Montana Outdoors

March 21, 2007

Deer Trails and Highways of the Mind

Filed under: Inspiration, Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Reflections, Writing — montucky @ 9:56 pm

The mid-October morning is crisp and cold. Your jacket feels good, even though the front is now opened slightly to let in a little of the cool mountain air and your wool boot socks are comforting on your feet. You look down and see your tracks mingling with those of other wild things who have recently passed this way.

The valley several hours below is hiding beneath a thick curtain of white clouds and as you look back down it is easy to forget all of the cares left behind in the world of man. The trail ahead points toward a small saddle on the ridge-line, and once you arrive, the trail is no more.

If you were to place deer trails on a map of the mountains, you would see no more than a seemingly random series of dotted lines going nowhere in particular. One commonality of these trails is that they are short. They have formed, not as highways through the wilderness with specific destinations in mind, but simply as the most efficient ways to traverse stretches of difficult terrain: once that has been accomplished, there is no longer a need for them and they abruptly end. Wild creatures do not confine themselves to roads. Every inch of the wild country is part of their home. Freedom begins where the trail ends.

Men build roads. When you encounter a small road and take the right direction, it will lead to a larger road and so on until you come to a town. Highways are made for common use and that use is governed by a large bundle of rules and regulations, signs and instructions that everyone is obligated to obey. Once uniformity is attained, traffic flows smoothly and (hopefully) safely. Certainly, I would not argue that there is not a beneficial purpose to all this.

But is it not a side effect of all this channeled purpose that man has also created highways of the mind? Roads (if you will) with common destinations and specific rules to be followed? Specific ways of thinking that are carefully taught to new generations who understand that they must be obeyed? The masses study the Times to learn what books should be read, what movies should be seen, what values should be theirs.

Who dares to leave these highways of the mind and what happens to them when they do? And what happens when no one ever again leaves these highways?

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March 20, 2007

Pussywillows & Yellow Bells

Filed under: Flowers, Montana, Nature, Photography, Photos, Pictures — montucky @ 8:33 pm

The Pussywillow is always the first sign of Spring in western Montana.

Pussywillow

The Aspen, one of the favorite foods of the Ruffed Grouse, has its own version. These buds are much larger than those of the willows.

Aspen buds

The wild country is starting to explode with spring colors and this little Yellow Bell gets a lot of mileage out of yellow, considering that it’s only three inches tall.

Yellow bell

Nature has a very pleasant way of signaling the changing of Her seasons.

Notice of coming attractions

Filed under: Flowers, Montana, Nature, Photography, Photos, Pictures, Wildflowers — Tags: — montucky @ 9:53 am

Buttercup1

Buttercup2

Buttercup3

Buttercup4

No one know why they’re here, but these toxic little plants just stand around and look pretty in the early spring. I know of no use for Buttercups, and I’ve had no luck at all transplanting them.

But I’m glad they‘re here!

March 18, 2007

Crocus

Filed under: Flowers, Montana, Nature, Photography, Photos, Pictures — montucky @ 6:54 pm

The crocus has welcomed us to spring for the last fourteen years here in our little canyon in western Montana.

(Sponsored by Mother Nature):

Crocus1

Crocus2

March 17, 2007

The birth of a fisherman

Filed under: Fishing, Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Reflections, Writing — montucky @ 10:55 pm

I should know better than to write another fishing story, since as I recall, that was the activity which caused my banishment from polite society in the first place many years ago. Oh well, old dogs may not learn new tricks, but they remember all their bad habits very well! So, here goes…

One Saturday morning near the end of May, a small boy, four years of age, stood just behind his father in the bright green grasses of spring on the bank of an icy trout stream which was swollen by the melting snow; the west fork of the Bitterroot River. Despite the heavy run-off that year, the water was still pure and crystal clear. Behind and above them, six thousand feet closer to the sky, sunlight glittered on deep snow which sat like an ermine crown on the top of Trapper’s Peak.

Miles up stream, on the green, heavily forested slopes just below the snow line, new bear cubs had emerged from their winter dens and their mothers were already beginning to teach them the rules of living in the wild country; what to eat, where to find it and all the who‘s to be sure to stay well away from.

It was learning time in western Montana.

The father was not a large man, but he was wiry and tough from a lifetime of earning a living outdoors. He wore a heavy green jacket over his usual bibbed overalls, and a wicker creel which was heavy with trout and the new green leaves and grasses that kept them fresh hung from his left shoulder. His fly rod was old and made of split bamboo, but in good repair; a cherished veteran of innumerable trout battles, spring after spring and summer after summer.

There had already been many lessons on the ways of trout in the four hours since day-break in the canyon. The boy had been a rapid learner, he was quickly becoming skillful at landing the hard-fighting trout that rose to take his father‘s fly, and the fly rod already felt comfortable in his small hand. It was a pleasant experience and he was thoroughly enjoying the challenge. During the previous summer he had been just too little, but this year it was different. He was finally big enough now and it was time to begin learning the love of a sport that he would enjoy for the rest of his years. There was another lesson as well.

America was still at war. Battles were raging in various parts of the world and there were family members and friends who had answered their calls to duty and were still in harm‘s way. In such times it is a good thing to know a way, for however short the time, to achieve a break from all the stress and concern; a brief diversion of one’s thoughts from distress to pleasantness, to catch a deep breath and have a time of soul’s rest before returning to the cares of the world. The boy knew little of what all this meant, but he was learning a lesson none-the-less. He would understand it all and how to use it later, and it would never be forgotten.

So far the fish had all been small, judged by the standards of those now distant years, around a pound apiece, but colorful and full of fight; an excellent beginning.

A few hundred yards upstream from where they stood was a sharp bend in the stream, and along the shore on the outside of the curve there was a large pile of logs that had been deposited there years before during high water times. Far into the bank beneath the logs the water had scoured out a hole some thirty feet deep and twenty yards long, and the man already knew that it would be the exclusive domain of a large trout. And that it was.

They approached the hole and he began casting, sending loop after loop of line out toward the far bank, floating temptation down into precisely the right place, and when the line was extended perfectly straight over the water, let the fly drop lightly like the feather it was, mere inches from the edge of the log jam. Immediately there was a flash of silver, crimson and green as five pounds of Rainbow broke the surface of the water; a carefully cultivated reflex, a lightning-quick movement of the man’s wrist, and the battle began.

As soon as he knew the hook was well set, the father handed the rod to his son, saying, “He’s all yours now”, and assumed the role of a coach, watching carefully and giving instructions as needed.

“Keep the line tight, but not too tight.”

“Let him run, the water’s open! He‘ll take some line now.”

“Come, move downstream with him. You can’t hold him in that swift water!”

“Snub him up a bit, he’s heading for that underwater log. See it? Good move!”

For over thirty minutes the battle went on and the boy’s arms ached, but he was still game for the fight, and still responded immediately to the commands. Finally, several hundred yards down stream, the big trout began to tire.

“Keep the line snug and bring him over to the bank.” The stream there was a little slower, forming a deep riffle: a good place for the landing. As the boy fought the fish toward the bank, his father could see the hook was beginning to loosen: the trout would not be on much longer.

Acting quickly, he entered the stream below all the action and came up behind the tired fish. Chest deep in the icy water, he slid both arms under the trout and scooped it up on the bank where the boy dived on it as a good lineman would dive on a loose ball and held on until his father scrambled up to him and subdued the still struggling fish.

Then the final words: “You did it, Son! Good job!”

The grin on the boy’s face was visible for miles! A fisherman had just been born.

March 16, 2007

My old Apache brother

Filed under: Arizona, Nature, Outdoors, Writing — Tags: , , , — montucky @ 10:48 am

It was cloudy and cold that day in November as I slowly climbed the rocky and cactus strewn slope leading to the narrow crest of a ridge, still baked from the past summer’s sun, high in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona. The rough boulder-filled canyon to the east spread out far below and then began its climb toward the next ridge which ran parallel to mine, a mile in the distance. All the cares and concerns of routine life in the city were already becoming far, far away.

The normally fierce Arizona sun had no power now, having given it up to the spirits of winter, and was hiding in shame behind a solid wall of white clouds which covered the sky. The occasional Saguaro, tall and lonely, cast no shadow today, but stood in stark solitude, silhouetted against the solid white expanse overhead.

Not far to the west could be seen a large scattering of dark clouds sweeping across the Sonoron desert, bringing rain to my ridge from the Pacific, two hundred miles away. It would be a good time to seek cover from the impending storm.

Atop my ridge was a crest of rim rock. It had a dark and forbidding look as it towered over the slope, but I knew somewhere up there I could find shelter as the storm passed overhead. My boots made crunching noises on the decomposed granite beneath my feet as I climbed. The sound didn’t matter. The desert mule deer which were my quarry would already have taken their storm positions among the rocks in the heads of the small ravines which also lead up to the ridge. They could wait.

A few hundred yards ahead and still above me was the peak of the ridge. The towering walls of rock at the peak were my destination. From there if I nestled against the rock I would enjoy a view of two canyons and the ridge crest trailing off to the north while I waited out the fury of the storm.

When I reached the peak I found to my pleasant surprise a cave of rather ample dimensions which the wind over many millenniums had carved into the base of the rock, situated such that it was invisible from the canyons below. I ducked down, went inside and placed my rifle on a shelf of rock at the back of the cave with my pack beside it. The rain was just beginning to fall, but today my poncho could remain in the pack.

On the floor of the cave, precisely in the center, was a small pile of charcoal, the remains of fires which had burned in the far distant past, and on the walls and ceiling were faded traces of smoke from those ancient fires.

At my feet lay an arrow head, a rather coarse hunting point which had been fashioned from the native rock. I immediately knew it was Apache. I picked it up and as I held it in my hand I suddenly felt at one with the spirit of its maker who had also sat there so many years before, a hunter just as I was, looking out at the beauty of the desert through the opening of the cave, waiting out the storm.

My old Apache brother.

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