21 October 2008

When is it Autumn?

In some temperate zones, it's easy to mark the smooth, gradual transition from summer to fall: turning leaves, ripe fruit, seasonal rains... But here in the Northern Rockies, the transition is more erratic with fewer reliable signs. Even snow is not a good indicator, given our frequent September snowstorms and even the occasional July blizzard. Still, there are signs: rutting elk and other hoofed browsers, shortening days, and of course temperature.

Pressed to define the seasons in Butte, Montana, I'll choose temperature: in summer, it is consistently above freezing day and night; in fall and spring, it is consistently below freezing at night and above during the day; and in winter, it is consistently below freezing day and night. Consistently? Well, let's say any three or four consecutive days.

Friend Dave Carter and I set out for a hike over the weekend in German Gulch, a popular local deer and elk hunting area between Butte and Anaconda. I hunt there occasionally; mostly it is a favorite nearby spot to hike or to fish for the lovely native trout. Geologically it's interesting, running south from the Continental Divide and trisected by volcanic rhyolite, granitic quartz monzonite, and sedimentary formations such as dolomite. Here's a view of some of the volcanics along the creek:

German Gulch has been mined for gold since 1864--first for placer deposits , then hardrock mining including a large open pit operation near Beal Mountain at the headwaters. The open pit, cyanide heap leach mine was operated by the now-bankrupt Pegasus Gold Corporation and is now a Superfund site. Note that the corporate officers -- people such as Michael L. Clark, Werner G. Nennecker, Michelle G. Viau, Allan M. Park, Terry Bauer, Eric B. Ovlen, Robert A. Lonergan, Trevor S. Schulz, James G. Geyer, John Fitzpatrick, and Phillip S. Baker, Jr. -- all walked away with exhorbitant salaries, huge bonuses, and no personal liability. Just another deal gone done in the gold mining biz.

Here's a view south along a ridge toward the Beal Mountain Superfund site:

How nice to be a dog, living in the present moment with no anxieties about Superfund sites or other environmental causes. Let RTD find an old leg bone from a mule deer and she is happy:

Let her find a somewhat fresher elk leg (probably from a bowhunter's kill) complete with hoof and she is ecstatic:

Well, Dave & I live in the moment too. Somewhat more sight than odor-oriented, we paused to appreciate this big, old, lightning-blasted Douglas fir:

Still, mentalite' is ever present. I've hiked a lot of fresh burns and watched the vegetation recover after a forest fire, and this has made me sensitive to forest patterns that mark the passage of fires from long ago. Note on this slope the contrast between the smaller, denser stand of lodgepole pines on the right and the more open stand of mixed lodgepole pine/Douglas fir on the left:

Fifty or more years ago, a finger of fire reached up from the valley and cleared a swath of forest. The trees grew back quickly but, for some reason, not so densely as the older lodgepole stand.

Here was another interesting find--apparently a rock blind constructed many years ago by a hunter (note the lichen covered base rocks) but maintained in recent years ("clean" rocks piled on top). The blind backs up to a dense stand of big Douglas fir trees on the ridge but faces out toward a lovely little park with a lot of elk sign:

Watch your passage through those big firs! They have broken off, head-high branches, some with sharp tips that will pierce a hat and lacerate your scalp. Ouch:

I stopped the bleeding on Dave's head with a compress, we taped the hide together, and called it good. After we arrived home, Dave paid a visit to the clinic for six staples to hold things together.

Back at the truck, the late afternoon shadows were already stretching long, another sign of fall:

And the next night, a little snowstorm blew in and laid down a lovely blanket for RTD and my walk home from a late class:


Jayne said...

Ouch! Poor Dave!
Looks like a beautiful place. Thanks for taking us along.

Kirsten said...

Back when in Tucson I listened to a local podcast about the desert called "Growing Native." It was actually a 5 minute "show" that aired on community radio and then was distributed by podcast after it aired. Have you thought about doing something like that or know anyone who does? I would love to have something local along those lines to listen to.

EcoRover said...

Kirsten, that's a wonderful idea and I've long liked Wendell Berry's idea of "growing native to this place."

Sounds like a natural for local public radio. I do a public radio commentary, but it's focused on Superfund cleanup and restoration issues.

I love listening to others that have deep connections to place, and that's been one of the joys of discovering blogs by folks like you.

mossymom said...

pretty country. i bet you get morels there. i love elk meat.

EcoRover said...

Hi Mossymom, we get a few morels now and then. But nothing like the fantastic variety from your corner of this good earth! If you're in the 'hood, let me know and I'll swap some of that elk for your dried morsels.

Maria said...

Speaking of autumn...do you know of anyplace that I could find pictures of the Moulton Reservoir area in the fall? It was always so gorgeous when we ran up there for cross country practice, and being in Arizona where there is little to no seasonal transition makes me feel a bit homesick for the place :)