Montana Outdoors

July 22, 2006

If a raindrop could choose

Filed under: Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Photos, Pictures, Reflections — montucky @ 9:22 am

High mountain divides have always been important to me and I seek them out at every opportunity, maybe because they provide, besides scenes of incredible beauty, places to stand, contemplate, and wonder about this world in which we live. They are also places where decisions are made.

At sun-up as I stood at the crest of a small divide, a tiny white cloud drifted over, all alone against a sky just starting to turn blue for the day, and made me think about a single drop of rain falling exactly in the middle of this very crest. When it touched the ground, one of several things could happen. If it could choose, what would it do?

Would it seek a small hollow on top of a rock and wait until the sun came out, evaporate back into the air and simply go through the whole cycle again, having made no effort and having accomplished seemingly nothing at all?

Or would it choose to trickle down from the rock, sink slowly into the rich soil on the top of the ridge and do its own small part to sustain a single blade of grass?

If it were a little more adventuresome it could choose to run off to the west, down this canyon that I had just traveled through, where the sun had not yet made its appearance and the cool mists of dawn still hung in the air painting the sides of the canyon in various hues of blue, ten miles later to join the river for a thousand mile trip to the Pacific and whatever fate would await it there.

West canyon

Or it could choose to take a much longer journey and travel through this canyon to the east, as the sun first touches the treetops beyond a high grassy meadow, where it would enjoy thirty more miles of this beautiful canyon, perhaps spend some time in the turbulence of a beaver slowly swimming across his pond, join the river in time to experience the exhilaration of a trip through the whitewater rapids of the gorge, flow through the beauty of yet another twenty mile canyon, maybe touch the feather of an Osprey as he plunges for his dinner and then finally resume its journey to the sea.

East canyon

But I doubt that raindrops can choose.

Note: These photos were taken at Siegel Creek pass in the Coeur d’Alene Mountains of Western Montana.

July 15, 2006

This Land is Your Land

Filed under: Inspiration, Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Photography, Photos, Pictures — Tags: — montucky @ 9:51 am

There was a light breeze blowing up the river this afternoon, and as I stood in the back yard enjoying its coolness, I glanced toward the river and saw my Ospreys, a pair, hovering like giant hummingbirds over the water, riding the breeze, fishing. I suspect the Ospreys would not agree with the word “my”, though. While we share fishing rights to that little stretch of the Clark Fork and occasionally exchange civilities, they belong only to themselves.

As that thought slowly worked its way through my consciousness, a line from an outstanding poem also made its way to the surface: “And the influx of the alien rich”.

Ted Turner and many of the other “alien rich” have come in and purchased pieces of this beautiful land, arrogantly posted “No Trespassing” signs and called that land their own. They have used their vast resources to create their own tiny versions of paradise, flaunting their wealth to display the “superiority” brought by fame and fortune, seemingly in an attempt to create their own immortality. One might question the bounds of their ownership. At the end of it all is it any more comfortable to lie at rest wrapped in a shroud of fat bank accounts, property deeds and living trusts? The purchases are their right, certainly, but by no means are they all there is to the story of man and the natural world.

These tall pines in “my” front yard

The owners

were born about a century and a half before I settled in here, and they will not even reach middle age by the time I receive my final notice of mortality. Upon reflection it seems that having my name on the deed to the land upon which they stand is yet another display of human arrogance.

This Land is Your Land, verse five (by Woody Guthrie):

As I was walkin’
I saw a sign there
And that sign said no trespassin’
But on the other side
It didn’t say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!

About fifteen miles to the west of those tall pines, and 4400 feet above, sits the Bighole Lookout,

Bighole house

Bighole Lookout

Bighole tower

at an altitude of 6922 feet, built by the U.S. Forest Service in 1930 and abandoned in the 1970’s. It sits “on the other side” of all the signs. It is visited infrequently by man but, judging by the signs, quite often by black bears and occasionally by one of the big cats.

In the haze of the far distance beyond Bighole’s cliff can be seen the start of the mountains that are the home of Glacier Park. In between is part of the Lolo National Forest, and further back, the Flathead National Forest.

As you look past the side of the old Lookout, the far ridge is part of the Clark-Hinchwood area and the land in between is also part of Lolo National Forest. If you go there and look back toward Bighole, you see this view:


(Mother Nature knew I would use this photo some day and so She decorated it for the occasion.)

The true owners? For those of us who are citizens of these United States, the line of the song “Now that side was made for you and me!” is indeed true: we hold title to this National Forest land in perpetual trust, simply as custodians, for our enjoyment and inspiration and also for the enjoyment and inspiration of those from all other countries who come to visit in peace and friendship.

July 11, 2006

Where they live

Filed under: Animals, Montana, Outdoors, Photos, Pictures — montucky @ 3:19 pm

Mid July through late August is huckleberry season in northwestern Montana and the folks who live here spend a lot of quality time in their pursuit, so I’ve spent the last few days doing just that. As with most outdoor activities around here, there are side benefits to everything one starts out to do.

Sunday afternoon as I was headed up a little road toward a trail head leading to a lookout I had to stop the Jeep to allow mother Ruffed grouse to clear her seven new chicks off the road. As I waited and watched, it occurred to me that I hadn’t run across a bear yet this summer. So many times the thought precedes the event, and this was another one of those times. Another few miles, another three thousand feet of elevation, and a big black bear boar entered the road just ahead, ambling down from the slope on the right. What a beautiful critter: his coat was jet black and the rubbed areas from his winter den had completely been replaced with long shiny black hair. There was a tinge of brown along the ridge of his back, giving it a “halo” effect from the angle of the sun.

Most days I can stalk to within camera range of the flora around here, but usually not the fauna. This guy was adamant about not having his picture taken, and loped up the road ahead causing little puffs of dust to rise from Forest Service road 875 as he slapped his big feet down. The best I could do was to snap a picture from his front porch. This is the view from his home that he sees every day:

Bear's front porch

Yesterday I left the bear in peace and entered some high country about twenty miles away from that encounter. This time there were two missions: pick some berries, which I did, and get a picture of some kinnikinnik. The side benefit this time was getting a good look at the largest Cougar I’ve ever seen. I’d estimate him and over 150 lbs and just the length of his tail was close to four feet. How beautiful! While he was very close, he was also too shy for a photo, but here’s what he looks each day at from his picture window:

Home of the cat

Every time I go out it seems something takes me back to the natural setting of The Sun Singer. This time it was Kinninnick, and I captured a picture of a large representative clump of it growing at an elevation of about 6500 feet. The bright red berries won’t appear for another few weeks, but the leaves are a beautiful shiny green.


Lodgepole pines are mentioned many times in The Sun Singer, and Seth also used them as a setting in Song of an Untamed Land. For those not familiar with lodgepole pines, here’s a picture of a stand of them:

Lodgepole pine

Finally, just because I thought they were pretty, here are some Harebells Campanula rotundifolia growing at the edge of some Kinnikinnik:


Would anyone like to go pick some huckleberries?

July 7, 2006

A summer storm

Filed under: Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Photos, Pictures, Reflections, Storm clouds — Tags: — montucky @ 1:29 pm

Yesterday was one of those hot summer days when the temperature was high and the sun was simply unrelenting. That is, until just slightly after noon when the Robin’s “rain song” began to ring out across our little canyon.

As I looked up, the sky was deep blue to the east, white overhead, and grew darker on to the west interspersed with flecks of pure white, then merged into black just above the western mountain peaks. The Robin was right: Mother Nature was mixing her mysterious formula for one of those beautiful late afternoon thunder storms in western Montana.

So what does a typical red-blooded Montana fisherman do at a time like that? Head for his favorite fishing stream, of course.

A few miles from the house the storm hit with great fury, the first wave, with more yet to come. Rockets from the sky fired earthward into the ridge tops followed closely by gigantic claps of thunder that first exploded and then rolled across the valleys and echoed back from the mountain slopes. And much needed rain.

Another half hour and a few miles northwest the storm subsided into no more than a few drops of rain still coming down at a sharp angle into the windshield of the Jeep. Finally, after crossing a small divide and ten miles down the other side I could see the Thompson River valley coming into view, its trees a brighter shade of green and its grasses still wearing the last sparkling drops of rain.

After I made brief hike to a stretch of the river somehow always overlooked by other travelers, the stream appeared and the rain began again. Perfect! Again and again as my fly floated down to the water and landed on the surface among the dimples from the rain drops, the trout responded, striking quickly and often and hard.

A few hours on the stream and my old wicker creel became heavy with fat little trout; Browns, Rainbows and beautiful spotted Brookies. Plenty for now and just enough light left before the next wave of the storm for a brief visit to a place that I always visit when I‘m in the area; an osprey nest at the top of a lightning-struck Yellow Pine rising above the Alders.

Osprey nest

As I looked at the tiny heads of this year’s Osprey chicks peeking out over the edge of the nest eighty feet above and wondered just what they did when the heavy rain fell, the storm re-kindled itself and swept over head, causing them to do whatever they do and causing me to head for the Jeep in what had now quickly become a driving rain.

The sky was black and the rain was coming down in sheets before I topped the Loneman Divide and headed down into the valley of home. Zeus was throwing his lightning bolts straight down now, turning the firs and pines into tall flash-bulb silhouettes along the road, which was now strewn with rivulets of water, down it and across it, and the deafening claps of thunder took all other thoughts out of my mind.

Nearing home again, coming out of the depth of the storm’s last fury I could see the freshly-washed world opening up in new window ahead, maybe as another reminder that Nature’s storms and also our own personal storms eventually end and the sun shines upon us once again.

End of the storm

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