elk might’ve done had not the lethargy of slow starvation settled upon the gaunt hide-and-bone frame?
The old bull mouthed another finger-sized alder stem and slowly gnawed it from it’s branch, eyes never leaving the motionless rancher, standing atop the haystack.

Connaught heard the automobile. From his vantage point atop the hay he could see his son’s station wagon approaching along the county lane and a smile creased the old rancher’s normally stern features.

When the vehicle stopped before his house, the doors popped open and Connaught watched his three grandchildren, arms filled with brightly wrapped packages, rush toward the house.

He started to clamber from his haystack, then paused to finger the smooth handle of his pitchfork. He thought of his cattle and remembered how each day he measured their feed, trying desperately to gauge it sufficiently to make it last. He glanced once more at the emaciated, motionless form among the tag alders. Then the stern old man wagged his head from side to side as he thrust the pitchfork deep into the hay and pitched three big forkfuls to the ground, close beside the enclosed haystack.

“Merry Christmas,” the man murmured.

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December 14, 2013

BOULDERING

There were five of them, two women and three men. There'd been three men the evening before. The evening before, I'd wagged my head at their collectively low Intelligence Quotient. This time I edged nearer.

The young men and women were free-climbing a rock cliff near Twin Falls, Idaho. While doing booksignings in the area, Jane and I discovered a hiking path that led past the climbers' playground. The climbing aficionados apparently regularly assaulted this particular rock wall.

The cliff was part of a lava layer spewed over the Snake River Plain as the Yellowstone Caldera moved through southeastern Idaho a few million years ago. Erosion has been at work shaping and carving the landscape since; the river's gorge is one stunning feature, as is a plethora of freshwater springs and wind-and-water-cut buttes, outcrops and cliffs.

The climbers warily watched me approach as if curious pilgrims were common. "Hi!" I said, dusting off one of my more innovative approaches.

"Mmmm," one replied.

Not to be so easily put off, I asked if I could watch? "Mmmmm," a different one replied.

With such enthusiastic endorsement, I began asking questions as they took turns assaulting the 30-foot cliff. None made it on my watch, despite heroic efforts, falling to a mat spread at ground-level. They knew how to fall, though, apparently having practiced its routines more often than achieving successful assaults.

In all honesty, the particular portion of cliff they chose to scale looked impossible to a guy who's stood on mountain summits across much of the West. For one thing, they must not only propel themselves up using only their hands and feet, but they had to scale up and over an overhang to do so.

They called their sport "Bouldering"—why, I never discovered. They used rosin on their hands to aid in gripping a tiny, almost imperceptible rock knob. They'd shove their hands into narrow cracks. And they'd seek toe-hold ledges of no more than an inch in width. They're nuts. But they're also athletic, fearless, and committed to their sport.

Mike May, a College of Southern Idaho radiology student, says successful bouldering lies in what he called "explosive powering." Mike said a climber must reach a certain level, then rest while clinging to the cliff face and searching for his next upward handholds or toeholds. Then he must "explode" upward, sometimes leaping to reach his next position. Indeed, each of the men sported powerful arms and broad shoulders.

But Esther Merrill, a model technician in dental arts, who by the way is not an unattractive lady, says women aren't as explosive as men but "we have more grace and we're more supple." She says women can use their smaller hands to reach into cracks and crevices that are too small for men.

Melissa Roy was both smallest and, at 17, the youngest of the group. She's a high school student.

"That's one thing about climbing," Mike May said, "it's an unselfish sport." He says most climbing groups are open to anyone.

That's when Jane took me by the arm and dragged me away.

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December 7, 2013

FACT OR FICTION?

"Anyone can be wrong in their opinions; no one has the right to be wrong in their facts." 
            - author unknown

As a writer, I feel I have an obligation to present true and accurate facts as I know them. And I usually give short shrift to outdoor pieces containing inaccuracies, even when the piece is considered an outdoor classic by an exalted writer. I'll offer"Big Two-Hearted River" by Ernest Hemingway as an example.

A little background:  Nick Adams (who some believe was really Hemingway) had just returned to Michigan after being grievously wounded during the First World War. Throughout his hospital recovery, Adams dreamed of returning to his favorite trout stream. The story begins with the man backpacking to his dream river. It was 1919, long before today's lightweight backpacking gear. 

Adams carried a canvas tent, three blankets, an axe, a wire cooking grill with legs, a frying pan, coffee pot, and cooking and eating utensils. He had a rope to use as a ridgepole for his tent (no lightweight nylon in those days), a rod and reel, leather rod case, landing net, and a rucksack with tumpline.

According to the story, during his first 24 hours at camp, Adams ate a can of pork & beans, a can of spaghetti, and a small can of apricots. He used tomato catsup, drank coffee flavored with condensed milk and sugar, and cut slices from a loaf of bread. The next morning he made buckwheat pancakes cooked in a frying pan that was wiped with grease. Apple butter was used on the pancakes. 

Also mentioned was cigarettes, oiled paper for carrying sandwiches, and an empty bottle to hold grasshoppers used as fishbait. There was a flour sack for holding fish, a flybook, nails, a folding canvas bucket, cheesecloth for mosquito-proofing his tent, and a damp pad for the guy's fishing leader.

All in all, I calculated the weight of what we've thus far identified at 75 to 80 pounds—without taking into account any additional food for those subsequent days the story implied Nick Adams planned to camp. Since today's lightweight backpack foods weren't available in 1919, one must assume Adams carried many additional pounds of foodstuff.

In addition, I calculated he backpacked 6 to 8 miles that first day.

Hemingway's tale was presented as credible--and certainly his subsequent fishing scenes were beautiful and poignant; they're what drives Orvis-ites to consider the tale a flyfishing classic. Here's a sample passage:

"…Now as he looked down the river, the insects must be settling on the surface, for the trout were feeding steadily all down the stream. As far down the long stretch as he could see, the trout were rising, making circles all down the surface of the water, as though it were starting to rain."

I wish Hemingway had stuck to his beautiful renditions of the river and fishing for I, too, have been there and done that at similar times on similar reaches. But...I've also backpacked and, frankly, I couldn't  have "done that" when it comes to carrying a pack weighing upwards of 120 pounds for many miles—though I have carried heavy quarters from a downed elk for perhaps a mile downhill when I was young and only wounded with exhorbitent pride 

Nothing in the above, however, should prevent you from trying to emulate Hemingway (skip the war wound, though). If you're big enough and tough enough, and with today's advances in lightweight equipment and dehydrated foods, you might just pull off a great adventure, like, say twice as many miles with half as much weight….

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* December 7th--hmm. If it's of any interest, you can find out what happened to my family because of what happened on December 7, 1941 by reading my book "Dance On the Wild Side. Click Here to view the book at Roland's bookstore.

DanceCover

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November 30, 2013

OF MULES AND MEN

Burl Drollinger was an old-time U.S. Forest Service packer. 

Burl is one of nine old-time Montana sawbuck packers whose portraits are in a famous painting by Tom Sauburt titled "Diamond-Hitch Men." Other packers pictured were Glen Phanco, Toussaint Jones, Howard Neas, Guy Klatterbuck, Bruce Neal, Glen Bauska, Ralph Thayer, and Vern Strodbeck.

Bruce Neal, of course, is famed for managing the Sun River Game Range and helping to bring back elk numbers to the land east of the Continental Divide. Ralph Thayer is best known on the west side of the Continental Divide as the man who originally laid out most of the trails up the Flathead's North Fork. Vern Strodbeck was the last of the old-timers to pass over the Great Divide, maybe fifteen years ago.

Burl Drollinger, as pictured in Tom's painting, shows close-cropped snow-white hair that seldom saw comb or brush. The face is long and angular, with prominent cheekbones, jutting chin, and a long nose with a hump on it. The eyebrows are as white and wild as the man's hair, riding just above slitted dark eyes staring off to one side, more in suspicion than surprise. The face is wrinkled—there are Grand Canyon troughs across the forehead, and vertical gullies frame both cheeks. But this man laughs a lot, too, with crow's feet at the eyes and mouth corners. The mouth
itself has full and expressive lips and though it's pictured as half-open, you've got to know it sometimes gaps wide in laughter.

I met Burl Drollinger near the end of his life, during the spring of 1973. The brand-new organization called Back Country Horsemen was, at the time, in the middle of its birthing pains, putting on their first big invitational event for the public, a "Packer's O-Mok-See" at the Rodeo Club in Columbia Falls. Burl lived in a mobile home on the complex. He was big-boned, tall.

The day was shirtsleeve-warm and Burl and I sat in lawnchairs outside his home, with the old man talking of packing in the "good old days" and me straining to catch every word. 

I was a wilderness outfitter by then and I guess the old man thought he was talking to a contemporary. He wasn't. Compared to him and the eight other men pictured in Tom's painting I had yet to mature. As a matter of fact I had barely sprouted and hadn’t even turned green. Hell, I'd barely even been planted!

"You know what the toughest load I ever packed was?" Burl asked.

I shook my head and leaned forward in anticipation. I expected him to say a cookstove to Big Prairie, or some of the disassembled parts for horse-drawn graders used to smooth early wilderness airstrips. But he didn't. Instead, he said, "Plywood."

I repeated, "Plywood?"

"Yep. Four-by-eight sheets of plywood. Carried 'em up them mountain switchbacks where lookouts was being built."

I fell silent thinking, calculating the problem, imagining what it would take to tie on a full-sized sheet of plywood—and keep it there—especially on a balky mule.

"Sometimes," Burl said, "It took longer to build the frame to pack an odd load than it did to carry it to where it was needed."

Today those kinds of loads go by helicopter. Yesterday they were carried by mules and men. 

Same kind of mules, maybe. But the men were REAL MEN!

* Visit Roland's bookstore to view all his books: Click Here
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November 23, 2013

GIVING THANKS FOR BAD THINGS

It's normal at this time of year for one to give thanks for countless bounties bestowed during the year past. This I have dutifully accomplished for lo, these many years. But I tire of regimen. It has something to do with being seditious by inclination and unruly by exasperation.

That's why I've decided this year not to offer thanks for all the GOOD coming my way, but simply to recognize all the BAD I successfully escaped. For instance, my wife never ran off with a more handsome younger man, though one passed through our town last February. As a result there's still an attractive maid rattling around the kitchen most mornings.

Neither did the cyclone that struck The Philippines rattle the dishes in my remote Montana mountain valley.

My 30-year-old pickup truck, while breaking down and wearing out often, and despite being offered plenty of opportunities, never once stranded me two days from town or home. 

So I'm struggling as a writer of books, so what? If I'm not writing books, I'm reading books and that's something. Not all books I've read were a waste of time and money either—at least three offered positive tips that could make Jane a better person.

Sales of the books I've already written are sluggish, but being hungry is an effective laxative to combat creative constipation. Naturally, slack book sales leads to no Swiss bank accounts, but as a result, the bad thing that didn't happen is I never lost a single dime during the recent market downturn.

I did not wet a hook, drown a fly, or cast a plug this year, but what's good about that bad thing is I went with a lot of people who did.  Sprawling on a river bank, in the sunshine, watching friends casting while up to their shirt pockets in frigid water is better for me than drowning worms. That way, if I have my nap out and want to wander away to look for river avens or elephantheads that bloom on nearby gravel bars or in sloughs or swamps, I have no compelling need to hang around coaching others to fish.

In addition, Jane and I (we travel together as the alpha male and female of our own tiny pack) can still enjoy the camp camaraderie in the evening.

Because both our kids live several hundred miles from home, they're not so inclined to be underfoot all hours of our days and nights. But the good part of that bad thing is that every once in a while we get to head south or southwest to visit those same kids; sort of get under their feet, so to speak.

I did not once get stood on my punkin head this year by any four-hoofed, spavined critter. That any steed on which I clamber is no longer young and spirited means they're now old and reliable—sort of like me. Lord knows, Jane and I both should be thankful for that bad thing!

My all-time best saddlehorse, my all-time best dog, my great editor, and two of my best friends are now gone. In addition, my doctors are aging. But what that really means is that I'm still here. Sometimes the mere fact one grows long in the tooth is reward enough. 

If so, should we construe the pain accompanying that aging as proof of our reward?

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November 16, 2013

THAT FIRST HUNTING VEHICLE

I studied it and stroked my chin. On the surface, it looked like a steal—just 350 dollars. On the other hand, surplus U.S. Army jeeps weren't all that common in the Oregon of my youth, even ten years after VJ Day. No doubt this machine's backtrail was long and twisted.

"Ford?" I said to the owner. "A Ford jeep! I didn't know Ford made jeeps."

"Made 'em better, too." I thought he said it a tad too smugly.

The tires, though showing hard use, were ancient Army-issue with thick traction lugs—they must be sound. 

When I folded the hood back against the cracked windscreen to look at the engine, the owner sought to divert me from the baked-on motor oil. "One thing about it," he said, "it never came back from Guadalcanal." 

I looked at him with raised eyebrows, so he added by way of explanation, "No saltwater rust spots."

"From the looks of it," I murmured, "it's darned lucky to get here from whatever bridge deck they dropped it from before the bulldozer pushed it into the junkpile."

I really wanted this jeep. After all, I was a beginning elk hunter and needed to get back where the wapiti were. Besides, there were only a few four-wheel-drive vehicles during my youth and I wanted one of them. That I'd persuaded my young wife of my dire need was, in and of itself, a miracle. Then this one popped up for sale down the road from our home!

"Only uses a little oil," the owner said, mistakenly dragging my attention back to the tiny engine. "But the gear case and transfer case and rear-end is all top trojan. Should be askin' $450, 'stead of $400."

"Your sign says $350."

He acted startled, muttering he meant to change it this morning ... and there went my resolve to try and beat his price down.

I had a sheet metal top on my jeep by elk season and two new tires, too, replacing the blowouts that occurred on a day when I was far from town and supply store. "I guess the tires weren't as good as I thought," I told Jane, who had to wait in the rig for me to hitch a ride to town and back.

She put her foot down about an engine overhaul, though. But the little four-cylinder turned out merely to need oil and not rebuilding. And the pistons still rattled within the block four years later when I upgraded my hunting transportation.

I still look fondly back on that old jeep. And why not? We were hardly more than newlyweds, Jane and I, and were already part of America's elite—a two-car family! That the machine's top highway speed was 30 mph; that any wind picked up speed as it roared through the cobbled canopy's cracks and holes; that the engine and rear
end howled like sled dogs baying at the moon—well, it made no difference at all; the old 1941 Ford jeep was my very own hunting vehicle. My first hunting vehicle!

But that jeep was more than transportation, it was a trigger. It set the dog, the horse, the truck, and Montana all in motion.

* The FREE e-book days ended on the 15th, but there were so many downloads during that time period that we're going to continue with another 7-day special on Amazon's Kindle Store, beginning Monday, November 18th: Dance On the Wild Side for just $.99 cents. Click Here to view.
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November 9, 2013

SPENDING BUTTER AND EGG MONEY TO FIND HER MAN

There's little doubt that fresh air, wholesome exercise and hearty foods—all abundant during hunting season—combine to excite the taste buds and fuel our human machines. 

Appetite is actually nothing more than the body's way of telling us we need more intake to maintain outgo. Tales of gastronomic legerdemain inherent to logging camps or cattle drives are commonplace. And their volumes of food consumed are almost unbelievable by today's standards: dozens of eggs and slabs of bacon, steaks measured by pounds instead of ounces, washtub-sized pots of beans, and cornbread by the bushels. However, it's only in the last few decades that science discovered yesteryear's human fuels often tended toward higher volume, lower octane. Here it is in perhaps too simple terms:

When energy is called for, muscles must respond. They do so by combining oxygen with carbohydrates which release energy to those muscles. Most of us, without regular exercise, store reserves in fat instead of readily available, more energy efficient
carbohydrates. Unfortunately, conversion of fat to energy is a slow and chemically involved process and an average elk hunting adventure burns fuel faster than the body converts fat. That's why one literally runs out of gas plowing uphill through deep snow.

Charge those tired (but receptive) muscles with a diet heavy to complex carbohydrates (pasta, rice, potatoes, grains) and top it all off with a little simple carbohydrates (candy, sugar) and hit the snow a couple of days later. You'll make it.

All the foregoing is, of course, why hunting camp appetites change so dramatically from beginning to end. It's why average hunters eat more while losing weight, returning to wife and office generally more physically fit and mentally alert. One Alabama
hunter, after his first trip with us, said, "After my wife sees what kind of sleek and loving animal she now has for a husband, she'll save her butter and egg money to send me back for more!"

Okay, so now we know how muscle chemistry converts fuel intake to energy output.  And we even have a rudimentary idea of what kinds of foods produce higher octane. Now let's consider more specific cuisine that will help us prepare for high energy release
during periods of bitter cold and hard work. Odds are you'll be surprised at their simplicity.

The favored food of Iditarod competitors is pizza. Think about it, pizza is probably the best balanced food available in one handy package. Racers eat it hot when they can, of course, but they'll munch on it cold, while traveling. Pizza contains the sought-after
blend of carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins and fiber.

More direct furnace-stoking can be had with peanut butter dipped straight from the jar with a spoon. Dr. Terry Quesnel of Vernon, British Columbia, sled race veterinarian and a sometimes racer himself, said he ups his carbohydrate intake to 75-85 percent in
the days immediately preceding and during a race.

Or, if you don't like pizza and have social hangups about eating peanut butter with a spoon, beer sausages will work, too.

Without the beer.

* "Dance On the Wild Side" Jane's and my book about our lives from growing up as "kids next door" through our years guiding others to adventure in Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness will be free at Amazon's Kindle store Nov. 11 - 15: Click here to view on Kindle

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November 2, 2013

FACTORING NUTRITIONALLY FOR ENERGY

It's a time of year when corpulents turn svelte in pursuit of an embraced rigor they'd spit on if it was prescribed by their therapist. Clamber 2,000 feet up a tall mountain; claw through snowbrush all the way; brave grizzly bears and devil's club and jackstrawed lodgepole on the off-chance you could fondle a six-month-old frozen elk track at the top! Are you insane?

Yes. Insanity is a natural condition for those imbued with the hunter's zest. 

When I was more or less martially engaged in the pursuit of elk,  my weight usually swung 20-pounds between hunting season and winter leisure. But not every hunter is physically active on the skirmish line; some choose watchful waiting over mountain galloping for their modus operandi.

Even tree-stand occupiers lose weight, though. And other benefits of their autumnal migrations—fresh air, peace of mind, relaxation—adds immeasurably to their health, if not their wealth.

If you really want to slim down, try coming off a demanding hunting season and enter the Iditarod. Even highly conditioned participants—dogs AND humans—are known to lose five to ten PERCENT of their body weight in just a few days.

In that most famous of all North Country races, it's not uncommon for a 40-pound sled dog to lose five pounds, or a 160-pound human to lose fifteen. I assume it has something to do with running a thousand miles after a pack of baying, barking canines in 40-below temperatures while wearing mukluks and fur robes. 

While there may be a few negatives to entering the Iditarod for folks like you and me, one of the positives is that we can eat as much as we want, of anything we'd like—provided we can access it. In fact, it's absolutely essential that racers keep their furnaces stoked. According to Dr. Terry Quesnel of Vernon, British Columbia who sometimes serves as a sled race veterinarian, "Working sled dogs require a minimum of 4,000 calories per day." (Although a musher friend who four times raced the Iditarod, and topped it off by crossing the Bering Strait to mush a thousand additional miles into Siberia tells me my information is in error--that dogs and humans actually must consume eight to ten thousand calories per day.)

Folks who follow the Iditarod are not the only ones to discover nutritional changes can enhance performance when somebody steals all the red stuff from thermometers. Trappers, cowboys, loggers, telephone and electrical linemen, Alaskan and North Sea oil workers—anyone performing heavy work during cold weather—have discovered nutritional enrichment is not only desirable, but necessary. It's a truth late-season hunters may wish to note.

If you've ever ran out of gas while slogging up a steep mountainside in belly-deep snow, take heart and lend ears—it may not be entirely because you quit practicing pushups from the floor or push-backs from the table. It might be because your body simply ran out of fuel. By nutritionally fortifying yourself beforehand with appropriate mixes of simple and complex carbohydrates, you might well have found energy reserves to make that ridgetop before the six-point bull faded into the sunset.

* Next week:  Some of the foods that cold-country racers and workers use to nutritionally R-factor their bodies.

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October 26, 2013

THE PLACE WHERE ELK GO TO LIVE

Hell, to an elk aficionado, is knowing a place (two huge canyons in fact) that teems with elk, yet produces few to the hunter's gun.

It's against my principles to cheapen your own adventures by sharing map coordinates or telling you names of the places you'd ought to find for yourself. But suffice it to say I had a running feud with the wily wapiti in the canyons of "Gloom Creek" for twenty-five years. 

Throughout those years, the place always harbored lots of elk; perhaps several hundred. Maybe even more. But both drainages were filled with ancient spruce forests so dense and tangled and gloomy it might've ran first-fiddle to Hansel's and Gretel's worst nightmares. Menzesia (also known as elk brush to locals) grew head-high to tall Indians and snapped and crackled with a hunter's slightest move. Sunlight seldom filtered into "Gloom Creek's" canyons, blocked by both impenetrable forest and tall mountains ringing the place on three sides.

Not surprisingly, there are many, many wallows for rutting wapiti and their taunting signposts—the rubbed saplings bull elk savage when shining antlers or working themselves into a sexual frenzy—are apparent everywhere. Several natural mineral licks also are scattered throughout the drainage. All licks are pierced by game trails feeding in like spokes to a wheel.

A few small glades exist in the basin, tiny breaks in the forest that fairly drips with gloom and doom, reinforcing the Hansel & Gretelness of the place. Giant elk, of course, always seemed to have ambled through the glades moments before I appeared at its edge.

There were originally forest service trails through the canyons, but maintenance of those trails, at first scanty, became virtually non-existent amid a prevailing management atmosphere more interested in roads for timber harvest than trails for wilderness travelers. Today, nature's reclamation has all but obliterated any sign that the hand of man has ever smote that valley. And today, elk paths are more discernible and easier traversed than human routes.

When I began guiding others after elk, I often led hunters down into the "Gloom Creek" basin with the usual result that I lost both client and friend. It's a hell of a place that's a hell of a long way from anywhere. Too, it might be a great place for elk, but it's certainly depressing for the us two-legged creatures.

"You want me to go down there?" one of my veteran hunters incredulously asked.  He continued to stare down into "Gloom Creek" for perhaps five minutes while I awaited his decision. Then he gazed around the beautiful alpine country we'd just fruitlessly hunted.  At last, he turned back to say: "Let me tell you how it is, Roland. If I go down there and I  get an elk, I'll maybe like it. But if I don't get an elk, I'll hate it. On the other hand, if I stay up here and hunt, I'll love it whether I get an elk or not. 

“Now, run it by me again, which place do you want me to hunt?"

For twenty-five years, "Gloom Creek" defeated our camp's brightest and best: hunters, guides and outfitter. Our entire total for two and a half decades? Elk won on 21 of those years, hunters only 4.

But, then, that's about normal for elk hunting, isn't it?

My e-book, "Learn About Elk", is available at Amazon's Kindle Store: Click Here to view

Learn About Elk

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October 19, 2013

THE ELUSIVE SUMMIT

No casual observer would've picked us out from a distance--tiny bug-like dots trudging up the vast mountain. Actually, we were two gray-haired guys on a mission, crawling up a near-perpendicular slope we hoped would take us to a lofty summit that floated somewhere up there 2,500 feet above our camp. Earlier we'd grinned and shook hands and pledged allegiance to the God of the mountain--and the fact that both of us would like to reach the top before cashing in our remaining cardiac chips. 

One of the dots was a hunter, the other his guide. It was never clear whose idea it was to begin the ascent before daylight. But it was late during a ten-day hunt into the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

Up to this point elk had been slow responding to my most eloquent vocalizing.  Neither had they left "rubs" or muddied wallows or criss-crossed game trails within our valley. With elk hunting good but elk "getting" poor, we decided to try for one of the big mule deer bucks sometimes spotted on our mountain. That those bucks hung out around timberline daunted us, in our ignorance, not at all.

Up we trudged. Up the avalanche chute, clawing through a thick forest of small saplings. Up through the shoulder-high menzesia brush and into the ancient spruce forest. Up above the forest, onto the rock ledges and the steep beargrass-covered slopes. Up onto a spur ridge leading still further up to the main summit.

We ate lunch on the spur, swallowing the last dregs from our water bottles and dangling our legs into the abyss from which we'd just clambered. At last we pushed to our feet and trudged on, always eyeing a summit that seemed to retreat as we pursued. I stooped and picked up a small stone from the ridgetop. The stone had what appeared to be a clamshell the size of a pocketwatch embedded in it. Alex stopped to see why I'd halted, then began searching for his own clamshell fossils.

It was over an hour later before either of us could break away to continue our "hunt." When we did, it was to peer toward our still elusive mountaintop. Trudge a few steps, then pant. Trudge a couple more steps, then pant (oxygen was short up here, and my hunter accused me of leading the way so I could get first crack at breathing). Another hour went by before we had the summit nearly in our grasp.

With our goal so near, we still sprawled on a tundra slope to let our lungs process enough air to push on the final leg. While waiting, I pulled binoculars from my pack and glassed the mountainside we'd traversed on our way up. "Well I'll be!" I muttered.

"What do you see?" Alex asked.

I handed him the glasses. "See that cave that's directly under where we ate lunch. See what's there?"

It was his turn to mutter, "Well, would you look at that rascal!"  That rascal was a dandy mule deer buck, lounging not more than thirty feet below where we'd paused for lunch. When he turned his head to peer down canyon, we counted five points on one side, then when he swung back to gaze at we retreating hunters, five on the other. I guessed that the spread was near thirty inches.

"Want to go after him, Alex?  We might get him down before dark."

My hunter swiveled to gaze up at our elusive summit and shook his head. "I've come too far not to go on up." Then he grinned and added, "And you're my guide, so you'll have to go, too."

Standing on top of "our mountain" concluded one of our most “successful” hunts!

LoneButte

"Our Mountain" is pictured on pg. 38 of my coffeetable book, "Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness", available only through my website bookstore: Click Here to view
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October 12, 2013

A COUPLE OF CHARACTERS I'VE KNOWN

We called him "Okie."  I suppose we called him that because he hailed from the Sooner State. I no longer have the foggiest recollection as to the guy's real name, but I worked with him in an Oregon plywood plant when I was just out of my teens.

Okie was a bunch older and his face was lined and crinkled like he'd been hooked to a hard plow most of his life. But the man was a good hand, and a pleasure with which to work: an always unfailing sense of humor and a cheerful disposition. And if one paid attention, there was something to be gleaned from Okie's wit and wisdom. For example, the guy once told me he'd lost a fortune in hogs in Oklahoma, back in 1952. 

I gasped! "What happened, Okie?"

"Hogs went way up," he said, "and I didn't have a one."

By the time I'd quit laughing, I saw Okie's wisdom about how most things depends on point of view. Since then, I've used Okie's  grasp of circumstances to explain some of my own shortcomings, like: "I made a fortune during the latest stock market crash"

"How did you do that, Roland?" 

"I never had any stocks or bonds." 

You get the picture, don't you? Imagine the possibilities for a hunter to explain away elusive elk, missed bucks, and rifles that shot dead-on yesterday afternoon but are three feet wide of the mark this morning.

Okie was a genuine character with underlying depths that his associates could plumb. Since knowing the guy, I've bumped into lots of would-be characters trying to impersonate the real McCoy. But I’ll only share with you one other genuine character whom I'd call worthy of the name: his name is Gene Brash.

I'm not sure if the old forest service packer could match Okie for unplumbed depths, but he could blot anybody else out for sheer spellbinding characterization—no airs, nothing false, just pure 19th Century personification.

I've already written reams about the Brash family and how they set every serious hunter's standard for hunting the Bob Marshall Wilderness; how Gene's father and mother began hunting there during the 1930s and continued for three decades, eventually turning their annual Bob Marshall hunt into a three-generation family saga.

"When I was a kid," Gene once told me while straddling a pony at a creek crossing, "we only had two horses and we walked everywhere we went." Then the guy pulled out a carpenter's fold-out ruler with a drinking cup affixed to the end, unfolded it and dipped a cup of water. "Now I don't even get off my horse to get a drink."

Given the fact that I've often met Gene Brash hiking down the trail leading his empty saddlehorse and a string of loaded mules, I have to conclude his dipping the water was purely for my benefit, little more than an indication of the man's persona.

He talked the same way about "spoofing the dudes," a task he and the rest of his family considered their Manifest Destiny. 

But the persona was there in the tons of cargo the man moved into the Bob Marshall's backcountry, too. Or in the ease with which he handled mules. Or in the courtesy the big, bluff, sometimes cantankerous son-of-a-big land extended others.

The world is a better place for having REAL characters in it.

* Gene's nephew Bret guided for me in "the Bob." Bret is mentioned on pg. 321 of my book, "Dance On the Wild Side," the story of Jane's and my life, up through our years as guides and outfitters amid America's most beautiful Wilderness: the Bob Marshall. Available as an ebook on Amazon: Click Here to view.
* Or to view it in print at Roland's bookstore, Click Here

Dance Cover

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October 5, 2013

OUTDOORSMAN, FAMILY MAN, FRIEND

I wrote the following piece 12 years ago as one of my "Wild Trails & Tall Tales" syndicated outdoors columns that was carried in 17 newspapers in two states. Even after all these years, the column resonates with me and, as a result, I'd like to air it again via my "Campfire Culture" blog. Trusting in the benevolence of my regular readers--some who even might have read it as a newspaper column years before--enjoy:

Though I'd heard of Hugh Speer, I did not know the man. Since my family and his have both dwelled in upper Flathead Valley for several decades, it's probable our paths crossed. Perhaps we'd even spoken to the other without being introduced. Perhaps it was only an, "Excuse me," "Thank you," or "Nice day."

Hugh Speer died on February 3, 1997. He was 66 years old--the same age I am now. The guy had a few ponies grazing around his home place. And on occasion, accompanied by family or friends, he rode them into the surrounding mountain country. Quite an outdoorsman, Hugh Speer. Quite a family man. Quite a friend to his friends. Quite a citizen.

One might wonder, since I've just admitted not knowing him, how it is that I know so much about Hugh Speer?

Because there's a marble slab on a mountaintop that overlooks the Flathead Valley and one can assume Hugh's ashes were spread there. Because the slab and the mountaintop are five miles from road's end. And because there's an almost unreadable printed resume of Hugh Speer's life at the site, as well as faded, nearly indiscernible color photos depicting the man and his horses.

One can see into Glacier National Park from Hugh's final resting place, however, and into the Great Bear Wilderness. Even mountain peaks in the Bob Marshall are visible from this lofty summit. So are spires in the Mission Mountains Wilderness. On the clearest of days, granite crags in Canada shimmer in the northern distance and off to the west thrust summits in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness.

But I've visited graveyards before, have even known some of those buried therein. And I've been around enough to know that magnificence of sepulchers have little correlation to character of individuals interred therein. Nope, the best way to infer commendable character in the deceased is in how they're remembered here after they're gone.

Hugh Speer's final resting spot is splendid. It's also isolated and is crowned with an attractive marble slab. Yet all the above aren't guarantees the fellow was, as I've written: "... quite an outdoorsman, quite a family man, quite a friend to his friends, quite a citizen."

But that someone (or ones) packed Hugh Speer's ashes, along with a marble slab and a steel stake--probably somewhere around 40 pounds--to the mountaintop does attest to a modicum of commendable attributes. That mere fact of the location of Hugh's final resting place is proof enough to me of the man's character. They dug a hole and carefully placed the slab. Then they drove the stake and mounted Hugh's photos and resume. Lastly they spread his ashes, reverently I'll bet.

Hugh Speer was a man loved by others. They revered him enough to wish to honor him in death. And remembering all the good things he'd done for them, they wished to offer him a last--and lasting--mountaintop wake. That's why I know Hugh Speer was quite an outdoorsman, quite a family man, quite a friend to his friends.

I'll not share Hugh Speer's final resting place with you because it's a place you should find on your own. If you do search, you'll be the richer if you climb many mountains and stand on many summits before locating Hugh's place of interment.

Hopefully you'll honor him, too, for he was a good man.

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September 28, 2013

TOPPING OFF FREEDOM'S TANK

I glanced at the adjoining vehicle's bumper sticker while wheeling into the narrow Post Office parking space. Moments later, hurrying out with a fistful of mail, I paused to ponder. The sticker read: "If roads are closed and gates are locked in heaven, I ain't a-goin'." Then I grinned; the driver will make it to heaven after all because there are no locks there. The reason why there are no locks in heaven is because there are no gates. Likely no roads, either.

Aww, I just let the cat out of the bag with that one, didn't I; admitting that I prefer places God makes over ones carved by the biggest toys man's factories can crank out. 

Since I've blown my cover, let me go the rest of the way and explain that I have this wonderful sense of freedom each time I'm in a wilderness. And since freedom seems so transitory at best, frequent returns are essential to ensure a constant supply to aging arteries. It's usually during such low freedom ebbs when I decide to release myself on my own recognizance, commandeer a horse, and gallop from civilization.

One such recovery foray occurred during that narrow window between end of summer and start of hunting season. Jane and I had packed into the Great Bear Wilderness, into an isolated drainage unoccupied at the time (as near as we could tell) by no other human. Other creatures were there, though. Huckleberry-stained bear scat dotted paths and elk left their tracks in trail dust. There were moose droppings in the marsh beyond camp. Eagles and ospreys soared overhead and sleek-bodied mule deer scouted for licking rights to our salt-encrusted saddles or their pads. 

Otters and mink had walked stream banks. Ten-inch cutthroat trout darted about in pools so clear gnawed-on beaver cuttings glistened from where they were wedged among rocks in six feet of water.

The area we chose for our autumnal freedom-refresher would've been a good place without signs of such wildlife activities. But it's uplifting to have our opinions confirmed by unquestioned authorities who attest to a land's quality just by being there.

It's strange that I'd never before visited this place. I'd traveled much of the surrounding lands before Congress designated the Great Bear Wilderness, and it's as familiar as our pasture back home. But for some reason, this drainage had escaped my eye. I kicked myself for not paying more attention years ago.

The journey was not without its anxious moments, though. Jane punched me awake twice during the first night we were there to identify strange forest sounds. The first was a distant steady yapping that went on for a full twenty minutes and came from a nearby mountainside. I wanted to claim it was a fox, but wasn't sufficiently certain to do so. The second unknown sound was a piercing cry that I first thought was a solitaire, but too loud and frequent.

Then there was the wildfire discovered the third day we were in the valley. It smoldered, creeping along the ground about two miles above our camp. The mere knowledge that it was there during a hot, dry period, when fires burned out of control elsewhere, constituted yet another facet to the final two days of our visit. (Forest Service personnel, as we later learned, spotted the fire from the air a few days before, but elected to let it burn as a vehicle to re-establish vegetative browse for deer and elk.)

Fun. Educational. Soul restorative. What more can one ask of God?

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September 21, 2013

WHEELCHAIRING THROUGH WILDERNESS

The guy and his transport mode through the Bob Marshall Wilderness was a topic I first wrote about almost 30 years ago, but a recent email brought back memories: Mary Ann Hanson wrote:

A while back I heard you tell a story on the radio about a paraplegic wheel chair bound man in the Bob. Do any of your books have this story in it. The man Don Hanson is my husband and if you did write this story, I thought it would be special to give a copy to our son.

Unfortunately, though I've now published upwards of a dozen or so books, and one of those contained many of my old newspaper columns, a quick check disclosed none contained the remarkable saga of Don Hanson and his friends mind-boggling journey through "the Bob." I had to report that lack to Mary Ann, but I told her to watch this "Campfire Culture" blog and I'll take another stab at Don's story by re-publishing the tale much as it was printed in the Hungry Horse News, July, 1984:

July 18, 1984 - I waved casually to the party camped below the trail at Salmon Forks, then did a double-take: one of the men was sitting in a wheelchair! (Wheelchair tracks showed plainly in the trail between Salmon Forks and Big Salmon Lake.) For readers unfamiliar with the Bob Marshall Wilderness, Salmon Forks is 20 trail miles from the nearest road. I tied up my empty packstring and returned to their camp.

The man in the wheelchair is Don Hanson. He's from Condon. He did not, as I supposed, ride a horse into the Bob Marshall, then transfer to the wheelchair for rafting back down the South Fork of the Flathead. No, instead, Don and two Condon friends, Peter Meyer and Kurtis Berry, had set out from road's end on the North Fork of the Blackfoot on the first day of July with the intention of pushing Don's wheelchair through the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

They said it took four and a half days wheeling up the Dry Fork of the Blackfoot just to reach the Bob Marshall's southern boundary. Then it took an additional four and a half days to reach the junction of Danaher Creek and Young's Creek, the accepted point where the South Fork becomes floatable. They'd begun floating, however, at Camp Creek, some few miles above, as preferable to overland wheelchair travel--especially since Don's transport was demonstrating considerable wear and tear. By then they'd wheeled it well over thirty miles.

The three men trailed a packhorse to carry their camp and food. I didn't have to pry too much to get the men to talk about their amazing experience, and the obvious difficulties they encountered:

Don: "Kurtis led the horse, while Peter pushed my chair."

Kurtis: "Sometimes I'd lead the horse ahead and tie it up, then go back to help where the going was tough.

Don: "Lots of place, the trail tread wasn't wide enough for the wheels. That was kind of hairy."

Peter: "Then the chair broke down and we had to repair it." (True, the chair was held together with duct tape, a wooden splint, and bailing twine.)

Don: "Peter fireman-carried me along some of that cliff trail between Danaher and Basin. You know where it is?" Excitement still sparkled in the young man's eyes. (I sized-up the husky Peter Meyer and turned back to appraise the also husky Don Hanson and again shook my head.) Don continued: "I've never been so scared in my life! Part of the way I was hanging out over the edge of the cliff."

I shook my head in disbelief while scribbling furiously on my notepad.

Don: "Down on that good trail at Basin, though, were knockin' off a mile every 30 minutes."

Kurtis: "You ought to see Peter's hands." I glanced at the man who'd done most of the pushing as he filled a cigarette paper with Bull Durham.. His hands did look, well, used."

Should one attempt to make something profound about these guys' amazing odyssey? Try to interpret their dream, their accomplishment? I decided no--the experience itself is telling enough. I shall never forget bumping against their dream. Neither, I'm certain, will they ever forget their epic saga.. Before leaving their breakfast fire, I asked Don Hanson if he had anything to add about their outstanding journey?

"We made that son-of-a-gun!" he exclaimed, eyes shining. "We made that baby!"

Enough said.

* Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness, an 80-page coffeetable book, filled with color photos of America's favorite wilderness, is available from Roland's bookstore: Click Here

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September 14, 2013

CRO-MAGNON WEAKNESSES

I swear the guy's brain and eye are synchronized.  He misses nothing. 

He notes that riverbank tracks made by Canada geese have the outsides "toed" in (pulled in by the web even when sand is so firm no web shows), whereas tracks of wild turkeys tend to "splay" out.

He spots wing feathers from a grouse chick while riding past on a horse and, without seeming to flash more than a cursory look, works out that the chick was ambushed by a coyote.

He can even crouch over the makings of a campfire, intent on its ignition, and idly observe that I'll probably get a closer shave with my new "floating" heads razor—and he hadn't any more than glanced my way when I pushed the switch.

Lacy Sayre and his father, Bud, first hunted with me in the Bob Marshall Wilderness back in 1975.  They were already first-rank elk hunters when they showed up on my doorstep. That we became first-rank friends came as a mild surprise to all.

Bud and Lacy hunted the Bob again and again.  Meanwhile, Lacy brought his wife Colleen on a couple of summer trips.  Later, after Jane and I retired from guiding others, our friendship with Colleen and Lacy continued.  We visited them in their homeland to hike the Oregon Cascades, search for wild horses in the Steens Mountains, and photograph desert bighorns in the Owyhee country.  And they returned to Montana to float the Missouri, look for Glacier grizzlies, and hike the Sun Canyon.

Throughout those enjoyable treks and floats and rides and camping adventures, I've marveled at the man's concentration; the remarkable coordination between his brain and his senses.  Jane has an equally sharp eye for spotting wildlife.  So has Colleen.  But Lacy's is much more than mere sharpness.  It's also more than mere concentration—lots of folks share both those traits.  Instead, his forte is openness to peripheral movement and out-of-place circumstances.  It's also a formidable attention to detail, and a focused ability to ferret out a sequence of past events with the scantiest of information.

Lacy is a dozen years my junior.  Despite my seniority, and maybe despite my added years of experience, I could in no way be considered one of the man's mentors.  Perhaps I'm a companion, though—a partner who brings a few special skills and attributes to our mutual outdoors pursuits.  But the man has long since surpassed me in brain-to-eye acumen.  And probably in overall outdoors ability. 

As a consequence, I'm green with envy.

My problem is not focus.  Nope, when I think of something, I concentrate.  My problem is tunnel vision.  When I finally do get around to thinking, it's to the exclusion of all else. 

As a Cro-Magnon, I'd have made easy pickin's for a saber-toothed tiger during the Upper Paolithic.  Have me hard at work drawing rhinoceroses on cave walls and a big cat need not pussy-foot up and snatch me by surprise.  Nope, he could stomp up and grab me by a leg and I'd still be trying to wet my brush while being dragged into the night.

* Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness is the only one of my books in print that's not also available as an e-book. However, Jane and I offer the coffeetable book through our own on-line bookstore. Click Here to view book
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September 7, 2013

LAKE TROUT ARE FOR WUSSES

This land we call earth has apparently experienced great destructive cataclysms during its existence. Fossil records identify that mass extinctions of most of the earth's species occurred twice since life arrived on earth. The first was a great disaster during the Permian (somewhere around 225 million years ago), when 90% of all life on earth mysteriously vanished. 

The second cataclysm abruptly ended the age of dinosaurs, somewhere around 65 million years ago.

Whatever the cause, its effect was to obliterate species that could not adapt to new and different environments. One theory that seems to be gaining credence is that the most recent—the one ending the reptilian period—came when a giant meteor crashed into the earth to bring tidal waves, send dust into the atmosphere to blot out the sun, alter temperatures, and kill vegetation.

As far as species die-offs, future fossil researchers may rate the current spate of species disappearances as the third great period of mass extinctions in the earth's discernible history.

Yeah, it is said we clubbed the last great auk to death in 1844, exterminated the heath hen in the 1860s, and shot the passenger pigeons to extinction by 1914. In addition, paleontologists have pretty much concluded that our forefathers drove the last mammoth
over a cliff edge since the last ice age. And the last Mexican grizzly bear disappeared in my lifetime.

But the great acceleration in species die-offs isn't as a result of our wanton killing, but our wanton greed. It's not that we don't treasure bull trout or cutthroat trout, but that we place more value on other species with which we're more comfortable.

Because lake trout inhabit most coldwater lakes in North America, many Americans learned to fish for them and feel more comfortable in knowing fish from "back home" inhabit lakes God stocked with other species. So we play God and try to improve on what He hath wrought. And we've destroyed the finest bull trout and cutthroat trout fishery in all the world!

Look what we've done: starlings infest our entire countryside because some English "gentleman" brought them to New England to make him feel more "comfortable." Purple loosestrife, dandelions, and Russian knapweed all jumped ship in North American harbors to bring yet another Old World plague down on my yard. And my soul.

Were homogenizing the world with the terror of our transport networks and the arrogance of our opinions. How anyone could, in the wildest of their pea-sized cerebrum, imagine that we Montanans needed to replace a fabulous unique-in-all-the-world fishery with just another ho-hum lake trout factory like exists in 30,000 other places across North America, is beyond my comprehension.

"Homogeocene" is how University of Washington biologist Gordon Orions coined the era we're now in. He coined it because the homogenization of species may well be our worldwide legacy for our children: coyotes, but no bobcats; lake trout, but no bull trout.

Maybe you like lake trout. But I liked bull trout, too. And my memory goes back when fishing for those brawny grizzlies-of-the-deep was finer sport than the wuss lake trout fishing of today.

* September will see five of my essays and short fiction go up FREE at Amazon's Kindle Store, one each week for five weeks. The first, "Satan's Sorceress," went up Free on Sep. 3 and will remain so until midnight tonight. "Cowboy Lit begins Free Sep. 9-13.
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August 31, 2013

THE COWBOY WAY

"... It's just the activity of horses has changed," the story said, "cowboys ride four-wheelers now and everyone else rides pleasure horses."  Nothing could explain the tide of civilization rolling over the west so much as that simple sentence from a recent newspaper story. 

Are there still horses in Montana?  Yes, absolutely. 

Are there cowboys?  Well, yeah, but ...

Then, do cowboys ride horses?  (cough, cough)

In his well-written book, "The Cowboy Way," (Avon, 1999) David McCumber tells of spending a year on one of the largest cattle ranches in Montana.  Virtually the entire year, McCumber spent on top of—or behind—mechanical equipment.  I'm sure the man is right  about the modern-day "cowboy way," but I don't want to hear it.

Just down the road from my home, there are fences circling and dividing a thirty acre horse "ranch."  I'll bet those fences alone cost more than our home. 

A few miles north is an indoor “horse” arena half as big as the Bob Marshall Wilderness.  Wannabee horsefolks in 13-gallon hats and rattlesnake skin boots bring their effete ponies to compete against other effete ponies in dressage and chasing steeples amidst an environment where they're sheltered from catching colds.

I know of three—that's 3!—indoor swimming pools in Flathead County constructed solely as exercise ponds for wealthy equine owners' ponies.  Perhaps there are more. There was a time when I went out and sat amid grass surrounded by my four grazing ponies and tried to explain to them why their swimming pools are mountain lakes set in alpine cirques and surrounded by sun-kissed peaks thrusting to the sky.  I told 'em those swimming pools were all Jane and I could afford and that they would have to grin and bear such discrimination because theirs' are the only swimming pools Jane and I have, too. I think they tried to tell me it was okay because one walked over and lipped my cheek while another nuzzled around the back of my shirt collar.

Then, too, I feel bad about the mode of transportation I must use to get my ponies from their pastures to those mountain lakes' trailheads.  Oh, their trailer was once a classy one.  After all, it's a "Circle J" and that was considered top-o'-the-line back when Grant marched on Richmond. There's a little rust, you see, and its wheels are strictly utilitarian, rather than the roulette variety.

But in today's world!—have you seen some of these latest Taj Mahals-on-wheels used by wallet heavyweights to bus their ponies from point A to point B?  Two snooty equinoline-bred Triple-Bars over Diamond Duchess Dams from Magic Mount Cloudbursts can lounge, drink, dine, and worship all at 75 miles-per-hour on their way to the latest equine swimsuit competition at Saratoga Springs. Those trailers, of course, costs almost as much as a covered football stadium and a tower in Dubai combined.  They would also house the Alamo and Times Square on their way to the landfill so horse arenas could be built on such useless sites.

(I hope you don't construe any personal distress about the metamorphosis of cowboys and their transport from this column. Mine is tongue-in-Cheek.)

*May I remind you that my latest book, "The Dogged and the Damned," is being serialized at my new blogsite: amazonbookshowcase.com

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August 24, 2013

I HAVE SEEN HELL!

Excerpts from the U.S. Forest Service's "Pentagon Cabin Log" (errors in translation are all mine-RC).

"Last night we made it to Spotted Bear Pass with Brownie (the llama). Suddenly Brownie decided to go back home to Poncho (the other llama) at Pentagon Cabin. God knows how many miles Dobie and myself did, but I was soaking wet from trying to catch Brownie
somewhere towards the top of Spotted Bear Pass, one mile from our camp area. Lord knows why llamas are used for pack animals. I think they should be raised for slaughter and use cows for pack animals. Brownie made it to Pentagon Cabin. Lost all our equipment from here to Spotted Bear Pass. As far as I know, only one Pulaski is missing. Kurt couldn't make the trip." 

"I hope my crew-mates made it back safely through the twilight zone (Wall Creek). I will brave that loathsome stretch of trail soon, as I have remained behind to explore Dean Lake & Pentagon Mtn. Llamas are here as Frank & Dobie headed back to S.B. Pass yesterday to meet Kurt & finish their loop. I fed them last night & this a.m. Now its off to Pentagon I go, Hi-Ho!" - Lisa Kuchhoffer

"P.S.  Brownie is still not putting any weight on his injured foot and seems to be limping worse than on the 17th."

"The creek that never ends. That is what Wall Creek felt like last night. Left 24 trees out of 80. What a mud hole--somewhere down in the middle of Wall Creek. Got most of the project done. Worked hard, thank God we had the Schafer crew or we would have never gotten done." - Mud People

"Brett Hensley and I have been working up this drainage for the past three hitches. Cut out Wall Creek this hitch. Never have I seen a trail that should have been abandoned many years ago that had more mud than dry ground. Took us three and a half LONG days to cut out over 100 trees that lay over the Wall Creek Trail. If its up to me I will never return to Wall Creek in this life. I advise all people that are even remotely considering going up that
way to make different plans. We now consider ourselves fellow Mud People and hope that the trail gods, who are all forgiving, will destroy Wall Creek and never put anyone through that hell again. I have seen hell and it is the Wall Creek Trail." - The Mud People II

With that send-off from the old log book, I get to editorialize:

While in my earlier life as a Bob Marshall Wilderness outfitter, I had occasion to travel the Wall Creek Trail upwards of 16 times each year. The comments of those poor mosquito-ridden, demoralized youths who described themselves as "mud people" were not misplaced.
Only practicing masochists would willingly travel such a path.

Still ... the Wall Creek Trail provides an important leg in a circle route and is one of the fastest, shortest means to reach the heart of "the Bob."

But it is, indeed, HELL!

* Aug. 22 was the last day to load "Learn About Elk" into your reading device FREE through Amazon's Kindle Store: Click Here

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If you've missed the FREE offer, however, the book will still be on sale in e-book form for just $3.99, until Aug. 27th.
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August 17, 2013

WORLD KITE-FLYING CHAMPIONSHIP

Somebody told him to "Go fly a kite,"  so he did. 

Land's end in far southwestern Washington is his home. The community of Long Beach is near where the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean collide. Long Beach is cheek-to-jowl with Ilwaco, where Montanans go to fish for salmon.

The town of Long Beach does not shrink from touting their, well, lo-o-o-ng beach which, they claim, is the world's longest. Long Beach runs for 20 south-to-north miles, around Leadbetter Point, then for eight north-to-south miles to Oysterville.

Though a small portion of the beach is closed to mechanized travel, motor vehicles are allowed to drive most of it. Some only drive a portion of the beach, then sink into the sand to await rescue, hopefully before the next tide comes in.

Long Beach is the annual site, so it's claimed, for the world's longest beach run: a 10 kilometer affair that attracts thousands. Because of its near-constant prevailing winds, Long Beach is also a great place for one to go fly a kite.

Jane and I recently walked the non-motorized portion of the beach. Though the day was blustery, several families played on the beach and in the water. There were a half-dozen kites in the air, their handlers scattered along the way. These were not ordinary kites, but ones that dipped and swooped and fluttered and soared.

We started paying attention. The kites had the shape of manta rays, perhaps 40 inches across their wings, and 50 inches long, not counting the tail. The operator controlled the kite with two connecting strings. A deft operator could, with a twist of the wrist, make his kite take a quick flip to the right, left, or dive.

Most of the operators weren't sufficiently adept to avoid the occasional collision with the oncoming sand. But one guy was spectacular, swooping his kite to within a couple feet of the ground, then soaring it to do figure eights. A time or two his kite looked as though it would sail into the sunset, then it would suddenly dive and rush back to him.

Ron Martin is 54 years old. He said he's been flying a kite for only six months, but he thoroughly enjoys it. "Yep," the man says, "flying a kite, that's a bunch of whoopie." Ron said his boss's wife told him he should try it, then gave him his first kite.

The kite flying World Championship festival was held on Long Beach in 1997.  Ron said around 5,000 people attended. He said, "Some of those people are REALLY good."

I later discovered Ron's two-line kite was called a stunt kite. It retails for around $125 dollars. But there are four-line kites that are even more maneuverable (and trickier to handle). 

Cellular kites are those with one line.

Another flyer of kites said that, during Long Beach's annual kite contest, there are box kites flying that are larger than houses. "Competition is really keen--it's unbelievable what tricks some of those people can make those kites do." Then he smiled, recollecting: "The competitors do their routines accompanied by ballet music. Like ice skaters."

Kite championship competition at Long Beach is usually held mid- to late-August.

* Beginning Tuesday, Aug. 20, "Learn About Elk" will be FREE as an e-book on Amazon's Kindle page: http://amzn.to/QFfPe9

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* Also remember that serialization of Roland's best book, "The Dogged and the Damned" is currently in progress, with segments uploaded Mon, Wed, and Fri at http://amazonbookshowcase.com/

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August 10, 2013

GETTING MORE OF THE SAME

I did this self-analysis the other day, and came up with some surprising things. For instance:

I prefer underwear without sleeves. But I don't like garters, either on sleeves or for socks. Both white or black shirts go best with my tanned, Romanesque physique. But the physique is such that colored goes well, too. And it's okay with me if they're in either polka dot or checks or stripes or plaids or animal skins.

I never shriek or flee if somebody offers a little something to keep my nightmares at bay. My nightmares are about how Barack Obama, George Bush, and Bill Clinton all chose not to utilize my many talents in their administrations. First, Barack spooked over what he thought was rope burns but what, in fact, were scabs from a too-tight necktie, then George flunked me because I couldn't pass a fingernail test. However, it was me that jumped ship when Bill wanted me for an intern.

I’ve got a lot going for me, though: You won't find the hind pockets on my trousers wearing out from packing a fat wallet or a can of Skoal. First off, I've never figured I had a hole in my body filthy enough to stick a pinch of snoose into. And second, I never carry a wallet because Jane takes personal charge of all our money. Jane also buys my toothpaste, toothbrush, hair oil, and gargle juice.

I'm not exactly a whiz at home repair, nor a mechanical genius. For that reason, I'm content with a car that wheezes and sputters as long as it don't stop. And if I can keep my lady love more interested in distant horizons than a home gradually falling into disrepair I'll win some sort of award at the next grandpa ceremony.

I like hunting and fishing better than golf, golf better than bowling, bowling better than television, and soap operas only marginally better than a root canal. I leave what we eat to Janie, when we eat to Janie, and where we eat to Janie. The flower beds are hers and the lawn belonged to the four riding lawnmowers we sometimes saddled and rode up mountain trails (until they and we grew too long in the tooth). Then Jane bought me a riding mower with a push button starter.

I suppose I should wear a more pleasant look because I don't smoke opium and on steakless days I can prime my disappointment with a happy meal (hold the onions). Besides I chew breath mints to keep me always alluring and my leprosy mysteriously vanished last week.

Because of all the above, you won't find any catty women whispering behind their hands about my philandering. Besides I never go out in public unless I first bleach my skivvy drawers.

Occasionally, though, I'll admit to a hard case of confusion over who handles the dual-control on our electric blanket. And I'll quiver for days over the task of properly measuring dish soap before going pearl diving.

Why is it life continues to grow more complicated? Just when I learned to write checks, they wanted a credit card. It's bad enough to pay bills at all, but now they want me to do it online. Come to think on it, I'd prefer a root canal to hooking up to the internet. Which is why Jane has a hook-up on her computer and I have a washout on mine.

So I don't trust investment bankers—what's wrong with that? They talk about their firm having "personality" and "performance." That's okay, I guess, but they'll have to play with their own money. Or buy a Monopoly set at WalMart.

With me, there's satisfaction guaranteed—if you don't set your bar too high. What you see is what you get. 

And what you get is more of the same.

* "The Silver Yoke" goes off it's FREE promotion today at Amazon's Kindle Store. But, if you missed it when it's FREE, you can still get it at the bargain price of $.99-cents until Aug, 24.
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August 3, 2010

POCKETBOOK PUNISHMENT

"The area behind this sign is closed to all motor vehicles. Violations of this closure are punishable by a fine not to exceed $1,000 and/or imprisonment not to exceed 12 months ..."

"Throwing burning material from automobiles punishable by $500 fine."

"$250 fine for littering."

I don't know about you, but I'm put off by what I perceive as an ever-growing bureaucratic bluster threatening monetary punishment if I don't conduct myself in prescribed ethical fashion. While it's always my intent to observe and obey the law, I will, if errant, accept punishment. That includes a suitable fine. But pounding on my skull with an everlasting barrage of threatened penalties loses its power to resonate—like the annoyance of someone constantly hammering on boilerplate while I’m trying to sleep.

This trend to police-state intimidation became apparent while recently touring another state. I can understand, accept, and even applaud doubling traffic fines in work zones. But as we drove the Mount Hood Highway, we encountered:

"Traffic fines double in safety zone next 16 miles."

"Traffic fines double in safety zone next 10 miles."

"Traffic fines double in safety zone next 8 miles."

Pretty soon, the concept that traffic fines double in safety zones began to penetrate even a dumb Montana ex-outfitter’s mind. All the above took place on a 34 mile stretch of road before we even reached Government Camp and the pass leading into Eastern Oregon.  Although I was driving well under the speed limit because of traffic and road conditions, I couldn't help but wonder if a proper metaphor for the never-ending barrage of threats might be the lonely shepherd who, each time he wanted company on his lonesome mountain, rushed to the village crying "Wolf!  Wolf!  The wolf is here!" Naturally village people rushed to drive the wolf away; but he was never there. Then when the wolf actually did appear, no one came because no one believed.

Continuing on—at a vast tract of public land set aside as a National Monument where hunting and trapping is prohibited:

"It is unlawful to permit dogs, cats, and other pets to run free.  A fine of $500, or imprisonment for 6 months, or both, could be the penalty for violation of these regulations."

And another:

"Restricted access area.  Violating a closure or restriction—up to $250."

Off to one side, another sign at the beginning of a hiking trail threatened a $50 fine for cutting switchbacks."

At the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument:

"Removing, defacing, possessing, digging, disturbing fossils—up to $250."

And this last, absolutely precious one:

"Possessing, destroying, injuring, digging, or disturbing a mineral (rock) from its natural state—$100."

Please understand that I have no crying need to let a pet run uncontrolled, no desire to drive in a restricted area, no wish to cut switchbacks, no plan to steal fossils, nor injure rocks in anything but an approved manner. Neither will I litter. But my willingness to obey is based on good sensible stewardship and proper citizenship, rather than a constant barrage of big daddy getting into my pocketbook if I don’t play by his rules.

In fact, I wound up viewing the entire barrage of economic threats as kind of off-putting. Kind of intimidating. Kind of stupid. I'm glad I don't live where authorities feel compelled to threaten pocketbook punishment at every turn, in order to get their citizens to do the right thing.

* Silver Yoke, the final book in my "Valediction For Revenge series of historical Westerns will go FREE as an e-book on Amazon's Kindle page beginning Tuesday, Aug. 6.
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July 27, 2013

GIVING WITHOUT EXPECTATIONS

The couple paused atop a high bank, waving down while we loaded our inflatable raft at water's edge. "That's Don and Linda," I said, focusing my binoculars on the backpackers. We'd bumped into the two fresh college grads earlier in the week, upriver. Don's mother and father were two of Jane's and my staunchest friends. Linda, Don's new bride, was attractive and vivacious. 

Like us, the young couple had spent a week adventuring in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.  The difference was ours was via horseback and river raft, while theirs was by shanks mare and overloaded backpacks. Now we were all headed out; this was the last day.  Don and Linda had eight miles of dusty trail to hoof, we would drift out in comfort.

A couple of minutes later, we pushed our lightly loaded raft into the fast water of the Flathead's South Fork. A couple of more minutes and Jane said, "You know, we should ask them if they want to ride out with us."

I looked at our single passenger with a raised eyebrow. "Certainly," he said. 

I pulled on the oars to slow the raft, shouting up at the trail, "DON! LINDA!"

"WHAT!" came a far-off reply.

"YOU ... WANT ... TO ... RIDE ... OUT ... WITH ... US?"

The echoes hadn't quit reverberating when the young couple came skidding down the steep forested sidehill on their butts, dragging their backpacks like toggle logs behind.

Don and Linda live in Billings. At the time, he was wrestling coach for Billings West High School. Linda's parents live at Simms and each week they faithfully cut my "Wild Trails" column from the "Great Falls Tribune" and sent to their daughter and son-in-law. Don then recycled those columns a second time to his father and mother in Ronan.

It's a strange thing, the phenomenon of doing an impulsive good turn for others with no expectation of rewards, then have it lead to surprising results. 

Another such case apparently occurred back in the early 80s. "You don't remember me," the young man said, "but I met you several years ago up at Hungry Horse. You were on your way to or from a trip into the Bob Marshall Wilderness, yet you stopped to respond when I asked a question."

"I'm sorry," I said, puzzled at where he was going.

"It's all right," J.W. Westman laughed. "I had a pony tail then. And a beard. But I've never forgotten how polite and informative you were to a person you must have thought was a hippy." The man has read each of my books since those long ago days. He and his wife Lori and children Megan and Dakota have invited Jane and me to their home (also in Billings) for lunch.

In another case, I have a Winchester '73 hanging on my office wall--a surprise gift from yet another friend who somehow developed the mistaken belief that I'd extended an unexpected kindness.

Each time it happens, I shake my head in wonder, that such a small thing as being courteous can rebound with such compounded interest.

* Gunnar's Mine is still on sale for a mere $.99-cents until July 31. And In case you missed Crisis On the Stinkingwater when it was FREE at Amazon's Kindle Store, it, too, will be on sale for $.99-cents beginning Aug. 1.
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July 20, 2013

RIDING MONTANA'S TITANIC

On a cold, fog-shrouded April evening in 1912, a great vessel raced through the North Atlantic's inky darkness at a rate of 22 knots (25 mph). When that vessel drove into an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland and plunged to the frigid depths, the Titanic
took 1,500 innocent passengers with it.

At the time, the calamity was considered the worst single nautical disaster in history. Resulting news coverage disclosed the Titanic was equipped with insufficient lifeboats for passengers and crew and brought maritime safety front and center in everyone's mind. 

Oddly, by the beginning of a new millennium, more people are lost in North American boating accidents most every year with hardly a yawn from anyone except next-of-kin.

Nationally, there are more motor-driven boating fatalities than in accidents involving non-motorized vessels. But the reverse is true in Montana, where three of every four boating deaths take place during the use of non-motorized water craft: sailboats, rowboats, inflatable rafts, canoes, kayaks. 

Records also disclose another shocking statistic: only half those boating accident victims were wearing personal flotation devices, called lifejackets.

What are the reasons for boating accidents? To get a grip on reasons, we should first analyze the accidents themselves. They include: Falling overboard or capsizing. Collision
between boats. Striking unseen objects (see Titanic, above). Operating the boat while under the influence of alcohol

Sudden weather changes can lead to danger. So can rough water. Streams in spring flood are especially hazardous, with fallen trees called "sweepers" or "strainers" sometimes blocking passage on a river that had been open the day before. Powerful currents common
during spring flood can trap a person against a "sweeper" without chance to escape.

Shifting water levels, whether because of spring snow melt, heavy rainstorms, or water releases below storage dams, can expose or obscure other boating hazards, such as rocks, logs, and gravel bars.  Low-head dams, whether artificial or natural, on smaller streams, can pose unexpected danger. The threat comes from the turbulent boil of water created as the current drops over the dam. That turbulence can trap logs, debris, waterlogged vessels, and people in its continuous churn.

It's clear by now, however, that the bottom lines for boating accident causes are inattention and inexperience.

If you do wind up in the water, let's hope you're wearing a lifejacket. Not only will it help you float, but a lifejacket will help you ward off the drastic drop in body temperature common to most Homo sapiens when suddenly submerged in frigid Montana lakes and streams. The North Atlantic amid April ice floes has nothing on Montana water gushing from mid-summer's high country snowbanks.

"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here together...."

* "Crisis On the Stinkingwater," 5th book in the "Valediction For Revenge" series will be FREE at Amazon's e-book store beginning July 22. Click Here

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* And for those who missed the FREE 4th book in the series, "Gunnar's Mine" is on sale for just $.99-cents at Amazon's Kindle Store until the end of July. Click Here

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* And lastly, don't forget the revised edition of "The Dogged and the Damned," coming soon.

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July 13, 2013

ALL ABOUT CATTAILS

At best, it seems inconsiderate to neglect our education for too long. Therefore we'll further it by devoting today's column to cattails.

Beginning with the cattail feature we know best, can you tell me what composes the sausage on the end of the plant's long stem? Flowers. Up to a half-million tiny, drab little flowers is what. They're compressed in amazingly close embrace. Each flower produces a seed too small for the human eye to see. Craighead's "Field Guide to Rocky Mountain Wildflowers" has this to say of the cattail's sausage:

"At top of 4- to 8-ft. unbranched stem is a dense raceme of minute brown flowers. Lower 2-8 in. of this inflorescence is a dense, sausagelike cluster of female flowers. Immediately above are the male flowers ..." (just as a note, I examined the sausage cluster carefully, but must've looked for the wrong features because I couldn't locate which of the half-million brown flowers were male and which female. So you'll have to take Craigheads' word) "... which shed their yellow pollen in early summer, then blow away and leave bare upper part of stem protruding above female flowers."

There's quite a bit of interesting detail on cattails in a book titled, "Wilderness," by Rutherford Platt. Platt says just one of those thousands of seeds can fall into the mud of a swamp and be filled with so much energy that ". . . in a few days it may be several feet long and putting out branches in all directions." Platt goes on to say, "A single cattail plant may spread its branches (roots) through three acres of swamp."

He also says the underwater root-like branches of the cattail are filled with air and "a pulpy substance that has as much nourishment as corn, rice, and potatoes."

The Craigheads claim roots of the cattail can be "eaten raw, or roasted in hot coals." But they also claim "rootstock is easily pulled up," so I'm not sure how much one can trust what those two scientists say. My reason for disillusionment is that I've spent time in a cattail swamp trying to pull roots for breakfast and wound up hiking back to camp for an axe . . . only to discover it'd probably be easier to bail the swamp than to chop cattail roots in 18-inches of water.

On the other hand, Indians are documented as gathering cattail roots using digging sticks--I'd no doubt be fascinated with their techniques. At any rate, I managed a couple of potato-sized pieces of a cattail plant that was obviously too bedraggled and shopworn to longer resist, and threw in the towel when I threw in my axe.

Towel was what one of those potato-sizes tasted like raw, so I roasted the other.  Then it tasted like scorched towel with mold on it from lying too long under a locker room stairwell. (Aww, I jest, but don't follow a Snickers bar with a slice of cattail root.)

Fuzz from the pod can be used as fire tender. Dry fuzz, that is (don't expect it to ignite in a rainstorm).

The Craigheads say fuzz from cattail sausages were used by early settlers for bedding stuffers. (But the Craigheads also said the roots are "easily pulled up, too.) A word to the wise: fluff the sausages first. 

Good night.  Sleep sound.

GMcover

* "Gunnar's Mine," 4th in my Valediction For Revenge series of historical Westerns will go FREE as an e-book on Amazon's Kindle Store, beginning Monday, July 15. Don't miss it.
** Don't miss the first book in the series: "Echoes of Vengeance" also on sale for just $2.99.
*** Or "My Best Work Is Done At the Office," filled with 116 humorous and inspirational short stories (bathroom reading), also for $2.99.
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July 6, 2013

HOW TO SURVIVE AND STILL HAVE FUN

The view from the ridgetop ran chills skittering up and down my spine. I counted on it bringing grins, but hadn't expected it to yank out a gasp when the first snow-capped, triangle peak poked up from the innards of the unmarred land beyond.

A few more steps and I paused on the expansive, beargrass-covered ridgetop. Another nation beckoned from 75 miles away, from across the entire length of Glacier National Park. Yet Alberta and the peaks of Waterton seemed just beyond fingertip reach in the crisp, clear air of this glorious sunshiny day.

Then a wind gust slammed my perch and I staggered forward like a drunken sailor before bracing against it. A raven swept over the ridge like a missile. He was so low and so close, I could've reached out and touched him. A flock of unidentified flying L.G.B.s (little gray birds) swept by shortly thereafter. They, too, zipped by at little more than armpit-level.

I thought back to the morning's drive and how cottonwood trees along the forest road had a belly-up, lighter green look to some of their leaves. The low flights by birds and the cottonwoods' flip-flopped leaves presaged heavy weather in the offing. Between gusts, I turned to peer back to the southwest. Ominous black clouds roiled over the Swan Range.

I was young then and indestructible. So I slipped from my daypack, dug for the paper sack containing a sandwich, and sprawled in the grass to escape the wind.

My eyes flicked open at the first raindrop and I immediately shaded them from the blazing overhead orb. More drops pattered down, slanting in from the west. How dared God give light and taketh it away at the same time? 

Sheets of rain would soon be upon me, marching like phalanxes from the Pacific Rim, heading directly for my ridgetop. Beyond the phalanxes, those black clouds had completely shuttered the Swan Mountains and were halfway across Hungry Horse Reservoir, pregnant
bellies dipping to the water on their way.

I sat up to again admire those gorgeous, snow-glistening peaks to the north and east. They still bathed in crisp sunshine, but were now softened by the refractive somberness of the approaching storm. Reluctantly I stuffed my empty lunch sack back inside the daypack and clambered to my feet. With wind and rain beating against my face, I was glad, a few minutes later, to drop into the forest. Then the full fury of the storm struck!

I stopped beneath a gnarled whitebark pine and gathered a few dry twigs from beneath its overhanging trunk. Then I shaved a few slivers of pitch from a chunk carried in the daypack and prepared to strike a fire. The wind was too erratic, however, and too gusty to hold a match. So I took the paper sack from my pack and dropped pitch slivers and small twigs into it, turned the sack's opening away from the wind, struck a match and tossed it in.

With a tiny fluttering blaze established, I stacked wet branches around for a windbreak, then threw larger dry branches to the fire.

* If you haven't already noted, there are several fundamental outdoors tips in this column.

** For those who did or did not order "Bloody Merchants War"--first of my two books about New Mexico's terrible Lincoln County War--when it was FREE, it and the second of the two companion books, "Lincoln County Crucible"--went on sale yesterday on Amazon's Kindle store for just $.99-cents each. Simply Click Here to view them

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June 29, 2013

TWEAKING THE EGOTISTICAL

There's nothing quite as slapstick as watching someone with an ego have it tweaked during a slice of outdoors adventure. Unfortunately, the hilarity most often occurs among observers, not observees, and I was well beyond the age of puberty when I first noticed people love you best when you laugh at your own misfortunes and keep mum about theirs. An example might be:

- Pouring water pooled on a tent fly ... into the boots you'd set outside to dry a few minutes before.

Saved, of course, for the gods' ultimate malignant amusement is the embarrassment served a so-called outdoors "expert" among a covey of novices. I remember one such occasion:

- During particularly nasty weather, after carefully preparing the tinder for a warming fire, I glanced sheepishly up at the circle of anxious, teeth-chattering faces and said, "Uh . . . does anyone have a match?"

It's especially traumatic when your four-legged friends use, misuse, and abuse you. I can't count the times when:

- They've thrown up their heads and galloped into the sunset simply because I appeared on a distant skyline with a halter in my hand. Then how, hours later, when I trudge back footsore and angry (as well as blasphemous), they stood placidly in the corral yawning as if to ask, "Where you been, boss?"

Horses and dogs use me, men target me for disparagement and hilarity, but it's women who've brought the art of verbal lampoon to fine art. Consider the lady who:

- Brought me low by wondering what on earth "you Montana people do out here" in this godforsaken wilderness at the end of the earth? "Back in Buffalo [New York, not Wyoming], we have opera and . . . and professional sporting events." But out in this remote
region, "you unfortunates have only mountains and rivers and lakes and . . . each other."

Though mountains and rivers and lakes and each other still doesn't seem all that bad to me, another lady cut me off at the knees with disparaging remarks about cowboys, of all things! True, I've known eastern males to impugn western males, mostly, I suspect, because of a low sense of Ivy League inferiority, but I'd come to expect enlightenment from females of Vassar persuasion:

- "I'd always hoped to marry a cowboy," the attractive Manhattan lass giggled, speaking in full earshot of Jane, "until I met you."

The ultimate indignity is when children find you an easy target:

- "Mr. Cheek, were you just showing off, or did you really fall in that river by accident?"

And the foremost indignity of all is when it's your own children who do the tweaking:

- "Gee, Dad, you almost rode that horse that time!"

Or: "Gosh, Dad, I thought you said 30 miles on a horse in one day is a long ride. Valerie and I want to ride on down to Brushy Park. Okay?"

Or: "Yeah, well, what's the big deal? He was just a little snake and I didn't see which way he went when he knocked the lid off my box. Did you see him in the bathroom?"

* The five FREE days for "Bloody Merchants War" ended yesterday, but that first of historical novels about New Mexico Lincoln County War and its sequel, "Lincoln County Crucible" are both on sale for just $.99-cents each at Amazon's Kindle Store until July 9.

Bloody Merchants War cover Lincoln County Crucible cover

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June 22, 2013

WILDWOOD HOME

We've lived in the same house, on the same plot of land for nearly 50 years. The house into which we moved was a 1925 Sears & Roebuck pre-fab that replaced the original homestead cabin.

Golden willows had been planted in windbreak rows north and south. Lombardi poplars towered to the west. The poplars were augmented by a row of wild plum mixed with chokecherry. Rows of carigana windproofed the willows and a phalanx of house-high firs stood final palace guard.

Apple trees and cherry trees were spotted hither and thither around the yard. An elm grew there. Jane planted a birch outside her kitchen window, and a row of scotch pines to the east, fending off highway noise.

With all the trees and a yard the size of a pitch-and-putt golf course, the place darned near killed us. Then came our outfitting and guiding years when we were seldom home during the summer.

Untended, the carigana crept outside its rows to ambush a tent frame and threaten a tennis court we'd built when first hitting the country. The fir trees grew and grew until they reached the sky, then two had the audacity to die and threaten the house. The acres of golden willows shed limbs into our front yard with all the flair of a field of dandelions spreading parachutes.

Much to Jane's terror and my alarm, the place was getting away, building such a lead on deterioration that the task of whipping it back to any stage of order and neatness appeared overwhelming.

But what's this? Deer feed on our apples. Raccoons steal from the bird feeder. A red squirrel and two pine squirrels scold from our own private forest. Ruffed grouse rest near the boles of fir trees and ringnecked pheasants strut between windbreaks. Turtle doves coo from the willows. Owls hoot from the elm. A bobwhite quail once called from a corral rail (undoubtedly someone's pet released into the wilds, but a bobwhite nevertheless).

There are songbirds of a gazillion kind. Never has there been so many robins. Meadowlarks sing their throaty welcome from the fields, bluebirds flutter from fence post to fence post. Magpies sail into the yard and ravens perch on the barn roof. A redtail hawk glides effortlessly overhead.

It's miraculous, but we've discovered the encroaching wildwood to be a blessing in disguise. We not only have no intention of manicuring the tangled sanctuary that crept into our homelot, but we feel no guilt about it--not when reaping the pleasures afforded by watching our many furry and feathery companions.

But there's a downside. The place has also become a haven for predators. Remember the magpies and ravens? Do you think the redtail soars overhead merely to get more flight time?

Our yard is turning into a crossroads for barn cats, striped skunks, coyotes, and neighborhood dogs. Just the other morning, at break of day, Jane awoke to watch a red fox play with a mouse he'd just nailed from our back lawn. Another morning she tapped me awake so I, too, could watch the fox family at play, first in the yard, then on our tennis court.

Wherever there are prey animals, there you'll also find creatures to prey upon them. Some folks frightened of mountain lions in their woods might wish to remember that fact while sprinkling food for whitetail deer under their living room picture window.

* Monday will begin five days of FREE e-book promotion for "Bloody Merchants War," the first of my two historical novels about New Mexico's Lincoln County War. Look for it at Amazon's Kindle Store

Bloody Merchants War cover

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June 15, 2013

SURPRISED TO GET BACK

"You know," I said through gritted teeth, "if you'll stop this damned thing, I'll get out and walk." The pilot laughed and wriggled the half-moon wheel in his hand.

Out the passenger-side window the aircraft's wing waved in response; evergreens beckoned just beyond its tip. I swallowed and blinked several times.

"There's a band of elk," my companion muttered, putting the little Cessna in a tight bank to neatly bring the mountainside meadow into my view. Then he slowed so it almost seemed as if I really could get out and walk. "How many?"

I had my nearly regurgitated breakfast under sufficient control to mutter, "Sixteen. All cows and calves." We were low enough and close enough to see spots on the babies. None of the elk seemed alarmed by the coasting airplane.

"How many calves?" my friend asked.

"Four."

He nodded. "It's time for cows to begin dropping calves. This is the kind of place to do it--good food and water close to hand, lots of good security cover." My friend was a biologist with Fish, Wildlife & Parks. He'd logged hundreds of hours winging over sky-scratching mountaintops and buzzing forested canyons in search of electronic beeps from radio transmitters worn by the animals he studied--the wide-ranging, mean-tempered wolverine.

I'd asked Howard to give a presentation on his six-year wolverine study at a "reunion" of people I'd formerly led to Northern Rockies adventure. Howard flew into the remote Spotted Bear airstrip, near the lodge where our guests were gathered. He was early. With spare time on his hands, he asked if I'd care to join him for a ride?

It's no secret to my friends that I do not fly well. The reason I don't fly well is because I'm always surprised when I get back.

The pilot banked the Cessna to again cruise past the band of elk, this time on his side. "They appear to be in good shape. Probably other cows are in the trees calving, or getting ready to do so."

I could care less what the damned elk were doing in trees that must be scratching the underbelly of this damned piece of airborne junk into which I was strapped. I asked if he had a "barf" bag?

He glanced my way, mirror sunglasses reflecting my pea-green image. "You do look a little peaked."

"Well, do you?"

"No. You'll have to hold it." He turned the plane into a narrow side canyon. The mountains towered above us, either side. I knew this country well--one of my hunting camps was located nearby. "This is a box canyon, Howard."

"Mmm."

"It narrows down at the upper end."

"Really?"

"There may not be room to turn around."

At eighty-miles-per-hour, the canyon's headwall galloped toward us at warp speed. Meanwhile mountainsides squeezed in. I stared right and left, closed my eyes, and muttered, "God help us."

And as the pilot put his little bird into a dime-sized twirl, I didn't hold it!

* "Chocolate Legs," my "other" book about grizzly bears, went on sale as an e-book yesterday for five days at the ridiculously low price of just $.99-cents. Check out an entire book about a single grizzly bear in Amazon's Kindle Store. Click Here.

* And "Dance On the Wild Side," if you missed its FREE promotion, is on sale right now for just $2.99. Click to see it on Amazon.

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June 8, 2013

THE FIRST TIME

One of the paradoxes of horseback packtrips into mountain country is that the more proficient one becomes in the art of packing horses, the less memorable such adventures become as alzheimers kicks in.

The buzzword here might be "adventure." My first attempt at horsepacking the vitals for an overnight packtrip into mountain country took place nearly forty years ago. It was such a fiasco that I shuddered every time I got close to a pony for a decade. Then I took another trial run. That time my nerves quit banjoing after only a year as a consequence of that drubbing. So I tried an extended packtrip into the middle of the Bob Marshall Wilderness. That took another year to get over. In time, though, the peaks got lower and the valleys broader until I hardly remember later, easier excursions. Yet every single one of those earlier "adventures" are subject to total and vivid recall, even after decades and an aging memory.

There's a funny metabolic process that takes place if a fellow is a slow learner. But by going back and going back, my horses got better and I got better. Our gear got refined. I grew my own helpers, trained a wife, and gained the confidence of most people who don't know me. My horses became so resigned to their fate that, in later years we could unload the ponies at the trailhead, hang a nosebag over their ears, brush 'em, saddle 'em, sling packs, and be on the trail before they came fully awake. Eight hours later, we'd pull the packs, hang another nosebag, unsaddle and brush the creatures, turn 'em out to roll and, while Jane ran out for water, I'd set up the dining fly. Then we'd gather a little firewood, erect our sleeping tent, and be relaxing in the river with an evening cocktail in hand before the sun moved toward the western horizon.

Once, t'was not so.

In the early stages of my horsepacking fetchin' up, we'd blow two trailer tires on the way to the trailhead and get there long after lunch. One pony would ropeburn while backing out of the trailer and another would halter-gald while fighting the pine tree to which he was tied.

None of the saddles fit, no two packs weighed the same, we forgot one packpad, and two of the ladies picked up the dry heaves on the crooked road from civilization. The trail was full of mud, I lost my sleeping bag from a top pack somewhere between Black Bear and Independence Park, the heaviest loads rolled three times and one of the ponies learned how to shed what he carried from watching how it was done so many times.

The trail we followed was full of windthrown trees and somebody was already camped where we'd planned. It was okay, though, because full dark came when we were halfway to our destination and we had to pitch our tent in the middle of the trail five minutes before two Forest Service mule trains happened along.

We were up at first light, though, 'cause nobody could sleep with all the strange noises coming from the brush that closed in around our tent when the moon went down. Joe forgot the whiskey and the extra jug I brought for medicinal purposes got broke the second time the damnfool mule rolled coming down Switchback Pass.

No wonder it took ten years to get over that first time.

* FYI - For those missing the free download days for "Learning To Talk Bear," Jane just put the e-book up on Kindle at a reduced price (down to $4.99): Click Here

Talk Bear cover

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June 1, 2013

THE IMPERFECT MARRIAGE

It's a giant paradox, this obsession we each have for trying so peerlessly to please our mate. A terrible nightmare it is, almost as bad as stumbling home through a blizzard after a wasted night arguing politics and religion at the Dog & Duck. It's true I can't pass a fingernail test, but my leprosy cleared up last week and the ebola virus hasn't reached my house yet.

I'd ought to tell myself I'm a happy man, but how can I when my wife takes stock of the man in her life and is disappointed? After all, I wear underwear without sleeves and shun garters to hold up my socks. So I don't sleep in pajamas--so what? There's precious little tattletale smears on the collars of my boiled shirts and she won't discover any catty women whispering behind their hands about me.

While it's true my suits sag, they only do so because they were cut for a man thirty pounds heavier. It's her fault. She's the one suggesting I lose forty, then starved off fifty--the real reason I woke up in the Dog & Duck in the first place.

So I'm no mechanical genius and electric squigglies leave me squirming, so what? Truth tell, there's just too many complications. Take battery-powered electric socks and dual control electric blankets--I'm just not the type. I'm not even the type who sleeps or smooches with one who is. My taste, you see, runs to snuggling with descendants of pioneer women who baked buffalo, shot grizzlies and had babies, simultaneously, while reading Thackeray and Dostoevsky before breakfast.

Our problems are more cosmetic than substantial; she wants a sporty roadster, I want a four wheel drive pickup. We buy a lemon yellow sedan. It's color is blue. The lemon denotes the fact the speedometer was rolled over twice. And the yellow means I'm afraid to drive such a piece of junk.

If she wanted a younger man, she should have married me earlier instead of waiting clear up 'til I reached nineteen. I will admit, however, there's no way she could have known about my uneven teeth, since I smiled but little and laughed not at all during our courting years. Too, nice folks didn't chew or smooch (either one) with mouths open in those days. And she's got to agree the bald spot shining through my curly locks caught us both by surprise.

The lady might have a valid complaint about all my fishing and hunting. But her complaint would carry more weight if she didn't out with her six-shooter and pop the heads from grouse at forty feet. And danged if the little woman can't float a grey hackle through a ripple about as neat as any man alive.

Bake a buffalo? Naah, the last one came out on the tough side. Shoot a grizzly? I hope not; her six-shooter carries .22 Shorts. Have babies. Yep, they were grand. Until they turned into teenagers. . . .

Her real problem is Dostoevsky. Thackeray she digs. Even Chaucer. But when it comes to Dostoevsky, my woman is still struggling at supper time. She plugs for Tolstoy instead.

You can see why we have such monumental marital problems, Jane and me. But we'll work 'em out. How do I know?

I just gave her a copy of Plutarch and she handed me "The Compleat Angler."

* FYI - Over 700 FREE "Learning To Talk Bear" e-books were downloaded from Amazon's Kindle Store during Jane's recent Monday thru Friday promotion. But get this: There were 1,350 "Dance On the Wild Side" also download FREE. Though the free "Dance" book came as a surprise to us, we're grateful because the sum total of new readers exposed to my books topped out at over 2,000--a VERY good promotion!
To all those who made this happen, thanks. Roland and Jane.
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May 25, 2013

VINTAGE MONTANA AND THE UNIBOMBER

They were a fascinating couple. They wandered into the store where I worked occasionally and it didn't take long to strike up a conversation: "Where you folks from?"

"South Africa."

"Do you realize you're the first South Africans I've ever met?"

"Actually, we're not here from South Africa. At present, we live in Hong Kong."

It was back in 1995 that skiing brought Michael and Debbie Hilditch on a late spring-holiday vacation to Montana. I was flabbergasted to hear they had never before visited America and were visiting the Treasure State before traveling elsewhere. "Why not Grand Canyon? Yellowstone? Hollywood?" I asked. "It's axiomatic that people from foreign lands visit those high profile places on their first trip to America."

"Space," Debbie replied. "When you live in Hong Kong, you only want to go where there are no crowds."

Though they'd planned a ski holiday, the South African couple wound up skiing a little and driving a lot. They skied Bridger Bowl, Big Sky and Big Mountain, visited Charlie Russell Museums in Great Falls and Helena, gleefully drove secondary roads, comparing our vast open spaces with those of their South African homeland.

Naturally, I took the couple home for dinner. Others may be horrified I'd extend such an invitation without first clearing it with Jane. But my wife is just as fascinated by fascinating people. And one must strike while the iron is hot.

The Hilditches are global travelers. She spent six months in Nepal and a year in Israel; he worked for a year in England and visited all over Europe, Southeast Asia and Australia. They were quite taken with what we assume a birthright "It's so safe here," Debbie said. "You cannot realize how priceless that is. For instance, we have some beautiful beaches in South Africa. But if you were to put up a tent on one of those beaches, you wouldn't live through the night."

Michael is a veterinarian, Debbie a schoolteacher. Their sole purpose for dwelling in Hong Kong is to make money. They planned to leave when the island reverts to mainland China's control in 1997. "Financially, Hong Kong has been good to us," Michael said. "We've purchased a small farm in Natal Province and plan to go there after leaving Hong Kong."

It was an idyllic evening. I recorded the couple speaking Afrikaans, the unique language of Boers of Dutch descent. (Debbie is very much of Afrikaaner descendent and some of her Afrikaans speech went on the air on my long-running "Trails To Outdoor Adventure" radio program). But of more inportance was what fine things those Afrikaaners had to say about the friendly folks of Montana. "There are no people, anywhere, to compare with the friendly ones we met in Montana."

I believe that a fine tribute to the way Montanans choose to make up their own minds about folks they meet, based on their own experiences and that of their friends and neighbors. Media hype and media rantings gets little traction among citizens of the Treasure State. Even bad guys get honest reviews.

Sherry Wood is a good example of that. Sherry is a librarian. Ted Kaczynski, the "Unibomber" spent a great deal of time in the lady's Lincoln, Montana library. And according to "Time Magazine" the only statement the lady would give the hounds from the national media was, "I liked him." Obviously Sherry's judgment was based on what she saw and experienced when the "bomber" was in her library.

Vintage Montana. Speak honestly. Don't be stampeded into joining a mob to condemn until all facts are in. Judge people only by what you know.

Sherry Wood is a credit to the state where we dwell, even if the Unibomber wasn't.

* Just two days until Jane's big Amazon Kindle give-away period for my best-selling book Learning To Talk Bear.

Learn Bear

Click Here for my website link filled with info about the book--it's the best place for you to go to learn about grizzly bears.
* Remember, the book will be FREE as an Amazon e-book, beginning May 27!

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May 18, 2013

RIGHT OF PASSAGE

Yellow blooms of skunk cabbage peeked from the nearby forest fringe as I plunked spotting scope to the hood of my Jeep wagon. A gentle breeze wafted from the woods and I paused to take a deep breath before bending to the scope's eyepiece.

He wasn't a big bear as bear's go. And he was ebony, whereas I'd hoped for one in cinnamon color phase. But he was THERE, grazing amid a mountainside meadow, not more than a half-mile away. I jerked the scope from its perch, folding it while leaping into the wagon.

The farmhouse was rustic board and batten, perched at the end of the lane, surrounded by disordered brambles and a rickety picket fence long overdue for a coat of whitewash. While hurrying through a gate hanging by only one hinge, I could see the meadow and the still-grazing bear. A worn path led to the door. One could sense more than hear or see or feel movement behind the door when I knocked. It swung open. An elderly gentleman held a newspaper in one hand, the doorknob in the other. "Yes?" he asked.

He was stooped, his hair as white as bleached muslin, thin on top but hanging an inch below the top of his ears and curling over the collar of his open-necked plaid flannel shirt. Tiny steel-rimmed glasses perched halfway down the bridge of his nose. Eyes faded with age peered up at me, over the tops of the glasses. "What is it?" he asked again.

"I'd ... I want to go bear hunting," I said. "There's a bear feeding up yonder, in a meadow. And ... and I wondered if it'd be all right if I went up and tried for him?"

The old man's forehead pinched as he stared up at me. "Do you have a gun?" he barked.

"Yes, sir." Then he smiled.

"Well, son, that's all you need."

That's the way it was in Montana forty-five years ago. The sands of time have trickled through many flips of the hour-glass since, and it's not as easy to access private land as during those halcyon days. But it's not as tough as some folks think, even now.

Most Montana landholders are motivated by the same instincts as humans everywhere: a) they want to do the right thing; b) they want to know what's in it for them?

In the "right thing" scenario, the landowner wants good relations with others sharing the Treasure State. The fact is, he needs them working with him in tandem to keep Montana the "Last Best Place" for his kids and their kids to survive on the land.

In the case of "what's in it for me?" they want to know their gates won't be left open, fences broken or cut, fields torn asunder, water diverted, crops flattened. In short, they prefer to take the measure of a person wanting to visit or pass through their land in person, not over the phone. If it's an inconvenience to you to show up clean-cut and decent-appearing, perhaps you shouldn't ask in the first place so it'll not be inconvenient for the landowner to refuse you right of passage.

By the way, the bear was gone when I reached his meadow....

* Big promotional effort coming up soon to introduce readers to my work: Jane plans to release my best selling book, Learning To Talk Bear FREE May 27 - 31, via Amazon's Kindle Store. That's Learning To Talk Bear FREE in e-book, May 27 - 31. CLICK HERE to view the book

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May 12, 2013

JIM REPLIES

Mentioned in yesterday's blog about how my book, "Learning To Talk Bear" helped him overcome a fear of bears after a near-serious encounter at Trout Lake in Glacier National Park, Jim Valentine offered additional information on his "take" on fear:

Roland; What a surprise! I was humbled by the blog, to put it mildly. Fear is something that I remember trying to overcome since I was about 4 years old. Fear of the dark as a young kid, fear of lightning as a young lad, fear of bees as a young man, and fear of the "Griz" as a maturing man. It is always fun to reflect on how we learn to live with and overcome some of these phobias. I am sure we all have met with similar challenges.

See you in about a month.

Jim

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May 11, 2013

A WARM AND FUZZY FEELING

I've known him for fifty years. He worked for Borden's Chemicals Company as a glue technology specialist when I landed in Montana back in 1964 as a foreman for a brand new plywood manufacturing plant near Glacier National Park. He proved to be a great guy, and a fervent outdoorsman; we hit it off, then drifted apart when I was promoted to a different job within my company and he was routed to a different division within his.

Eventually I left my job as Safety Director with Plum Creek Lumber Co. to begin guiding other folks to adventure in the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Jim advanced within his company, to management roles in Oregon and Washington. Then I retired as a guide and Jim retired as a chemical specialist. And one day as I worked on a thorny "character and circumstance" problem with a novel I was writing (by utilizing my standard technique of splitting and stacking wood), Jim parked in our driveway and came striding my way wearing a million dollar smile and holding out an outstretched hand.

They'd tired of the Pacific Coast, Jim and his wife Julie, and moved back to Montana's Flathead Valley for their retirement. It was a little bit like "old home week"--he's always been like that: easy to be around.

Today, the guy ranks as the absolutely most "fit" seventy-year-old I know. I received a Facebook photo of him standing on a Swan Range mountaintop in February. He snowshoed up alone to a mountaintop I've only once climbed (in July!)

But it was from the same guy--Jim Valentine--that I recently received the very best testimonial I've ever fielded during my entire writing career:

Jane and I invited Jim and Julie to join us for a day or two of canyonlands hiking in southeastern Utah during their transit between Arizona's winter home to Montana's summer spread. We were sitting around a campfire after an arduous hike along steep canyon rims. Knowing that Jim had once had a grizzly bear drag his sleeping bag around (with him in it) at Trout Lake in Glacier Park (the same Trout Lake made notable during the "Night of the Grizzlies" incidents in 1967) I asked the guy to share that story with our son Marc (also joining his mother and father for Utah hiking) which Jim graciously did.

Later, we ventured into other dangers of mountain travel and I ventured the opinion that one "cannot allow himself to be held hostage to fear."

Jim murmured, "That's exactly what happened to me after Trout Lake."

I'd been studying the toes of my boots, but I glanced up. Firelight flickered across the man's twisted face. "I was frightened of grizzly bears after that Trout Lake incident for years--until I read your book, 'Learning To Talk Bear'."

Learning To Talk Bear cover

Silence reigned until I murmured, "Jim, you might just have given me the very best testimonial I've ever heard about the value of my writing."

"It's true," he said. "You explained what motivate bears and why. You explained the bears' actions and what I should've expected. You told me what to look for in the future, and what to avoid. I haven't felt hostage to grizzly bears since."

Have you ever had a warm and fuzzy feeling flow over you when you hear affirmation that, by God! for once in your life you done somethin' right? Well, I know what it feels like now.

And by damn! it feels GOOD!

* The South Fork Grizzly Study and many of the bears profiled within are thoroughly covered in my book "Learning To Talk Bear."
* Incidentally, Jane is planning a huge promotion on the digital edition of "Learning To Talk Bear" to take place near the end of this month.
* Headwaters Montana, who carries one of my columns, has begun a six-part series taken from my book "Learning To Talk Bear" on the Giefer Grizzly, the Ursid Willie Sutton of breaking and entering on both sides of the border, up the Flathead's North Fork. Click Here to access the series.

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May 4, 2013

* GREATEST RESEARCH STORY EVER TOLD *

The beast paused in a shaft of moonlight, lifting her nose to test the air's gentle downhill drift. It was an odor so delicate, from such distance, only the olfactory nerve of one so wild could sense. She turned to stalk the breeze....

Minutes later, the animal stood motionless behind a screen of spruce saplings. Only her eyes moved, first around the tiny forest glade, then to the pile of debris on its far side. Again, she tested the wind; her tiny ears flicked rearward, momentarily flattened, then pricked ahead. She took a step, another, another.

Despite the pungent odor luring her on, the approach to the jumble of logs took a half-hour. Finally she could see the juicy venison hindquarter tucked far back within the rubble. She took another step, bent her head and reached inside. The snap was sudden! She smashed the top logs from the pile with her instinctive leap, then crashed to her side, roaring and bawling hideously, held fast by a steel cable around her right forefoot.

"Looks like we may have #183 down," the biologist said to his partner as a rising sun peeked above the eastern horizon. The man snapped the off switch on his receiver and carefully folded and stored his antennae. "Let's go."

A half-hour later, the men approached the forest glade, every sense alert. One carried an autoload 12-gauge shotgun, the other a rather plain looking broomstick in one hand and a canister of capsaicin bear spray in the other. Faced with an ominous silence, they parted the last spruce branches. The animal lunged for them!

Neither man leaped aside, but both blinked as the giant grizzly crashed to ground, brought down once again by the ensnaring cable.

"Easy, girl." one of them said.

The two biologists shrugged from their daypacks and moments later a hypodermic syringe gleamed from the end of the broomstick. The team leader warily approached the recumbant sow. She made one more lunge, again was jerked back, then squirmed to face her stalker until the second man approached from her other side. At last, the first man maneuvered into position and with a lightning thrust jammed the needle into the fat animal's thigh.

She roared and lunged and again crashed to the ground. Minutes passed. Her eyelids drooped. The first man poked her with his broomstick to no effect. Then he moved in and removed the bear's radio collar....

You heard right: the man REMOVED the bear's collar while his partner pulled the cable snare from her leg and dabbed the worn spot with disinfectant. Then they packed up their gear and hurried from the mountain....

The South Fork Grizzly Study was designed to achieve clear objectives over a ten year span. This single study provided the public with more and better understanding of grizzly bear behavior than any previous research--ever! The Study should serve as a model: completed a year ahead of schedule, objectives accomplished.

Now the unheard of: thing: actually removing research equipment from wild animals who unwittingly and against their will, contributed so much to our--and their own--future....

* The South Fork Grizzly Study and many of the bears profiled within are thoroughly covered in my book "Learning To Talk Bear."
* Incidentally, Jane is planning a huge promotion on the digital edition of "Learning To Talk Bear" to take place near the end of this month.
* Headwaters Montana, who carries one of my columns, has begun a six-part series taken from my book "Learning To Talk Bear" on the Giefer Grizzly, the Ursid Willie Sutton of breaking and entering on both sides of the border, up the Flathead's North Fork. Click Here to access the series.

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April 27, 2013
[Apologies to my readers are in order; but Jane and I've spent the last week singing to canyon wrens in Southeast Utah. I'll try to do better.

EVERYTHING YOU'LL NEED TO KNOW ABOUT LIFE

One of the paradoxes of life is how one achieves notoriety for doing wrong, even while giving his best "Dudley Do-Right" performance. Consider my reputation among my hiking and crosscountry skiing friends for leading our group into the worst shintangle on a mountain. It's to the point now where people who know me best won't even follow me across a soccer pitch.

Hike a maintained forest trail to a mountaintop where a breathtaking view awaits and it's Roland who brings up the rear. But suggest a shortcut down the mountain to intersect the trail in a fresh spot and the entire bunch bolts down the way they came, leaving me scratching my bald spot. Yet sometimes I'm waiting for them at the point where my shortcut intersected their more sedentary trail.

Jane, who of course, knows me best of all, will trail along on occasion--if we're hiking by ourselves and she fears traveling remote trails she found filled with fresh grizzly scat on the way up. But inevitably, before the journey is over, she bitches and moans about a few scratches on ankle or calf, or cringes in terror while traversing a narrowing cliff ledge with a hundred feet of nothingness yawning below.

I'm nearly fed up with fighting it. How can one find adventure unless one seeks adventure? To return the same way one ascends is anathema to me. I need to know what's on the other side of a mountain. What it's like across a river. Which thicket the grizzly slept in.

I've pointed out what appears to be perfectly good game trails descending via another route into valleys where our vehicles are parked. But do you think my adventure-less friends will give it a tumble? They will not! So what if it takes another hour to seek out and know another trail? It's not as if we'll be lost in the wilderness for days! Just to demonstrate, I've disgustedly went my own way dozens of times and only failed to show for Thanksgiving twice. More times than not I've been lounging at the car when the rest of the party--each of whom declined participation in my shorcut--straggled in.

The irony about my wife and her absorbing fear of clawing through devil's club while following her husband through thick and thin is: stick a flyrod in her hand and she'll tackle the brushiest streambank-thicket this side of creation. And she'll do it while slipping and sliding through piles of huckleberry-filled grizzly dung along the way.

I've known the woman to sit beside a waterfall, watching spawning cutthroat trout fight their way upstream, until a westeriing sun sets and us three hours back to our vehicle. You reckon there's something about a flyrod and trout that drives the woman, sort of like seeing what's on the other side of a mountain drives me?

How can two such dissimilar people assimilate? Because on occasion she'll follow me over that mountain to ogle the vista beyond. And on another, I'll sit beside the spawning pool and hold her hand and cheer her trout upstream just as loudly as she.

That, you see, is what life is really all about. It's about working at discovering why the other person in your life must see what's on the other side of a mountain or why one is turned on by a trout swimming upstream through a cataract. It's being willing to accept a few scratches and a little terror, or to creep along a mountain trail in the dark . . . because you love the other.

You reckon I sould be on Oprah?

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April20, 2013
[Stewart Adams is an inspiration, working out regularly at the same gym I use to delay the "grim reaper." The guy is handicapped by his half-dozen year battle with Parkinson's disease; but he won't give up, battling the dread to a standstill through vigorous and regular exercise. I'll admit to a growing affinity (and friendship) with Stew. And when, during an email exchange, he sent a story of an encounter he had with a young sparrow hawk, I asked the guy if I could use his well-written piece as a "guest" blog.]

SCREAMING BLESSING

Guest blog by Stewart Adams

The summer of my tenth year was lonely and so boring, really boring, until that misty morning I ventured to the far corner of our farmland property in Ohio. There, under the walnut tree was a strangely arranged ball of feathers, probably, I surmised, the aftermath of one of our local fox or bobcat predators.

Poking the fluff with my bare big toe produced an instantaneous and quite unpleasant response from the feather wad. Tiny talons sank into the flesh of my foot. I screamed and the feather ball screamed back. I jerked, and the talons gripped tighter. It was a screaming standoff until my shaking fingers overpowered the needle talons and pried my throbbing toe to freedom. That’s how I met Jasper, the fledgling, abandoned sparrow hawk who was to become my summertime ward, my constant companion, my ‘child’ to raise and train.

Curiosity gradually replaced the throbbing sensation and I was able to view the trembling tyke for the vulnerable baby he was. His stare was both curious and challenging; frankly it was a bit intimidating. My heart went out to him when I realized that the remains of a destroyed nest at the base of the tree told the story of the violent end of his natural childhood and the beginning of a new chapter for both of us.

My new “Motherhood” role brought a barrage of questions and few easy answers. How do I pick him up and yet avoid painful encounters with razor sharp beak and talons? Answer: Always wear thick leather gloves… pad any area he might touch. Where do I keep him safe and uninjured? Answer: In a small chicken coop (without chickens in residence.) What to feed and how? Trial and many errors later, I found he loved strings of hamburger which were found to be enticing only when served on a wiggling toothpick. Favorite treat, however, was bread and milk… even better than worms or big bugs.

As the summer progressed, outings became a treasured bonding time. They consisted of Jasper’s riding proudly on my padded shoulder, keen eyes observing every moving bug, bird, or leaf. Just to keep me moving, he’d gently beak me on the ear. Thankfully, he never thought it necessary to bite. That August he began to open and stretch his wings, especially during fast walks. How does a pudgy ten year old teach a raptor to fly? Answer: Run as fast as you can with the bird clinging to your shoulder, wings spread and wide eyed screaming for more speed. After many days of screaming speed runs, Jasper began to flap his graceful wings, tentatively at first and, later, with forceful sweeps.

His first off the shoulder flight looked like the movies of the Wright Brothers’ attempt, unstable and barely able to stay aloft. It amazed me that he could gamely shake off the effects of feather bending crashes and pop back enthusiastically for more. Third attempt put him on a crash course for the walnut tree where he deposited a few feathers during final approach and landing. Gradually his forays extended into beautiful circles, each day flown higher and more confidently than the previous day’s.

Every day we both looked forward to the “freedom” times. He communicated his enthusiasm by screeching and jumping up and down in his cage anxious to alight on my shoulder. One morning, about a week into our flight lessons, without warning, he rolled mid-air like an F-15 fighter and streaked away not to return that day. Frantic for his well being, I kept a parental vigil all that night and into the following day, when, mid-day as a speck from afar, he casually swooped onto my shoulder as if he’d been gone only minutes.

The next two weeks he’d head off on some far mission, re-appearing every other day or so, coming in high and fast, screaming as usual, and at the last second of a swoop, decide whether to perch on my shoulder or hit the highest branches of the walnut tree. To my chagrin, he disappeared for a full two weeks, re-appearing (screaming), accompanied by a beautiful mate. It felt as if he had brought her “home” for my approval. When they flew away that afternoon, the tears rolled down my face…somehow I knew I’d never see Jasper again, even though I spent the rest of my childhood searching the skies for him. The next few summers there appeared a localized sparrow hawk nearby but I could never say for sure it was Jasper. His wild life had abruptly begun just as it should have. No more bread and milk… no more human hitch hikes needed.

It has been six decades since that special summer with my friend Jasper. To this day, whenever I hear an eagle or hawk screech, I get that special heart tug (and toe throb reaction) and my spirit screams with delight as I soar with him again.

[Good story, Stew. The kind of outdoor tales with a message that I like to do on this blog. Thanks.]

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April 13, 2013

SPEAKING OF INTOLERANCE

There's a bunch of intolerance going around these days and one hardly needs a guide dog to track where it's heading. With pure cussedness on the uprise and courtesy and tolerance on the downswing, sloguneering with overtones of bigotry has become cottage industry. At least most of our intolerance isn't racial or religious. Neither is it class warfare.

Instead, ours is environmental and it's fanned by the same type of fanatics that applied the torch to tinder since time began. "Motorized snow humpers," they're called by one side. "Tree hugging vandals," is one of the more tasteful retaliations. Vandalism has occurred, and more than one observer has told me in all seriousness that they fear someone is going to be killed.

My late great editor, Bob Elman, was a keen observer who passed along many insightful messages. The following was penned after he'd heard some upright citizen from his locale proclaim that he's "certainly not a bigot--far from it--but facts are facts and you can't deny them people are not our equals; give 'em an inch and they'll take a mile."

"Them people," according to Bob, "are whatever group the proclaimer is most ignorant of--racial, religious, ethnic,
political, cultural, whatever--and you can bet there's someone in the target group who's spouting the same crap about the proclaimer's group."

Here's Bob's poem:

On Logic and Tolerance In Community Relations.

When the toad was about to sell his place,

He raillied his neighbors face to face

and explained his views with regard to race

"Damn right I don't like frogs,

They're clumsy and slimy and vicious.

They defecate in our swamps and bogs

And call water bugs delicious.

Show me a frog and I'll show you a slob.

Would you want your sister to date one?

Just look at their kids, a gelatinous blob!

I'd rather die than date one.

But there's two sides to this story:

At the country club where the frog was respected

he told his friends what could be expected

if toads were not scrupulously rejected:

Damn right I don't like toads,

They're lazy and dirty and crude.

They defecate all over the roads

And they eat uncivilized food.

Their skin is warty and dry as death,

Their ignorant croaks can't be understood,

And their tongues--well, talk about dragon's breath!

They move in and ruin the neighborhood.

Bob added this a the end:

"My bit of doggerel doesn't amount to any profound insight, but it was fun to do, and I enjoy sharing these trifles with you. A chuckle is mightier than a scream of rage, and it's good to have friends who know how to chuckle."

(I believe Bob was wrong! His "bit of doggerel" does amount to some very profound insight. But I believe his second pearl of wisdom is equally profound: "A chuckle is mightier than a scream of rage.")

Bob Elman did have at least one friend who knows how to chuckle.

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April 6, 2013
Elysium End FREE on Amazon's Kindle store, today (Sat., April 6through Mon. April 8). It's a story about an old man with nothing left to live for, and a young horse with a different take on their situation. Click Here to view the book.

* IF NAPOLEON HAD ONLY KNOWN *

Meriwether and William being somewhat regular table topics around Montana and the nation, America needs this not-so-bit-of-trivia to round out future Lewis and Clark debates:

As any serious student of American history knows, Napoleon Bonaparte offered, in April, 1803, to sell Louisiana to the fledgling United States. Louisiana, of course, then extended from the mouth of the Mississippi to Canada and west to the Rocky Mountains--a huge territory. The selling price, it wound up, was the same as the asking price--$15 million.

As we all know, selling prices and asking prices are often at considerable odds. In fact, if they're not at odds it's usually because the seller hasn't access to the importance of the transaction to the buyer. That Napoleon didn't know the importance of Louisiana to the United States is little short of amazing.

Consider, if you will, that President Jefferson had transmitted a confidential message to Congress on January 18, 1803--three months BEFORE NAPOLEON OFFERED TO SELL THE TERRITORY. Imagine, too, if you can, a Confidential Message to Congress that stayed confidential. That also is even more utterly amazing!

Jefferson's message talked of the need for securing "a
respectable breadth of country on that [Mississippi] river, from our southern limit to Illinois...." Then he shifted focus:

"The River Missouri, and the Indians inhabiting it, are not as well known as is rendered desirable by their connection with the Mississippi, and consequently with us. It is, however, understood that the country on that river is inhabited by numerous tribes, who furnish great supplies of furs and peltry to the trade of another nation, carried on in a high latitude, through an infinite number of portages and lakes that shut up by ice through a long season."

Jefferson goes on to say: "... The commerce on that line could bear no competition with that of the Missouri, traversing a moderate climate, offering, according to the best accounts, a continued navigation from its source ..."

Well, I'll be! American commercial aspects as premise for the Lewis & Clark Expedition. Did they teach that in school?

Marse Tom went on with his actual proposal:

"An intelligent officer, with ten or twelve chosen men, fit for the enterprise and willing to undertake it, taken from our posts, where they may be spared without inconvenience, might explore the whole line, even to the western ocean ...

"The interests of commerce place the principal object within the constitutional powers and care of Congress...." [and the clincher] "The appropriation of $2,500 for the purpose of extending the external commerce of the United States, while understood and considered by the executive as giving the legislative sanction, would cover the undertaking from notice, and prevent the obstructions which interested individuals [Napoleon? King George?] might otherwise previously prepare in its way."

Ten or twelve men? Exploring another nation's sovereign
territory? For $2,500 dollars? Making Congress complicit?

If Napoleon had only known!

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March 30, 2013
Coming up FREE on Roland Cheek's Amazon's Kindle store page: "The Elysium End," about an old man wishing to die in the wildest place he knows, and a horse he detests who has decidedly different ideas. FREE April 5 through April 9. Look for it.

Elysium End Cover

 

WHO'S THE FOOL?

I wondered about "All Fools Day"--the why, when, and who of it--until I looked in a mirror and recognition flooded in. Daylight savings time has been in effect for a couple weeks now and anybody who is anybody knows there's more daylight now than if we'd stayed on the old time.

Time, is measured by the position of the Sun as it circles the globe. (I know, I know, the Sun doesn't circle the globe, but time derived from Old Sol's position in relation to the earth's spin is called "apparent solar time.") Time is thus calibrated into 24 segments, called "time zones." Each time zone stretches from pole to pole and shares the same time of day or night. Each of those zones covers 15-degrees of longitude (except for boundary manipulations for political purposes) and the Sun's actual rays pass through one degree of longitude every four minutes.

Where does Daylight Saving Time enter the picture? Here's a direct quote from my encyclopedia:

"Daylight Saving Time (DST) provides more usable hours of daylight for human activities by setting clocks ahead one hour in the spring. Although the total amount of daylight remains the same, more daylight hours are allowed for outdoor work and recreation in the late afternoon and evening...."

Reader, I have provided the facts FYI; you may apply the epithets.

 

It was a few years ago when I woke up to six-inches of wet snow on April Fool's Day. I remember wondering if my thoughts mirrored those of a sleepy bear who, awakening that same day, poked her head out of her den and plowed snow with her nose?

Which reminds me--bears are emerging from their wintertime beds now. After five to six months without suitable nourishment, you can figure they'll be a tad desperate for something besides rutabagas for breakfast. Oddly, however, as desperate as we think the ursids might be, there's little record of wild bruins turning aggressive until they must begin topping their tanks for the next winter's nap--mid-summer or early fall.

Naturally, the foregoing info discounts sows with spring cubs, who can become annoyed when humans deign to properly appreciate the bumptious beauty of her offspring, no matter how ugly and unruly.

I've often wondered why there aren't more bear/human confrontations in the spring. Jane and I enjoy observing bears from a distance when buttercups and glacier lilies are in bloom; a time or two, through too much zeal to watch the creatures, we've infringed on their space. Yet without exception, they've proved tolerant, either by ignoring our presence or disdainfully grazing away. So here's the question: Why do the great ursids seem more likely to practice human avoidance when they're hungry and on short rations than when huckleberries are prime and abundant?

Don't look to me for an answer. Except this: maybe we all might come closer to roughing up a diner full of Hell's Angels when it's over a 24-oz. T-bone than over a bowl of brussels sprouts. Maybe to a bear there are no sumptuous meals when they first emerge from hibernation. No T-bones, no porterhouses, no lobster thermidors. Only brussels sprouts.

And why argue over that?

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March 23, 2013
It's true, my book of short humor and inspiration will continue to be FREE on Amazon's Kindle store through Sunday, March 24. See "My Best Work Is Done At the Office." Click here to see book
Roland's Office
Cover photo for "My Best Work Is Done At the Office

 

* DIFFERING AGES FAIL THE TEST *

Nowhere is the chasm broader or deeper or scarier than in communications between humans with experience and aliens of the younger generation. Even well-intentioned youths and mannerly elders have problems. I offer the following tale as example:

Jane recently helped a friend move to a retirement facility and late in the afternoon, after returning home, she hinted in a shamefully direct way that she wanted someone to take her out for dinner. Being the kind, courteous, trustworthy, helpful (not to mention obedient) soul that she married, we went for hamburgers at a local pub. What helped tip the balance was she had a "buy one, get two" coupon and I never could refuse a bargain date with a ravishing broad.

The average age of the pub's patrons appeared to be around 25. Wanting only good hamburgers and already possessing great company, we chose an isolated table in a remote wing. The table was situated directly in front of a blank 52-inch tv screen.

The serving lady soon appeared at my elbow. But before she took our drink orders, she bustled over to the blank screen, saying,"I'll bet you'd like to watch the dog show." Though I snarled, she added, "They have some really cute ones." So she switched it on, but out of deference, with no sound. Then she took our orders.

Have you ever tried NOT watching a four-foot screen flickering inches from your nose? It's utterly impossible. It ruined our table conversation, ruined my disposition, and disclosed more breeds of dogs than I thought possible.

There were Kuvasz, Komondor, Bouvier des Flandres, Scottish deerhound, Borzoi, Otter hound, Manchester terrier, Papillon, and Rhodesian ridgeback. There were Afghan, Shih tzu, Saluki, Maltese, Wirehaired griffon, Keeshong, and Tibetan terrier.

And there were familiar mutts: fox terrier, Chesapeake, Standard poodle, Weimaraner, Pekingese, Bloodhound, Dachsund, Greyhound, Boxer, Saint Bernard, etc., etc.

Trainers had no doubt spent hours grooming their animals, as well as days training them. When their turn came, each trainer tightened her grip (most were women) on the choke-chain and trotted around the arena with their animal. If their's was an appealing mutt the crowd--which was massive--politely clapped and judges routed them to the next stage of competition.

Periodically, television producers cut to advertise various can't-do-without products for your pet. But prior to the ad, they showed the dogs that were up next. And lo! there was a BRITTANY SPANIEL. (Full disclosure rexquires that I tell you we had Brittany spaniels, love Brittany spaniels, and think there are no other dogs in the world that can rival Brittany spaniels.)

We'd finished eating by then and the bartender, a fine-looking young muscles-in-the-eyebrows-type guy with large dark eyes, a winsome smile, and a four-day beard came to collect our dishes and ask if we'd like anything else?

We wouldn't, but I waved at the screen and told him we were going to stick around for a little while because a Brittany was next on tap.

The young man's eyebrows shot to the ceiling and his smile was 24-karat. If ever I saw a kindred soul, this was my guy!

. . . Until he exclaimed, "BRITNEY SPEARS?"

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March 16, 2013
Today, so close to the first day of spring, marks a new-look transformation for my "Campfire Culture" blog. Jane and I hope you like its look and feel. And if you've not already done so, perhaps you'd care to check out my new website: CLICK and maybe the new look of my "Mountain Musing" blog redux: CLICK
And by the way, thanks for being you.

* A DAY TO TRANSFORM WINTER'S DREAM TO SUMMER'S MAGIC *

There's a green tinge to Treasure State history. It begins with Mike Fink, notorious brawling boatman of early fur trade fame.

Fink, a nefarious lowbrow the Irish might prefer to forget was followed by Tom (Broken Hand) Fitzpatrick, a more noble adventurer who rose to command Rocky Mountain Fur Company brigades. Indeed, Fitzpatrick eventually became a partner in the company at a time eastern newspapers were running help wanted ads with the tag line: "Irish need not apply."

Thomas Francis Meagher began his Montana sojourn by blazing like a comet into the Treasure State sky. But the man proved little more than a shooting star--here today, gone tomorrow. However, Meagher was a bonafied member of the Auld Sod as a leader of the"Young Ireland Party--the Irish Republican Army of its day. As such, Meagher was arrested and sentenced to death by the British. But the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in Tasmania.

Escaping banishment, Meagher wound up in New York City and eventually turned into a bonafied Civil War hero as Brigadier General commanding the Union's Irish Brigade.

Meagher was appointed Montana's Territorial Secretary in 1867, and upon arrival, became, in effect, the acting Governor. Shortly after assuming his duties, the man disappeared from a Missouri River paddlewheeler under what was thought strange circumstances. (I won't attempt to guess the circumstances, except to reflect that the good gentleman in question's entire life appeared very, very Irish.)

Meagher was followed in short order by another son of the Auld Sod. This Irishman, instead of blinding flash of light across America, began as a faint but steadily increasing glow, until he burned a bright star in the Treasure State firmament.

Marcus Daly arrived in the hamlet of Butte in 1876, at a time Few people suspected the potential of what later became known as "The Richest Hill On Earth." Daly sought wealthy backers and eventually founded the Anaconda Copper Mining Company. He also founded the city of Anaconda and became prominent in Democratic political circles. He acquired banks, power plants, irrigation systems, ranches, railroads, racehorses, and timberlands.

Along the way, Marcus Daly became a virtual patron saint to men of the Auld Sod, employing them in his mines and smelters by the thousands. With Daly, the word was "Irish need only to apply."

There've been many prominent Irish men and women following in the footsteps of Fitzpatrick, Meagher, and Daly. Butte is still their lodestone, their power source. Butte is where every good Irishman goes on pilgrimage. It's the battery charger for those of shamrock roots. And St. Paddy's Day is THEIR day.

There are many thought-provoking passages about the Irish. For instance, Sigmund Freud wrote: "This is one race of people for whom psychoanalysis is of no use whatsoever."

But John Boyle O'Reilly wrote: "Ireland is a fruitful mother of genius, but a barren nurse."

It was Adrienne Cook, however, who placed the Irish into proper perspective:

"St. Patrick's Day is an enchanted time--a day to begin
transforming winter's dreams into summer's magic!"

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March 9, 2013 / A Sense of Place
March 2, 2013 / Making Your Own Exceptions
February 23, 2013 / Waving Arms and Ears
February 16, 2013 / Snow Hides A Lot of Sins
February 9, 2013 / Ten Tips To Valentine Tranquility
February 2, 2013 / Taken To The Woodshed
January 26, 2013 / Today's Greed Trumps Tomorrow's Need
January 19, 2013 / Fitting Memorial
January 12, 2013 / Sea Mystery
January 5, 2013 / Heroes Among Us
December 29, 2012 / Health Analysis--2012
December 22, 2012 / Twice Christmas
December 15, 2012 / Into Their Heads In Order To Reach Their Hearts

 

 

 

 

Home / Bookstore-Reviews / Audio-Visuals / The Blogs / Contact Roland

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Roland is a gifted writer with a knack for clarifying reality. Looking forward to more of his wisdom.

- Carl Hammer email

 

 

 

 

 

Watch for Roland's newest book, "Sapphires At War", to be released soon; the second title in a four-book series about the world famous Yogo sapphires. Each of the four planned titles will cover a phase of these particular sapphires story: Discovery, Development, Royalty, and Nazi Intrigue. Watch for Sapphires At War. Available at Amazon's Kindle Store

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roland's flushed with wilderness photos, Mountain Musing blog is usually posted Tuesdays. To visit him there, Click Here

Roland's craft is on display on his website, too, where you can read the first chapter of each of his 13 books: Click Here

His titles can be found wherever books are sold. Much of the guy's works are also available as e-books at Amazon's Kindle store: Click Here

 

Where Tales Are Told

of Adventure Bold

Roland Cheek

What About Roland?

usually posted Saturdays

horses reading book

Most of America's top outdoors magazines, Outdoor Life, Field & Stream, Sports Afield, Petersen's Hunting, Country America has carried his stories. Then there was the 17 newspapers who provided space during the 21 years he produced his outdoors column, as did 75 stations from the Atlantic Seaboard to the Pacific Ocean airing his outdoors radio show.

It's not hard to find Roland Cheek's work on the internet; google the name and you'll come up with several hundred offerings--check and see.

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Want something more recent? Then check out pg. 55 in the Midwest-based Adventure Sports Outdoors magazine

ASO logo

who carries my column that they also choose to call "Campfire Culture." You can find them on the web by clicking here

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Then there's the effective conservation group known as

headwaters logo

who recruited Roland to write a column for them. Their mission statement: "Headwaters Montana works to protect the water, wildlife and traditional outdoor heritage in the Crown of the Continent." They propose to help resolve long-standing natural resource issues via working with others in the community through active partnership and balanced compromise. Contact them by clicking here

(You can also access my Headwaters column by clicking above)

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Roland's Audio Slide Shows

Try Them--You'll Like 'Em

Kids n' Horses audio / slide show Click Here

This was a marvelous presentation. You have single-handedly saved countless older horses from neglect or euthanasia and have put promise back into their lives. Bravo for you Sir, and bravo to you also for your vision in helping to found the BCH of which I'm a proud member. Thank you for all you have done and continue to do. [email from Bob Jones, Pres. BCHC Redshank Riders]

Thanks for being a BCH founder, and for reminding us that the future is in our children's and grandchildren's hands and saddles. [email from Elizabeth Testa]

Add me to your alert list. The kids slide show was great. Loved it! You have a way with words. [email from Cheryl Myres]

I have tears as I write. It's hard to explain how/why rhe kids n' horses chokes me up so much, but I'll try. First, every adult that listens has to be sheepish in their own guilt of false expectations between the child and the horse. Clearly, the intention is filled with love, yet it is misplaced and the kid stands just about no chance. It's so beautiful. I can see why this program got so much response -- it's a universal experience filled with wisdom. I also understand why the man wrote to say that you might be saving a lot of horses from going to the glue factory. [email from Cheri Johnson]

Jane's Campfire Cooking - Click Here

I remember eating food cooked on that Maytag lid! Thanks for jostling loose some memories. Those were the best of times. [email from Mike Vancil]

Another good one, Roland. And Jane--you are an amazing chef!!!. I would like to see a show on your dutch oven cooking, too. [email from Pat Nipper]

Thanks Roland\. Really enjoyed that one. We eat pretty good as well, but not that well. Unfortunately for us we have no Jane in our camps . . . yet! [email from Ken Brown]

Good Lord! What beautiful pictures! What beautiful food! What beautiful narration! . . . I have never been clever with table settings, and loved the red bandannas with blue pots and how cleverly they were arranged. [email from Patti Sherlock]

Roland faceplant
Roland with book
S.A.P.cover