12 July 2011

Thank You, Craig Woodson

Sunday I was privileged to attend a memorial service for Charles "Craig" Woodson, Jr (1933-2011). I came to know Mr. Woodson in the early 1990s after he bought and began restoring a ranch on the Ruby River here in southwest Montana. My daughter Emily, "Little Brother" A.J., and several friends shot their first deer there. It was a beautiful place to hunt and a typical day included watching ducks, pheasant, turkeys, and even (once) bear.

The place was pretty beat-up when Mr. Woodson took it on as both a restoration project and a working cattle ranch. Along the way, the ranch became the Ruby Habitat Foundation--an outdoor classroom dedicated to conservation education and sustainable agriculture. I met Mr. Woodson just a few times and talked only briefly, but I think I got to know him pretty well through his stewardship.

 The ceremony was a quintessential Montana experience. A couple of cowboys sang western tunes and played guitars. The preacher told how Mr. Woodson got to know his neighbors by visiting house to house, sitting at kitchen tables over coffee. A grand-daughter explained that she didn't know which was more embarrassing, driving the truck into an irrigation ditch or pulling over so Grandpa could pee by the roadside. Above all, however, these memories stand out for me from the ceremony:
  • Wafting on the breeze, the smell of fresh-cut alfalfa hay;
  • Mayfly duns alighting in the hair of the girl sitting in front of me;
  • Belted kingfisher hovering over the nearby creek before diving down to seize a minnow;
  • Bald eagle soaring over the valley, swooping low over the river before ascending on a thermal;
  • Western meadowlark's sweet song drifting down from the sagebrush;
  • Storm of cottonwood seeds floating through the air, shining bright against a dark cloud; and
  • Yes, oh yes, violet-green swallows swooping over our heads, feasting on the abundant mosquitoes.
 Thanks for the day, Craig!

Those wishing to donate in honor of Craig Woodson may send contributions to:

Ruby Habitat Foundation
2597 Hwy 287
PO Box 638
Sheridan MT 59749

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