13 April 2014

Cross Country Skiing, Winter 2013-2014, Butte America

It's been a great winter. We had some early snow in September and October that set a good base. Though the new snow cover was thin until some big dumps from mid-February to late-March, snow holds well in our dry climate and trails at both The Moulton and Mill Creek (aka "Mt Haggin") were excellent. Some warm temperatures in early March set up the surface, so off-piste back country skiing was very good also. It still is--though I decided to hang up my skis this week because, well, it's time. Four plus months of skiing, about four mornings each week, is plenty; and come Spring this boy's heart turns to trout fishing and hiking.

Winter skies are very beautiful, whether with a storm moving up the Clark Fork River valley from the west:

Or sunset on a fresh dump of snow in the Highland Mtns south of Butte:

Here, the wind blows a fresh dusting of champagne powder:

 The early morning, low angle sun lights up metamorphosed snowflakes like diamonds. If you unfocus your eyes and get into the right Zen Shoshin (初心) state of mind, the bright snow background goes dark and it is like looking into the starry night sky: 

Early in the season, a big windstorm dropped a lot of trees over the trails:

This tree will fall soon, too:

 Club members pitch in to clear the trails. Here's Little Brother A.J. lending a hand (preparing to limb a blow down before we buck it up):

 As Townes van Zandt sang, "Days up and down they come, like rain on a conga drum. Forget most, remember some. But don't turn none away." This means go skiing even if it's a little frosty (like -5 deg F; it you turn the thermometer upside down, the temperature rises!):

When it's below zero, my frosty beard is a pretty good thermometer too:

I primarily ski three trails at The Moulton--Buzzy, Big Nipper, and Yankee Boy:

 During the Winter Olympics, I was inspired to practice my low-tech biathlon technique: 

No winter is complete without a few moonlight ski trips: 

I always ski with MollyTheDog, but sometimes human friends (such as Keith, show below) also join the fun: 

 Like moonlight skiing, there are certain other elements that make a season complete--such as a good slalom run down the pole line:

Much of the wildlife -- elk, deer, migratory birds -- clears out of the high country for winter. Moose hang out in the willows on the creek bottom near the parking lot: 

Most other wildlife is almost exclusively nocturnal. Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) regularly patrol the best mouse habitat: 

Pine Marten (Martes americana) are always searching for a careless Red Squirrel:

Snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus) have large feet that allow them to run atop the snow without breaking through: 

Often, but not always, this allows them to evade predators. Sometimes, however, death comes from above (I think this hare was killed and partially eaten by a hawk or owl): 

Well, Spring is coming and with it there will be new litters of baby bunnies and a renewal of all things. In the meantime, we say goodbye to a winter with an unusual amount of snow--enough to nearly cover the fences: 

Happy Spring!

06 April 2014

Montana Winter Survival: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry

Now that winter is about over, I ponder the question that friends from warmer climes often ask, "How do you survive the Montana winter?" They aren't talking about physical survival, of course (at least I hope they're not), but rather misconceptions about the psychological condition known as "cabin fever." The fact is, here in Montana, many of us don't simply "survive." Instead, we thrive. Partly it's a matter of active engagement with nature through activities such as cross-country skiing. And partly it's a matter of social engagement--i.e. partying! Well, or whatever counts as partying for folks our age.

You see, Montana -- or at least that island known as Butte America -- is an intensely social place. The community is welcoming and friendly, and there's always something going on. This is true in many American small cities and Butte is, I think, just a slice of a common experience. The winter kick-off begins with a solstice bonfire and potluck hosted by the Stierles at their cabin near The Moulton Cross Country Ski Area, just a few miles north of town. They've been clearing beetle-killed lodgepole pines from around the cabin, so we had lots of fuel:

The event even drew our friends Matt and Jenn, and their new baby Lur, from their home near Missoula a few hours downriver from Butte:

Daughter Emily came home for Christmas, so the first order of business: strap on snowshoes and bring home a tree. Butte is surrounded by public forest where tree cutting (whether for Christmas tress or firewood or fences etc) is allowed. We selected this nice Englemann spruce--though sharp needled, spruces have a nice shape and dense branches for hanging ornaments:

A few saw-strokes later:

Then it's on the sled and time to haul away. On the uphills, I told Emily, "I'll grunt and you pull":

Nice tree, and it didn't look bad with decorations, either (PhoebeTheCat approved):

Here's lesson in dendrochronology, based on a slice from the base of our tree.  As you can see by counting the rings, our  Christmas tree was about 27 years old. Yet the first c. 18 years of the tree's life were VERY different from the past c. 9 years. What do you think happened in the life of this tree that caused this abrupt change c. 2004. Hint: our spruce grew in a forest dominated by Lodgepole Pine:

 Answer: That's right! Pine beetles killed virtually all of the larger Lodgepole Pines, opening the forest canopy so our little tree received more light and water, and hence grew faster.

The Butte Christmas Stroll includes all the traditions such as free wine and snacks at local businesses,  musicians (Heather Lingle shown here) at the Butte-Silver Bow courthouse:

And, of course, belly dancing (everyone knows the Three Wise Men were really belly dancers):

New Years Eve found us at the Quarry brewpub for some lively music by the Red Mountain Band. The best part? The even started early and ended at 8 (with the clock set ahead 4 hours, hahaha), so Mrs Rover and our friends could all make our 10 o'clock bed times (I exaggerate but a little):

Next up? Chinese New Year (31 January this year). Given the rich history of Butte's Chinatown, it's a fitting way to honor our history and culture. We began the parade with a crowd at the courthouse, waiting for the dragon dance as the dragon comes roaring out, chasing the pearl:

Yes! It's the Year of the Horse:

Along the parade route on the Butte Hill, fireworks make this the loudest (if shortest) of Butte's parades:

It ends at the Wah Chong Tai Mercantile and Mai Wah Noodle Parlor (Mai Wah Museum):

Later that day, we joined Butte's Chinese-American community for a sumptuous feast catered at the Four Seasons Chinese Restaurant.

Each year in early February, a group of us share a house at Chico Hot Springs:

We share meals, spend hours soaking in the hot pools, and nearby are great back country ski trails:

Mid-afternoon, we pause of a warming fire and lunch, then make the run back to the trailhead:

Chico is also near Yellowstone National Park, with abundant wildlife viewing opportunities, including Buffalo:

Big Horn Sheep:

Elk (this herd is on a ranch next to Chico, not in the Park):

And Mule Deer:

Les bon temps roule! For late February, I was invited to New Orleans as part of a session on Superfund issues at Tulane Law School Summit on Environmental Law & Policy.  It was a great conference with sessions on managing ocean fisheries, dealing with post-Katrina issues, and oil well fracking. Environmental artist and adventurer Marcus Eriksen was a keynote speaker, highlighting the problem of the 5 Gyres -- those giant ocean swirls that collect the unfathomable amount of plastic trash generated by the "modern" world: 

Mrs Rover and I had a little extra time to enjoy NOLA's food: 

Mardi Gras Parades (Mrs Rover earned her beads, hahaha): 

And -- best of all -- to take in the great blues and jazz at our very favorite club, The Spotted Cat: 

There's lots of good music on the streets, too. Whether a lone blued harp: 

Or the outstanding, world renowned (yes, seriously) Tanya & Dorise:

Well, before you know it, winter came to an end, marked by our St Paddy's feast:

I spare you the scenes of happy "Irishmen" (and women) hoisting glasses and stuffing their faces, and end with this toast:

"He drank like a fish and ate like a savage,
The only thing he wouldn't eat was corned beef and cabbage."