20 January 2013

Moulton Montana Backcountry Biathlon

Winter has settled over the landscape of southwest Montana. We've had a few small snowstorms move through, but none has dropped more than a few inches of powder. A cold front last week with very high pressure brought temperatures of -20 degrees Fahrenheit at night, along with brilliant blue skies, sunshine, and highs above zero during the day. With the variable weather comes stunning skies (this looking south from Walkerville, over St Lawrence church/Lexington gallows frame and toward the Highland Mountains):

It's not just us humans watching the sky, it seems. As Ute Indians to the south and perhaps other tribes knew, even trees have souls and keep an eye on the world. I recall a beautiful scene in Jarmusch's film Dead Man (1995) when Johnny Depp and his trackers travel through an aspen forest. Some reviewers (it's amazing how separated from nature are many contemporary Americans) thought Jarmusch must have digitally created eyes in the trees. But no, of course aspen trees keep watch on this world we share:

I hope the aspens watch me only when I shoot well. I've laid out my biathlon course on the upper (north side) trails at The Moulton ski area. It hardly proceeds according to Olympic rules, but it's a lot of fun and a good mental and physical challenge to ski fast, halt and assume a kneeling position, shoot 5 quick rounds, and then ski to the next position:

Sometimes it all comes together and I shoot fairly well (this target is the result of two 5-shot rounds):

I won't show you the bad targets, and let's hope the aspen trees aren't talking.

06 January 2013

Happy Holidays from Southwest Montana

I like the time from Thanksgiving to New Years: it's basically one long party. Not that I'm a big partier--I can't even make it to midnight on New Year's Eve. But it is fun to get together over with friends over good food and drink.

Stalking the Wild Christmas Tree

First things first. Daughter Emily was barely off the plane when we strapped on skis:

And went off to hunt the wily Christmas tree. As a lad, I worked for Ben Anderson at his tree farm near Kane, Pennsylvania--trimming trees with machetes during the summer (along with several other teenagers--you can imagine the "sword fights" that ensued!), cutting and bundling trees for market, and assisting at the sales lot. Except for those years, though, I followed my family's tradition and always cut a wild tree. Growing up, our preferred tree was the soft-needled, brushy Eastern Hemlock. Graceful, long-needled White Pines were a good second choice. Since moving West, I've preferred Douglass Firs for their fragrance and soft needles. There are, however, some perfectly shaped, stately spruces along the ski trails. Emily found this beautiful 10-footer, a sharp-needled Engelmann Spruce:

A few minutes with a bow saw and the tree was ready for the sled:

Of course, Emily found the tree at the lowest, furthest spot along the ski trails--but like a deer or elk, the farther you drag it (and the more uphill you have to go) the more you appreciate it:

Mrs. Rover timed a Ciambellone ("Chumelo," Italian pound cake) to come out of the oven with our arrival home:

And soon the decorations were on and all was ready for St. Nick:

With cold clear nights and warm afternoons, nature made its own decorations of rime on the barbed wire fences and trees behind our house:

As a note to the curious, rime differs from hoarfrost in that the former forms from an ice fog. The still nights make for an inversion layer over the Butte, Montana valley, while the Berkeley Pit and Yankee Doodle Tailings Pond supply plenty of moisture for the ice-fog (view of fog blanketing the Butte-Silver Bow Valley):

Winter Solstice Bonfire

As always, the Winter Solstice marked a highlight of our festivities. Don and Andrea Stierle host a party at their cabin at The Moulton cross-country ski area just a few miles north of our home in Walkerville. In mid-afternoon everyone skis or snowshoes the mile from the parking lot to the cabin:

This leaves time for a ski around on the trails, feasting at the potluck, and visiting with friends old and new. Then come the big event--the Solstice bonfire:

Legend has it that the fire calls the sun back and stops the days from getting shorter. It's worked so far, so I think we'd better keep at this tradition:

Everyone looks forward to longer days: even the Mouse People were out and about, doing a little celebrating of their own:

New Years in Portland, Oregon

After a wonderful Christmas with family and friends, we made a road-trip to daughter Emily's place in my second favorite city (Butte being number one, of course), Portland, Oregon. If it weren't for the rainy, cloudy weather, Portland would be at the top of my list as I edge toward retirement age. While there, we always take in a meal of oysters at Dan & Louis--in my humble opinion it's the best oyster house in America. Portland, with its 3 dozen breweries, is also Beer Capital of the World, at least when it comes to brewpubs. Sadly, we didn't work in a visit to my old favorite, The Tugboat. But I did add a new favorite to my list (this happens every time I'm in Portland)--Breakside Brewery:

Great beers (I liked the Dunkelweiss), and unlike most pub grub, the food at Breakside is outstanding. We shared a fine bowl of mussels and then I settled into the best lamb-burger ever, a " ½ lb Anderson Ranch Free Range lamb patty cooked to your liking"--like an episode from Portlandia (click this link to watch a classic episode!), I wanted to ask the lamb's name, meet it, and then take it home (To eat! Yum.).

We helped daughter Emily move into a room she's renting at a house near Overlook Park in one of Portland's many lovely neighborhoods. As a great fringe benefit, NolaTheDog also lives here. After a bit of suspicion (she met me as I came up the basement steps into "her" home), we were friends. Here's Nola sharing the leftovers from my lunch of apple wedges and peanut butter:

Back Home Again

Back home in Walkerville, I've settled into the nice rhythm of skiing a few mornings each week:

And taking account of the several moose that live near the ski trails:

Most every night, a herd of white-tailed deer have been visiting our neighborhood. For years, deer were very scarce near Butte, and if you saw any they were usually mule deer. Re-vegetation of the mine dumps and a reduction in poaching have greatly boosted the deer population. Molly-The-Dog and I took a long walk one morning, as I wanted to discover where the white-tails bedded during the day. Found 'em. There they go:

The increased deer population also means increased deer deaths. A pack of coyotes has taken up residence in the hills behind our house , and they have killed a deer or two (I was tipped off by a flock of ravens) to supplement their mouse and rabbit diet. Sadly, two free roaming dogs (I tracked them in fresh snow to and from the kill) also killed a mule deer yearling at the foot of Big Butte on my route from home to school. Once again, the ravens let me know I should check this out (as a "good" thing, I guess, the ravens and local fox scavenged every bit of meat):

Sorry to end my post with the senseless death of a deer, but sure wish dog owners would be more responsible. The friendly Fido that sleeps on the couch and plays with the children can be deadly with wildlife.