27 February 2008

Butte Montana: The View from Here

Butte, America: Where all the voters are Democrats, the sun shines everyday, and the Berkeley Pit (America's largest toxic lake) protects us from the influx of uppity newcomers that plague nearby towns such as Bozangelas.

Well, it's not quite that good, maybe, but on a crystal clear day at 6,000 feet in the northern Rockies, it sure seems like it. Yesterday was such a one, with mountains 50 miles away seemingly close enough to touch. Of course, a town is more than the view, and that's where Butte really shines. Good schools, affordable homes, a lively arts & culture scene, historically rich, and fantastic 4-season outdoor recreation: if some cultural geographers are right, these are the sorts of things that Americans are looking for in the post-oil, post-suburban sprawl 21st century. If Montana Tech ever gets its recruiting shit together and quits hiding its light under a bushel, we'll be over-run with students from the cloudy, crowded upper Midwest and Northeast seeking the Good life. And the view is good, too!

I don't have much of a view from my office window (I look into windows of the Montana Bureau of Mines & Geology in the adjoining building, Main Hall). But when I stand at the stall in the Men's Room looking out the window, what a view! Back down the hallway to my office, grab the camera, step out front of the building, here we go:

This is the view south to what is commonly known as "The Flats"--neighborhoods and a business district that grew up primarily after WWII, thanks to the GI Bill, automobility, and the desire to escape the dense urban housing of the old Butte city on the hill. Even today, many native Buttians see it as a step up in life when they move from the hill to the flats.

(You can click on and enlarge/zoom in to see these photos in more detail.)

In the photo above, you are looking up the Silver Bow valley toward the airport and Pipestone Pass. On the right is Timber Butte in front of the Highland Mountains. Not much timber on Timber Butte, but it is recovering and will continue to do so if it doesn't get all built up with houses. You can also see the film of blue haze that hangs over The Flats on calm days--a result of an air inversion that is so common in high mountain valleys. This layer of pollution rarely reaches the elevations of the uptown area, as you can see:

This is the view east to the uptown or Butte Hill. Along the East Ridge of the Continental Divide on the right is the small white scar that marks "Our Lady of the Rockies" (aka "Their Lady of Our Rockies")--an 80 foot Virgin Mary statue dedicated to "mothers everywhere." In center right, extending down the base of East Ridge, are the carved rock walls of the Berkeley Pit and (to the left) the still-active Continental Pit (open pit copper mines). In center left, between the Butte Hill and East Ridge, are "The Ramparts"--though I'm not sure if this is an official USGS name or just a colloquial local term. Scattered throughout the photo are head frames (aka "gallows frames") marking various now-abandoned underground mines.

If you get bored taking in the Butte view, you can always drive 5 miles north to The Moulton for a little cross country skiing. Here's a view of the "pole line" run on Buzzy trail. It's not a groomed trail, but the recent warm weather created a nice base, and with fresh snow it makes for great touring:

Enjoy the view!

25 February 2008

The Moulton Journal: Springtime in February?

Wow, it's been a hectic week. The return trip from Orono, Maine, class projects heating up & students needing help, faculty union-related business, participating in the Poetry Palooza at the Venus Rising Cafe (hosted by the Butte Silver Bow Arts Foundation, see http://www.bsbarts.org/)... It all makes me glad for cross country skiing, which provides a regular link to nature and an aerobic workout where the stress slides away like snow on a steep metal roof.

I packed my Fischer E99s (the SUV of cross country skis) to Orono, and had a few delightful mornings on the 25 km of trails that loop around the edges of the University of Maine campus. Here's one trailhead next to the athletic fields:

The trails are very flat compared with Montana skiing, and they are extremely well maintained. Lots of white-tailed deer and a few moose. Though a little wide for my tastes, what an asset to have in your college backyard! They get used a lot--cross country skiing is far more popular in Maine than in Montana. Most every town (Bangor, Old Town, etc) seems to have its own trail system, and there are connecting trails so that you can ski from point-to-point most anywhere in the state, it seems.

The weather was truly Maniacal: perfect snow and 25 deg F one morning, rain and slush the next morning, -5 deg F with fresh snow on ice the next... For an Allegheny Mountain boy like me, though, it was a joy to ski amid the mixed hemlock/white pine/hardwood forest. Few trees are more beautiful than the graceful hemlock with its gentle boughs:

Or the beech still clinging to its leaves in the middle of winter:

Back at The Moulton, weather was very spring-like last week. The snow on Big Flat (aka Moonlight Flat) set up firmly, making it possible to tour about anywhere you cared to go. So long as you were out in the open and not in the woods, the snow would hold you up. For skiers new to The Moulton, Big Flat can be reached from the south end of Neversweat or from where the meadow crosses Claim Jumper. The trails lie just to the east of Big Flat, and you're never more than a hundred yards or two away from the trails. Here's RTD, trying to catch up:

Our mid-elevation hills are often big open parks on the south and west slopes. The combination of wind and sun simply make these areas too dry for trees. I love the wide open space of Big Flat, and the panoramic views of the various mountain ranges that encircle Butte. Here's the view to the Butte Flats, airport, and Highland Mtns:

And the Pintler Range:

And Mt Powell, down the Clark Fork River valley near Deer Lodge:

Winter has returned, with six inches or so of snow overnight. It was icy and warm to begin with, but quickly settled into fluffy powder. Ski on!


The Moulton: Montana's Finest Cross Country Skiing Area

21 February 2008

Boston University at the America East Conference Swimming & Diving Championships

Jan & I traveled to Orono, Maine, to watch Emily compete with the Boston University Terriers at the America East Conference swim meet. Seven NCAA Division I teams swam at the event hosted by the University of Maine. The Terrier men’s and women’s team each won second place overall. For the women, University of Maryland-Baltimore County (UMBC) and the University of New Hampshire (UNH) were top picks in a coaches' survey prior to the meet. For the men, UMBC was again the coaches' top pick, with Binghamton University as second. BU did well!

Though this blog entry revolves around Emily's performance, I hope I can also give reader's a glimpse into just how great this team is in overall terms. Sorry for the somewhat blurry pics--I did not use a flash when photgraphing swimmers.

If sheer physical presence means anything, you knew the Terriers were up to something big by their huddles, loud cheers, and BIG team spirit (love those red suits!):

And so they were up to something big. The Terriers got off to a big lead early in the meet, thanks in part to a strong performance by the divers. Taking 1st and 2nd in numerous diving events really builds the point total. Here are Tess Waresmith and Alex Crerar with their first and second place medals in 1 Meter Diving, looking back over the pool to their team-mates:

Swimming is a tough and very competitive sport. The individual personal victories are part of a story worth telling. For BU, there was Eric Carlson, a graduate student in the law program who came to Boston with one year of eligibility and swam for the team, and took first place in the 100-Yard Breaststroke. There was Nate Everett, a freshman who made it to finals and won 6th place in the same event. And there was Evan Morris, a graduating senior who made it to the top heat in finals and medalled for the first time. Here's (from left to right, in red) Nate, Eric, and Evan with their medals:

Relays are a tremendously exciting part of competitive swimming. The swimmers really get pumped up on the loud cheers of their team-mates and parents. BU's relay teams consistently did well, like the 200-Medley team of Sara Doersam, Emily Munday, Kirsten Tullis, and Maria McIntyre shown here with their second-place medal:

Emily also did well in her individual events. Typically, five or six heats with a total of thirty or more swimmers compete in morning preliminary events. The top eight swimmers compete in the evening's finals heat, and the next eight swimmers compete in the evening's consolation finals heat. Swimmers in both finals heats help put points on the board for their team.

The highlight of Emily's individual events was her first place win in the 100-Yard Butterfly race, with a time of 56.87 seconds in pre-lims and 56.98 in finals:

Swimming is a game of hundredths of a second. That 56.98 top finish was followed by a second place finish by Kary Goodman of UNH, in 57.03. Here's the timing display for that race:

A good crowd of parents found their way to the wilds of Orono, Maine, to cheer their swimmers. Here is the BU section:

For three and a half days, the BU women's team led UMBH. Gradually, though, we watched that lead slip away. Here's a pic of the scoreboard, just before UMBH moved into the top spot:

Swim meets, for a parent, cand be long and boring. But there are always these incredible moments when I wish I could stop time and hold those sweet seconds for eternity. I paused to soak in one such bittersweet moment near the end of the meet. UMBH had just pulled ahead in the score, swimmers hugged their graduating senior team-mates, the DJ played Semisonic's "Closing Time," and there was a spontaneous outbreak of dancing among various groups of teams on the pool deck.

Though UMBH went on to win the meet, this was one amazing event to come. Semisonic faded and the Stones "You Can't Always Get What You Want" began building. How prophetic. In the last women's race of the meet, the 400-Free Relay, UMBH started out with a slim lead. BU's swimmer in the third leg of the race, however, pulled ahead on a turn and established a BU lead (here's Emily, just coming off her turn to establish that lead):

And here is the relay team of Brigette O'Shaugnessy, Maria McIntyre, Emily Munday, and Eve Kinsella receiving their medal (And if you try sometimes you just might find, You get what you need!):

The meet wrapped up with a number of awards that made anyone associated with the BU team very proud of their season's accomplishments:
- Men's and Women's Coaching Staff of the Year: Boston University; Congratulations Head Coach Bill Smyth, Assistant Coach Jen Strasburger, and Diving Coach Agnes Miller!
- Female Diver of the Meet: Tess Waresmith, BU
- Male Diver of the Meet: Andre Watson, BU
- Female Most Outstanding Swimmer of the Meet: Eve Kinsella, BU

Go Terriers!

19 February 2008

Bear Brew Pub in Orono, Maine: Reborn?

[Since posting this, the Bear Brew Pub has changed hands. Under new management, it's reportedly a welcoming place with quality food and (of course) good beer. - ecorover]

The philosopher Immanuel Kant, in his theory of ethics, talks of how no amount of good can make up for a single big mistake. It's that way with a business. You can do a good job with lots of customers, but then screw up (and fail to be contrite about it) so that even your most loyal customers are alienated.

That's how it was with the Bear Brew Pub in Orono, Maine:

Jan & I were in town to see Emily swim with the Boston University team at the East Conference Championships hosted by the University of Maine. After wandering into the pub out of a torrential, cold rainstorm that turned snowpacked sidewalks into dangerous sheets of ice, my wife and I liked the place. It was warm. The food was OK, with maritime ingredients much appreciated by a couple from the northern Rockies. The beer was good, with three or four of the pub's own brews on tap. And service was adequate.

But then came the big sin: on the last day of the swim meet, the pub totally botched a celebratory dinner for 50-some swimmers and 30-some parents. Parents arrived first, put in their orders, and things seemed to be going OK. Well, sort of--since some remarked that their food was cold by the time it was served.

But then the swimmers' bus and van arrived and things got much, much worse.

Instantly, the two waitresses were hopelessly awash in orders for food and drink. Instead of systematically taking everyone's order, they worked the room helter-skelter, wasted precious time running back and forth to check orders, and in being flagged down by those who had not yet put in their order while tablemates were eating already. The dinner was held in a spacious upstairs dancefloor area, and the long treks to the downstairs kitchen and bar wasted even more time.

When swimmers leave the pool at 9 p.m. after a long day of competition, they are HUNGRY. What's sadder than swimmers collapsing on the table from a hypoglycemic attack?:

Two hours later, and three tables of swimmers still had not received their food. The swimmers ended up taking go-boxes on the bus for the long, night ride back to Boston.

The worst part of all: even when the staff realized there was a problem, they did not seem to feel sorry or bad about it, and made no noticable effort to see that hungry swimmers got food ASAP. That kind of who-gives-a-shit apathy is even worse than surly, rude service.

And it's bad business. You can bet that the disgruntled parents, most who live in the New England area, will not say nice things about the Bear Brew Pub in Orono.

Suggestions for Bear Brew Pub management if you're going to book large parties: (1) Develop simple procedures (taking orders, buffet lines, etc.) to handle the crowd; and (2) invest some time in staff training.

11 February 2008

The Moulton Journal: Skiing Right out of your Boots...

I never thought of myself as all that aggressive a skier, so when I bent the toe pin on a brand new pair of Salomon "Escape Pilot 7" boots I felt a mix of pride and disappointment. Disappointed that a brand new pair of fairly pricey boots was shot. Proud that I was setting a sub-11 minute pace on The Yankee Boy loop. Proud that I could ski so hard as to wreck a new pair of boots. But I try not to let delusions control my life, and have no doubt that Salomon is suffering some quality control/soft metallurgy issues. Here's a close up of the bent toe bar:

I've skied on a now beat up pair of Fischers for nigh on eight years, and everything BUT the toe bar is about worn out. I've been holding the soles to the boot with "Shoe Goo" this season, and was looking forward to new boots. So it goes. Here are the old boots:

Most of the time, I ski on the Fischer E99 "backcountry" skis with heavier boots anyway, but there are those perfectly groomed, fast snow days when its fun to combi-ski (wax for kick up the hills, but skating on the more or less flats) on the featherlight, skinny little Madshus classic skis. Although the cross country ski trails of The Moulton are Montana's finest, they aren't "overgroomed" like a lot of trails these days. And with the almost daily accumulations of snow this winter, it's hard for an awkward skier like me to get by on skinny, classic equipment--at least if I'm on the more challenging north area trails like The Yankee Boy and Big Nipper/Widow Maker.

Oh yeah, let me put in a plug here for Akers Ski, Inc., the "cross country specialist" business in Andover, Maine. Tim (Akers?) has offered me consistent, good advice for years (by phone), and I've bought several pairs of skies and boots from Akers. When I emailed the folks at Akers this morning about the Salomon failure, they were great! They'll take care of sending the boots back to the manufacturer, and I'm exchanging them for a comparable pair made by Atomic. If you're in the market for cross country skis, boots, or gears, check out Akers at www.akers-ski.com. Good people. Good prices. Good selection.


The Moulton: Montana's Finest Cross Country Skiing Area

The Myth of the Platonic "Good Horse"

Recently, I've been included on an email discussion between a couple of friends that own horses. One of these folks is contemplating an Alaska to Montana horse trek. She's hoping for friends to accompany her here and there along the way. I know little about horses, but in this case I trust the trainer. The following is based on what I told my friend.

I'd be happy to do a few nights on the trail with you if you are passing through this area. Just so I'm on a good horse. I've seen several wrecks in the woods with horses that went nuts crossing plank bridges, and others that got spooked by babbling brooks or clattering rocks or a snow man (I still feel bad about that one). I think the problem is that many horse owners never actually get their horses out of the back forty and accustom them to real world situations, but somehow magically believe the horse will be able to get along. [Most people live on a sort of "Fantasy Island."]

I've twice run into an old boy that spends most of the summer in the Pintler Wilderness with his two horses (one he rides and the other packs), and I consider these two horses paragons of the mountain trail horse--mainly, I think, because the old boy gets out there and does it with them on a regular basis. Two summers ago I watched him dismount and walk the horses over a smooth, rocky, and steep section of a mountain pass, and it didn't seem to bother the horses a bit when their hooves skidded a little (horseshoes really do make sparks on granite!).

So it's not that I dislike horses in some vague sense of the Platonic idea of "horse," it's just that I've seen damned actual few of them that are worth the thirty sticks of dynamite that it takes to dispose of one in the backcountry (see http://www.bayequest.info/horsetalk/fairwell2.htm ). Read what Socrates (through Plato) has to say of horses (and youth) in Apology 25: most people corrupt them, very few improve them. This is true of dogs, too, of course. Most dog or horse owners are partial to their animals and that is OK, but they are delusional in thinking they are "good" dogs or "good" horses. The only test is in what the horse (or dog, or youth) actually does, and not in what the owner (or parent) believes they can do.

My friend has been doing some extensive trail riding with her horses, and accustoming them to all the real world "shit happens" kind of stuff that makes for a truly good horse. Having spent a lifetime working with various sorts of dogs from hunting hounds to RTD the therapy dog, I have a deep respect for what it takes to work with any animal so that it deserves to be called good.