Montana Outdoors

March 31, 2007

The Moose and the Fisherman.

Filed under: Animals, Humor, Montana, Moose, Nature, Outdoors, Reflections, Writing — Tags: , , — montucky @ 11:31 am

There’s a beautiful trout stream in western Montana called Rock Creek which flows along the east side of the Sapphire Mountains from its origin in the Anaconda Mountain Range on the Continental Divide until it joins the Clark Fork River roughly twenty miles east of Missoula.

Rock Creek used to be one of the truly “blue ribbon” trout streams in the West until somewhere in the late fifties all of the fishing writers for the major sportsmen’s magazines discovered it and beat it nearly to death with their pens, after which the road was “improved?!” (pardon the sarcasm) and their readers from all over the world came and finished it off by bombarding its waters with their fly lines, lures and children’s toys.

For many years prior to the demise of the stream and the last rites were performed on it by those same writers, Rock Creek was home to a bountiful supply of very large trout; Rainbows, Browns, Cutthroats and even a few Brook and Bull Trout. In the canyon formed by the stream and extending on up the slopes of the Sapphire range to the west and the Flint Creek range to the east, other wildlife was also abundant, including Bighorn Sheep, Mule Deer, Whitetail Deer, Elk, and large numbers of bears and Moose.

The road that followed along the stream was dirt and rock, and ranged from “pretty darn bad” at the bottom end to “nearly impossible” after about twenty miles upstream, then “passable” for another twenty miles or so as it turned toward the town of Phillipsburg. If one turned the other way at that point and headed toward the Bitterroot valley over the Skalkaho divide its condition was… well, that’s another story.

The “nearly impossible” section in the middle was the favorite of my Dad and myself and we spent considerable time there, fishing, hunting, camping and fixing tires. That section, maybe ten miles in length was also the approximate center of the local moose population, and at times it seemed they were everywhere. There were swamps or sloughs (bogs, if you will) along the stream there and it was common to see large bulls standing belly-deep in the water, feeding on their favorite underwater vegetation. Their heads would submerge then re-appear with their mouths full of plants and a plentiful supply also draped over and hanging down from their huge scoop-shovel racks.

Late in the fall the bulls become very territorial and aggressive and are to be carefully avoided by anyone who hasn’t inherited the “death-wish” gene but in the spring, summer, and early fall, moose are amicable and laid back with the exception of cows who have calves with them, at which time a tall climbable tree is a very good thing to have tucked away in your fishing vest.

One summer day in ‘fifty seven, my Dad and I were fishing one of our favorite sections of Rock Creek, where the stream left the road for a stretch of several miles and wound around, back and forth along some cliffs and meadows that contained some excellent deep holes crowded with huge trout. It was during the time when the human component of the fauna had not reached the point of being an infestation, and when those of us who spent much time there had a friendly and comfortable relationship with Mother Nature.

All true fishermen spend a certain amount of time in the water while fishing, some more than others depending on their acrobatic skills and athletic ability, and at times their presence creates more foot traffic on the stream bed than is beneficial to the underwater life there. Mother Nature, having a terrific sense of humor has devised some gentle ways to control the traffic. One of her favorite devices is called a “boulder”, and strategically placed in a section of fast-moving riffle where it can’t be seen by a pedestrian, a boulder will convert foot traffic to floating traffic which takes the pressure away from the actual stream bed itself. Being an avid fisherman myself, I learned at a very early age to be an avid swimmer as well.

On this particular day I was upstream from Dad several hundred yards and trying my best to gently set a Royal Coachman down on the water inches from the far bank, which necessitated wading in water above my waist in one of Mother Nature’s favorite fast riffles when one foot encountered one of her boulders and I became a floating object. It was much simpler to reach the far bank than the one I had left so, after swimming maybe thirty yards with one arm while holding my fly rod high and dry with the other I emerged on the far bank looking like something that was usually seen hanging from a moose’s rack with a fly rod protruding from its top.

My new side of the stream was rocky with intermittent cliffs interspersed with wide gravel bars and I soon came to one of these at a point where the stream took a sharp turn to the left. On the far bank I could see my Dad slowly moving downstream to the next fishing hole, following a very active game trail that paralleled the stream. His side of the stream was mostly grassy along the water, but there were also stretches of heavy, dense brush that the trail tunneled through.

As he entered one of these brushy sections, he turned his fly rod around so the reel end was in front, making it easier to keep the rod free of the foliage. Now this thick stretch was thirty to forty yards long, and at the other end of it I could see a huge bull moose just entering the same stretch of brush, heading up stream directly toward my Dad, turning his massive rack a little to the side to fit between the tight branches. What little sound they were making was completely lost in the murmur of the flowing water, leaving the impression of complete silence.

I settled down on a small patch of sand and rested my back against a convenient rock to watch the show, with not much immediate concern for the actors on the stage across the creek. I was pretty sure the moose could take care of himself, and I always knew Dad to be in full control of things once he left Mom’s kitchen back in town.

Slowly and quietly the gap between them narrowed, with the bull carefully altering the tilt of his rack to fit through the brush and Dad using his forward hand to part the leaves as he proceeded through the tall bushes hiding the trail. Closer, and closer until when Dad thrust his hand ahead to part the last few leaves between the two he nearly brushed the nose of the moose with his hand. It was at that exact second, give or take a few micro-seconds they both realized that they weren’t alone on that narrow trail.

Dad’s eyes grew wide as he changed hands on his fly rod and started to do an about-face. From my exclusive seat in the very front row I could also see the moose quite well. Even today the image is very clear of one large brown eye with its brow arched high, looking down a foot and a half of nose at a creature roughly a tenth of his size who was apparently attempting to smack him in the face with a hand full of leaves. His look was one of puzzlement at the situation and wonder at the audacity of the small creature with the big attitude, mixed with uncertainty about just what his best plan of action should be. For a split second he froze in his tracks. When he did move it was lightning quick and decisive. He spun and headed south just as Dad spun and headed north and the whole scene brought an image to my mirth-wracked mind of Moses parting the waters of the sea.

Dad wasn’t entirely happy when he finally became aware that I had witnessed the entire episode without making the slightest attempt to intervene, although he calmed down a little after I told him I wasn’t worried a bit about the situation because I knew he would never hurt the poor little moose.

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March 30, 2007

The equation

Filed under: Conservation, Environment, Montana, Nature, Outdoors — montucky @ 11:41 am

6H2O + 6CO2 ——-> C6H12O6 + 6O2 (Photosynthesis), translated: six molecules of water plus six molecules of carbon dioxide produce one molecule of sugar plus six molecules of oxygen.

Oxygen is nice to have around, particularly for anyone interested in staying alive, but we don‘t produce it; plants do, especially trees.

We do produce carbon dioxide, the gas blamed for global warming. In fact it is estimated that a proposed coal-fired power plant to be built by Basin Electric Power Cooperative in northeastern Wyoming will produce nearly five million tons of it annually, and since carbon dioxide is not regulated the planned plant will meet all of the Wyoming and US emissions standards. Conservation groups contend that “clean coal” technologies show more promise in reducing these emissions than the pulverized coal technology that the company has chosen. See this story in the Billings Gazette.

As conservation writer Ralph Maughan wrote today, “We hear about the wonders of “clean coal” technology all the time, but we hear about the actual deployment of dirty coal technology in the everyday world…We live in the everyday world.”

At the same time that we are generating huge quantities of pollutants while producing more electrical power, we are destroying the green things in the natural world which produce our life-giving oxygen by covering them up with brick and mortar, concrete and asphalt as I mentioned in a previous post.

Should this be called “self-destruction“, or am I missing something here?

March 29, 2007

A rule of the hunt.

Filed under: Hunting, Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Photos, Pictures, Reflections, Writing — montucky @ 8:12 pm

Slight wisps of steam lazily drifted above the river far below as it wound its way between the rocky canyon walls and steep forested slopes and hurried on toward the Pacific. Its deep pools looked like huge pieces of turquoise set in a tarnished silver band. It was a cold November day and a slight breeze nipped briskly at his face and ears as he climbed the ridge, one slow, careful step at a time. Overhead the sky was white, offset by a trace of silver, and it was spitting small pellets of snow into the crisp fall air.

The first mile of the ascent had been steep but now the ridge leveled out somewhat and the game trail he followed meandered along among tall green pines and tamaracks dressed in the vivid yellow of their fall color. The grasses, having grown tall and lush during the summer were now brown and dry and stood in striking contrast to the scattered clumps of dark green kinnikinnik bushes, decorated this time of year with bright red berries. Light traces of the previous night’s snow still remained on the rocks along the trail, creating a broken white border as though to show the wild users of the trail exactly where they should place their feet. Elk tracks mingled with those of deer, and his experienced eye told him that one of those who traveled before him that morning was a white-tail buck; his quarry.

Off to the left another ridge ran parallel to this one, some five hundred yards in the distance, across a deep and rugged ravine. That area contained rocks and cliffs and was the beginning of big horn sheep country. Seeing a slight movement, he stopped to glass the area, discovering a large cow elk grazing in a grassy area next to a jack-pine thicket; certainly enjoyable to watch, but for now of no further interest, simply a very pleasant interlude.

Another quiet and careful hundred yards and a small shelf appeared as part of the ridge itself, a flat place out of the breeze for thirty yards before the trail again resumed a steep upward slope. As he neared the shelf, off to his left and ahead he saw the faint flicker of a tail as it brushed away an annoying fly. The deer’s head was down as it fed on dry grass and browsed on some low-growing leaves. The hunter remained completely still, watching. Then, as the animal raised its head in its periodic survey of its surroundings a pair of antlers stood out in clear silhouette against the sky: a buck. At a range of fifty yards, it was an easy shot for the expert rifleman, but for some reason he hesitated, then began his stalk.

As the white-tail slowly grazed on it was clear that its direction would take it to intersect the game trail straight ahead of the hunter. When it put its head down to feed, he took one silent step, then another, then several more. Forty yards now and the deer was in full view with only tufts of tall grass and a few scattered service berry bushes between hunter and prey. Ever so slowly and silently he took a seat with his back against a small pine and raised the rifle, an inch at a time so the motion would not be noticed as the buck continued on. Thirty yards.

In the low power magnification of the scope, every hair stood out, perfect, as though groomed for display. The orange-gold of the deer’s summer coat had already given way to the browns and grays of winter. Its nose was black and moist, with two inches of white surrounding it. Its eyes were large and dark and bright, but didn’t see the hunter as he remained completely motionless: there was no apparent danger there.

The cross hairs of the scope now rested on the white hair in the center of its neck just below the small tufts of a juvenile beard and didn’t waver, even slightly. A slow and silent squeeze on the trigger and it would be an instant kill.

There was the ever so faint sound of a “click” as he slid the safety of the rifle back on, and no sound as all as he lowered the rifle again, inch by slow inch until he placed it on his lap. Not today.

There is a entry in that hunter’s rule book which states: “squeezing the trigger is not always a requirement for a successful hunt”.

Note: As the buck looked around to survey his surroundings, off to the valley side this is what he saw:

The valley below

March 28, 2007

Howard

Filed under: Fishing, Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Reflections, Writing — montucky @ 8:02 pm

Just off the south shoulder of snow-capped Thompson Peak in the Cabinet Mountains of western Montana, an ice cold mountain spring gushes out from among the bright green alders, striking blue lupines and tall spring-time grasses and its water begins a long and tumultuous journey to the Pacific some five hundred miles to the west.

A dozen miles to the south of the spring the little stream meanders through grassy green meadows overflowing with buttercups and dog-tooth violets and winds in and out through the shade of tall yellow pines. White tail deer dance aside as we enter this narrow valley, seeming quite willing to share the beauty, but remaining on high alert, not sure what to make of this Spring’s visitors to their ancestral home.

As we approach the small stream and I gently drop a fly on its surface for close inspection by a fat brook trout, I can see the smile of pleasure on Howard’s face. My old friend and fishing companion of many years just beams with delight as I play a brilliantly colored, spotted trout and finally place it in my creel on a bed of fresh leaves to keep it fresh until the trip back home. It is the first of a dozen this day and Howard thinks of how pleased his wife will be to have this first catch of the new summer for her favorite meal.

We greatly enjoy today, relishing once again the beauty of this wild place and feeling the joy of sharing it in friendship as we have done each spring for the past dozen years. But in recent years he has not fished, himself, being content just to watch over my shoulder and once again be my fishing companion.

For you see, some five years ago one of Howard’s daughters knelt on the grassy edge of a knoll overlooking our beautiful valley, removed from his old fishing creel an urn containing his ashes and gently laid them in their final place of rest. He is gone for now, but those of us who loved him will always feel the presence of our kind and gentle friend.

March 27, 2007

Secrets of the Ancient Pine

Filed under: Arizona, Nature, Outdoors, Reflections, Writing — Tags: , , , — montucky @ 9:59 pm

Far above a canyon, high upon a ridge in the highlands of Arizona, stand the solitary bones of an ancient pine, respectfully buried there on a day hundreds of years past by Mother Nature Herself in a lonely grave gently dug in a blue expanse of sky and tenderly wrapped in a thin shroud woven from a soft breeze.

Her name, “Bristlecone”, was penned for her by a modern man four thousand years after she was born in a small depression filled with dust on the ridge-top and her epitaph can still be seen, engraved in lichens on her memorial stone of granite now lying at her feet.

For thousands of years she watched the struggles and the sorrow and the progress and the joy of men. She saw the Hohokam in the distance far to the south as they formed their canals in the stone and the sand of the desert, bringing forth lush green as a welcome contrast to the brown of the valley and she alone knows the mystery of their fate.

She observed the arrival and spread of the Anasazi across the plateaus of Arizona and on east from there, admired the intricate patterns of black and white on their pots and vessels and marveled at their dwellings made of stones. And she watched them disappear as the Hohokam, but will not tell her tale of that secret time.

The dwellings of the Hopi, high in the cliffs above the canyons were under her gaze as she watched the joy of children at play in those precarious perches of safety and shelter from harm.

And there were tears that fell at her feet when she saw the red blood of white men and the red blood of red men intermingle and soak slowly into the dust of her canyon below.

I asked her for the secrets of those days long ago and there was never a reply, but on a day yet to come, when my epitaph is on a granite stone I will ride to Bristlecone on the desert wind and share her tales of man and men and shed with her my own tears of sorrow and of joy.

March 25, 2007

Two Worlds

Filed under: Environment, Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Writing — montucky @ 11:01 pm

The Flathead National Forest in Western Montana is now implementing a new forest access plan designating 797,000 acres (1245 square miles) for snowmobile use. (Flathead National Forest is immediately adjacent to Glacier National Park on its West and South sides. It contains 2.3 million acres or 3595 square miles.)

Despite this huge area designated for the use of these machines and the selfish, mindless pleasure-seekers who use them, and despite the fact that there have been widespread violations of the previous rules anyway, court challenges are expected to be initiated by those who don’t think even this is enough.

There are two worlds here on Earth; one which God created and one which was created by man. Fortunately, most men choose to live in the second one, and if it were not for their damned machines, the first would still be close to perfect.

Back in the days before law replaced morality and good judgment, prior to the time when a mutation of human genes omitted the DNA string that provided conscience, subsequently producing a sub-species called “lawyers” who evolved a legal system around themselves that allows a few to control the majority, there was evidence of wide-spread respect and even reverence for the natural world.

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