Monday, November 30, 2009

Winter Driving

My SUV has all-wheel drive, so I thought just maybe I could make it through the winter on my all-season tires.  But the 13-mile stretch of the East Fork Road between my house and the highway is a twisty, turny road that follows the river, and at the higher end the valley closes in and the forest gets dense, shading the road and preserving the snow and ice.

(This was on a good day after several clear days with highs in the 40s)

I've driven the road several times in the last couple of weeks and found that I can't go more than 20 miles per hour on the straightaways without slipping and getting a little sideways when I drive over the many patches of snow and ice.  The curves are much slower, turning the 13 mile trip to the highway or to the Sula Store into 45 minutes of white knuckle, I-hope-I-don't-slide-off-into-that-freezing-ass-river driving. 

I moved up here more for a tranquil back-to-nature experience than a life-and-death, man-against-nature adventure, so on Friday I went to Hamilton and got me some studded snow tires.  I've never had (or needed) snow tires, but they are pretty cool, with deep tread to channel out the slush and grooved rubber and metal studs to grip the pavement and the ice.

When I checked out at the tire store, the customer service guy told me, "You'll get traction now.  Hell, you can climb a tree."

The tires do have some serious bite, making the drive up the East Fork Road much more enjoyable.  I haven't had to drive them on any significant ice yet, but it's just a matter of time.  I'm going to wait and let the ice come to me instead of going looking for it.  I figure these tires can be like 4-wheel drive and be just good enough to get you way out in the deep back country before you get stuck.

Some states prohibit the use of metal studs because they can damage the road surface.  Other states allow studded tires only during a specified season.  In Montana, studded snow tires are permitted from Oct.1 to May 31.  My old all-season tires are stacked in my garage now, and next spring I'll take them back to the tire store to get them switched out, but then, unfortunately, I will no longer be able to climb a tree.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Kicking off the Christmas Season

It's never too early for this.  Robert Earl Keen is no Merle Haggard, but this is a classic.

I'm sure nobody I know would think this

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Day

Happy Thanksgiving!

And to all the dysfunctional families out there, like mine . . . Happy Turkey Day!

I might be a redneck

The propane man just stopped by.  He said he likes to make the rounds and check all the propane levels before the snow gets deep.  He even gave me a free 2010 calendar, which I promptly hung on the wall.

Now I don't have to search the world over to try find propane.

Squirrel Highway

Waiting for the end of hunting season

Just five more days.  The last week of the season is usually busy, with everyone in a rush to fill their tags.  I'm staying close to the house.

It was about 28° when I took these.  With the right gear on, it was comfortable, especially with a thermos of hot coffee.  I stayed out for about three hours, until a light snow started to fall.  Good to be outside.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Rage Against the Dying of the Light

Looks like the snow is here to stay

There has been snow on the ground in Sula for the last two weeks.  We've had a few sunny days with temps in the 40s, but it appears the snow has reached critical mass.  There is just too much snow for the sun to melt on these shorter days from its low perch in the southern sky.

This picture is looking a few degrees east of due south at a little before noon.  You can see how low the sun is, trying to shine through the snow clouds.

The snow is deeper out in the woods, where the sunlight rarely reaches the ground.  Not deep enough for snowshoes yet, but off to a good start.

This is a game trail near the back of the property.  The fence is no object to the deer.  "Badges? We don't need no stinking badges!"

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Food Blogs of the Northern Rockies

When I moved to Montana, I spent some time looking for blogs written by the kinds of people I had met up here—down-to-earth people living close to the earth, figuratively speaking.  But all the Montana blogs I found were political rantings, from either end of the spectrum.  Those just make me tired, so I quit looking. 

Recently a blogger who goes by the name Montana Mary found my blog and left a nice comment.  Her comment had a link back to her blog, which she calls Yummy Montana, finding—and enjoying—food made in Montana.  Her blog has a nice, folksy feel to it, and chronicles her explorations of farmers markets and other food events in Montana, as well as life on a sheep and cattle ranch in south central Montana.  Yummy Montana also includes a list of other blogs Montana Mary enjoys, including one called:

The Cooking Photographer, written by Laura Flowers of Moscow, Idaho.  Foodies will want to bookmark this one.  Down the left side of her blog, she has "Find a Recipe," which takes you to posts about dishes she's written about.  Even if you're not a foodie, Laura's blog is worth reading just for her writing style.  And if that's not enough, if you click to read her profile, you'll find a long list of blogs she likes, many of which are written by other foodies.

For the record, I'm not a foodie. Mari is a foodie. I'm just an eatie, although I do cook a limited repertoire of dishes I like, a category that would best be described as "guy food"—bacon, chili, a Tex-Mex beef soup (caldo de res), pot roast (cooked in foil), burgers, migas, pancakes, beans (straight pintos and refried), grilled stuff, and oddly enough, cashew chicken.  I've recently become reasonably competent at making bread (from scratch—no bread machine).  I figure that may come in handy during the winter.

Ice and Water

It is fascinating to watch the gradual icing of the river.

The ice forms in terraces, creating little waterfalls, for now.

And the river continues to flow beneath the ice.

Just as I go out in the spring to see the new growth on the plants, these days I go down to the river to look for new growth on the ice.  Nature is never static.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hey Grandpa, What's for Breakfast?

Kellogg's announced there will be a shortage of Eggo Waffles due to problems at a few of its manufacturing plants.  I'm not a fan of prefabricated waffles, preferring to make fresh pancakes with Bisquick.  All you have to add are milk and an egg, and maybe some blueberries. 

(These are not mine—mine are never that uniform, and they are usually lopsided because I haven't quite perfected the art of pancake flipping)

While grocery shopping a few weeks ago, I noticed a pancake mix that claimed you could make extra fluffy pancakes if you "Just Add Water." 

My first thought was, I bet that eats like wet cardboard.  But I had to give it a try, if only for scientific reasons, because in the dead of winter, maintaining a supply of fresh milk and eggs could be a logistical problem.  If I can make decent pancakes by just adding water, I'd be, in the words of Jethro Bodine, happy as a dead pig in the sunshine.

The verdict: Not bad at all. The pancakes were much closer to Biquick's milk and egg pancakes than to wet cardboard.  To make them ever better, I reconstituted some dehydrated blueberries I got from Honeyville and added them to the batter.  Well, Doggie!  So this winter, no matter how deep the snow piles up, I'm going to at least have some pancakes and grits.

This Deer Was Not a High Stepper

A River Walks Through It

It's 10° this morning.  The river is getting close to being frozen over, although it still runs swiftly where it can get around or under the ice.  All the new snow and ice have raised the water level about a foot.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Clark's Nutcracker

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Northern Exposure

Being so far north, Montana's days vary more with the seasons than days in the southern U.S.  Right now the length of the day (the amount of time the sun is up) is about an hour shorter in Montana than in Texas.  According to Weather Underground, the sunrise and sunset times for Sula and Dallas on November 17 were:

                    Sunrise            Sunset          Length of Day
Sula, MT          7:38               5:02                  9:23
Dallas, TX        6:59               5:24                10:25

I first noticed this on a summer backpacking trip up here years ago when it was still light at around 9:30 pm.  Now I have to take the bad with the good.


Reading in a Cabin by the River

I haven't been doing much reading by the river lately, with all the snow and with the morning temps in the single digits and the highs only around 20.

But I have a library/piano room inside, where it's toasty.

I haven't given up on my river chair. I just need to take a broom to it and knock the snow off, as soon as I get a warm(ish), sunny day.  We're supposed to get a few nice days this week with lows in the 20s and highs in the 40s. Should be good outdoor weather.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Random Thoughts From Sula

Clark's Nutcracker

  • I'm glad there are only two weeks left in the general hunting season.
  • I've never seen so many trucks full of men wearing orange. Apparently their goal is to drive down every single road in the upper valley, looking for new places to hunt. They are everywhere.  A few have come down my road, past all the signs that say Private Road and No Forest Access.  On my way to the mailbox, I see their tracks in the snow where they turned around when they realized it really is a private, dead end road.  Luckily, they figure it out before they get to my place.
  • I still usually walk to my mailbox, which is out on East Fork Road, about three quarters of a mile from the cabin, one way.
  • Until recently, I'd never worn a scarf.  That's a handy item of clothing.
  • I'm hoping to get in a few more hikes after hunting season if all the trails aren't covered. I think it'll be a while before I can use my snowshoes.
  • I remember when freezing used to feel like freezing.  Now 32° just feels like "at least it's not 4°."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Last Resort

"You call some place paradise, kiss it goodbye."


For all those Anne Murray fans in southeast Texas.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. . . But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things. 

Henry David Thoreau, Walden.

Saturday Morning

A couple more inches of snow fell overnight. 

And there is more slush and ice in the river.  On occasion, little "icebergs" float by, but never when I have my camera.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Squirreling It Away

Before the snow hit, this red squirrel was gathering up sunflower seeds under the bird feeder.

And stashing them away.

Man From Snowy River

I remember when 40 degrees seemed cold.  It was 4 degrees this morning. 

The snow makes for a serene landscape.

And the ice makes color photos look black and white.

A Sheepish Good Morning

Thursday, November 12, 2009