20 December 2010

Winter Solstice; Yule Tree

As the days grow shorter and it seems as if the sun is about to leave the sky, we gather together for our annual Winter Solstice potluck celebrtion. Years past we gathered on local state or US Forest lands, but since Don & Andrea Stierle bought Frank Diebold's cabin at The Moulton, they have hosted the celebration. This year, three dozen or more foks gathered for the party. With deep snow closing the road, the gang arrived by skis, snowshoes, and some on foot.

Before feasting, I recruit daughter Emily to help pack The Yankee Boy cross country ski trail. Its steep ups & downs and twisting turns require a couple of snowshoe runs prior to grooming:

After packing, there is time for a ski (nothing like arriving back at the cabin with a big appetite!). Here is Emily followed by Andrea on the Wake Up Jim run:

After a big meal -- including a couple of Don's moose-burgers and a sampling of what everyone brought -- it's time for the big bonfire. Say goodbye to last year's regrets, affirm old friendships and make some new ones, and think about the year to come:

The next morning, Jan shoos Emily & I out of the house with a mission: bring home a Christmas tree! We drive to a favorite spot near town, park at the end of the road, and hike up a ridge dotted with Douglass Firs. What's this? Why, it's a herd of Santa's mule deer dashing across the hillside:

Instead of the usual Fir tree, Emily selects something a little different this year--a lovely, soft Rocky Mountain Juniper. She finds the wood a little tougher to saw through (meahwhile, MollyTheDog is keeping an eye on those deer):

It's a half-mile or so to drag the tree back to the truck, but all downhill on a crusty snow that (most of the time) supports our weight:

Soon we're back at the truck and ready to head for home:

Happy Yule-tide, everyone! If you'r out watching the lunar eclipse, watch out for Odin's Wild Hunt (aka the cowboy legend of Ghost Riders in the Sky ; here's a nice version of the tune on YouTube by Outlaws).

Shoulder Season

It's a shoulder season in so many ways. A season of change. The weather is below zero one day and rainy the next. Hunting season has ended and most of the butchering, jerky making, and other meat processing is nearly finished. Meat's in the freezer, let's go skiing! Work and family life are BOTH getting busier by the day. Students cram to complete semester projects or study for exams while faculty stay late at night and come in on weekends to complete grading. But we all want to socialize to, with the glow of Thanksgiving fresh in our minds and the prospect of Winter Solstice/Hanukah/Christmas looming. And to top it all off, my trusty first generation Canon Elph camera died (to be replaced by a newer version of the same line).

Wow, no wonder I haven't posted in a few weeks. Well, here we go. Let's begin with "Self Portrait at 20 Below Zero," taken while elk hunting (I knew it was not 30 below since you can feel ice on your eyes & your lashes freeze together):

Though cold, it was a windless day and ideal for hiking into the old mining camp of French Gulch. It was a lively town with a schoolhouse and cabins like this:

It was an era when many folks built their own home of logs cut & hewn by hand (note the adz or broad-ax marks):

A placer camp, miners moved stream sediments and cobbles to get at the underlying gold, piling cobbles into "Chinese walls" like this:

 Hmmm, judging by the frost from exhaled breath, someone lives among these rocks:

On the edge of town, there is this strange little cabin dug into a hill--probably a powder magazine where explosives were stored:

It was a good day for a cup of hot tea and a cheery fire!:

The weekend after Thanksgiving, friends gathered at Don & Andrea Stierles' camp at "The Moulton" for feasting on leftovers, socialization, and a cross country ski (Jeff & Celia Schahczenski pictured here):

On our way back to the cabin, we were joined by these three large, lost, friendly Bloodhounds (maybe lost by a lion or bear hunter):

Later that week, it's department party time! Let's cook a nice elk roast. Make deep cuts with a fillet knife:

Stuff the slits with garlic & olive oil (I use a chopstick to press the mixture in):

Then inject red wine, let marinade for a day or so, cook slowly, and slice for sandwiches:

After the party, take a stroll in Uptown Butte so that Celia can give Santa a little hug:

Back on the ski trails, watch out for the tiny "snow fleas" (springtails--they don't bite), like pepper scattered over the snow:

Molly-The-Dog takes advantage of a little break on a sunny morning:

But then why are we off-trail, she asks, wading through knee-deep (to a tall human) snow?:

Ah, the Yankee Boy trail has not yet been groomed. It's blocked by blown down trees:

Let's clear the snow away & get to work (why do these lodgepole pines so often fall in bunches?):

Sometime later, the work is done, and we can schuss our way along:

Back home, it's time to prepare for another dinner party. Let's see, cold weather, shanks from a tender white-tailed doe deer, an evening with friends... what does that add up to?:

Oh yeah! Osso Buco (mmm... smell that fresh rosemary & thyme!):

With baked Polenta, of course:

So here's to good food, good friends, and happy holidays!