Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Random Thoughts From Sula

  • I've run into several transplanted Montanans lately, who, when they found out I'm from Texas, immediately blurted out "There's no good barbecue up here."
  • You don't hear many classic rock songs that feature the banjo.  Squeeze Box by the Who has a banjo solo, and Take it Easy by the Eagles has a strong banjo accompaniment.  Old Man by Neil Young has some banjo playing, but I don't consider his music rock, and his singing sounds like a mosquito buzzing around your ear.
  • I just got my copy of Faulkner's Go Down Moses.  I'm looking forward to reading it, but I have to be in just the right frame of mind to read Faulkner.
  • When I was in elementary school, I hated any kid that had the big 64-color box of crayons with the built-in sharpener. I always had a third generation hand-me-down box of 8 colors, and all the good ones, the red, blue and green, were either missing or worn down to a little bitty nub.  The only new crayon I ever had was the white one, which was still in mint condition when I got it because nobody ever used it. 
  • It turns out Mari was one of those kids with the 64-color box with the built-in sharpener.  I think we can work through it.
  • Speaking of crayons, when I was in second grade, I was disappointed to discover that the purple one didn't taste like grape.  Maybe that's why my favorite candies now are Jolly Ranchers and Skittles—because they taste like crayons should've tasted.

Friday, March 26, 2010


"Our forefathers had civilization inside themselves, the wild outside. We live in the civilization they created, but within us the wilderness still lingers. What they dreamed, we live, and what they lived, we dream."  T. K. Whipple, Study Out the Land

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Shouldn't that be BR-549?

You can't make this stuff up.  This sign was posted on a used car lot just north of Hamilton.  It's "All 4 sale.  Cheep!" (larger picture below).

Squirrel Wars

I've got nothing against squirrels.  They are welcome to eat all the bird seed that the steller's jays sling out of the feeder onto the ground, which is a lot.  I just can't have them cleaning out or tearing up my feeders.

Check out this little guy, looking like a tiny fireman moving in reverse.  Going Up!

At first, he'd shinny up the pole, get a seed, and then slide down to eat it on the ground.  But that was too much trouble, so he found a better solution.

After he'd cleaned out the hopper feeder, he went after the tube feeder.


I'm still waiting for the forensics report from the high-tech Sula Crime Lab, but these look like squirrel teeth marks to me.

I re-hung the tube feeder with picture wire so he couldn't gnaw through it, but that didn't stop him from climbing up and cleaning it out.  So I made a baffle out of a small plastic tub.  I cut off the bottom portion and cut a hole in the center.  Then I put a small clamp on the feeder stand and slid the baffle down to where it rests loosely on top of the clamp.

"What the hell is this?"

"Okay. I can push through this . . ."

"or gnaw through it . . ."

"or pull it off."

"That's not funny, Man.  You ain't right."


After I was sure the baffle would work, I hit it with some black paint to make it blend in. 

I don't think Mr. Squirrel will give up that easily. It may become like an episode of the Road Runner around here, except I'll be up againt Wile E. Squirrel (seedius digestus).  Any day now, I expect him to show up with a can of Acme Instant Hole.  I'll keep you posted.

Friday, March 19, 2010


Tomorrow is the vernal (spring) equinox, the day on which the sun crosses the equator, heading north.  Close to the equator, on the vernal equinox, days and nights are of equal length.  In Sula, Montana, today will be 12 hours and 6 minutes long, almost 3 1/2 hours longer than the shortest day back in late December.  For the first time since the autumnal equinox, days in Sula are now longer than they are in Dallas.

As further evidence of spring, some of the summer birds have begun to return.  The juncoes have returned in force, and the more solitary varied thrush passes through every now and then.

Varied thrush

Thrush and dark-eyed juncoes

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Fifth Season

For parts of Montana above 5,000 feet there is a little-known fifth season squished in between winter and spring.  "Squished" is the right word.  I have dubbed this new season "mud."  At the end of winter, but before spring, areas that have been covered by a foot or more of snow for four months begin to thaw, and the slow melting of the ice creates an endless flow of water that keeps the ground soaked and soggy.

They should teach it in schools—What are the five seasons of the year?  Spring, summer, fall, winter and mud.  Here are some pictures showing four of the five seasons (I'm still waiting for spring).  Montana teachers, feel free to use these in your classes.





In several places, the water drains across the road, making travel fun.

The middle part looks dry in the picture, but it feels like walking on a wet sponge.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sula Welcoming Committee

I took these pics on Tuesday of last week, when we got all the new snow. This was on the East Fork Road, about nine miles from the highway.

The End of Snowshoeing Season

. . . at least on the slopes. After the big snowfall last week, I snowshoed back up the ridge behind my cabin and then up some of the de-commissioned Forest Service roads up there. I'd like to say I snowshoed back down the ridge, but that wouldn't be quite accurate. More on that later.

Going uphill was no problem (other than the cardiovascular kind). The snowshoes got good traction on every step. This is looking up the ridge from near the bottom. I held the camera level so you could get a feel for the incline.

Up top, the road still looks like Jack Nicholson could be around the next bend with an axe. I figured I'd get a good workout and walk out for an hour and half and then turn around and come back.

The imprint of my old snow angel is still partially visible.

This is looking across the upper East Fork valley from higher up on the road.

It was all a piece of cake, walking out and then returning to where I left the road to go back down the ridge. But getting back down the ridge would be an adventure of sorts. After all the recent cycles of thaw and re-freeze, there was a thick sheet of ice running down the ridge under all the fresh powder. It wasn't a problem going up, but for some reason the snowshoes couldn't get any traction at all going downhill. My first step from the road onto the slope felt like taking off on a ski jump. I stuck my poles out to try to catch myself, but they didn't get traction either, so I did a faceplant in a small snowdrift. Getting back up, there was nothing I could do but laugh at myself, because it was pretty funny.  My beard was full of snow.  I initially thought "that first step is a doozy," but then I found out all the other steps would be doozies, too.

(Ominous foreshadowing: one of these guys wouldn't make it back, like one of those red-shirted characters on Star Trek that yells "Captain, over here.  I found something!")

I had zero traction on the ice, so my snowshoes became clumsy skis, which are no good in the forest.  I wished for an ice axe and crampons.  I tried taking small steps and trying to dig in, and I tried turning the snowshoes at an angle to get a better bite, but nothing worked.  I had a hard time staying upright.  I even considered trying to sled down part of the way on my butt, but there were far too many trees, standing and otherwise, that were in the way.  Then, stepping over a downed log, I lost it again, fell sideways and snapped one of my poles in half.

I decided I could do better if I took the snowshoes off.  It worked for a little while, sidestepping down the slope, carrying two snowshoes and now three poles.  I slipped a few more times.  Usually, I could feel the traction giving way and be prepared to fall somewhat gracefully.  But then I slipped good, with no warning, and before I knew it, my feet were in the air.  In contrast to the suddenness of the slippage, I felt I hovered horizontally in the air, three feet above the ground, for a long time. My first thought was "Ooh. This time I'm going to land flat on my back." My second thought was "This is gonna hurt." As a testament to my clairvoyance, I came down with a thud and immediately felt like someone walloped my lower back with the flat side of a long 2 x 10.  It has probably been 20 years since I've had the wind knocked out of me, but I can affirmatively say that it doesn't get any better with age. I rolled around on the ground for a little while trying to draw just one short breath and thinking "This will pass shortly," which it did, but not shortly enough.

Unfortunately, I didn't have the presence of mind to get a picture while I was hovering there, but I'm pretty sure if I had, it would've looked something like this:

I got back up with no lasting damage, but I decided that carrying that broken pole, while the responsible thing to do, was not helping me, so I dropped it at the base of a tree, where it can ride out the rest of the winter.  I'll go back in the summertime, when all that ice is gone, and retrieve it then.

I didn't fall anymore after that, although I had a few close calls. I slowly made it to the bottom of the ridge, and then I only had to go about another quarter mile to reach my cabin. I’m sure I made a sorry sight when I emerged out of the trees carrying my snowshoes and one lonely pole.  Luckily no one was around to see me.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Snow is Receding

The Ides of March Are Come, A Loose Association

The Ides of March is the day on which Julius Caesar was famously assassinated in 44 B.C.  According to Plutarch, Caesar was warned by a soothsayer, who told him to "beware the Ides of March."  This is also reflected in Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar.  On the fateful day, when Caesar saw the soothsayer, he said, rather derisively, "The Ides of March are come." The seer responded, "Ay Caesar, but not gone."  We all know what happened next.  "Et tu, Brute," et cetera.

A few years ago, I got the BBC's Shakespeare Collection on DVD.  In Julius Caesar, Charles Gray plays the title role. 

Four years before he was Caesar, Charles Gray was in the Rocky Horror Picture Show as the Criminologist-An Expert.

Now I have to try not to picture Julius Caesar saying "It's just a jump to the left."

We're Back!

The FedEx man brought my new computer on Thursday evening.  He called from down by the Sula Store to make sure I was here because he didn't want to drive all the way up the East Fork if I wasn't home.  I swear, the people in the lower Bitterroot Valley act as if the upper East Fork is Barrow, Alaska.

My old computer had barely limped along during my hiatus, but almost as soon as my new one arrived, the old one, as though waiting for that moment, crashed one final time and sent its spirit to the happy blogging ground.  I was able to transfer all my documents and photos to a memory stick before it died, but not all of my music made it, so I'll have to re-rip a lot of CDs.  No biggie.

So, what did we miss?  There was a big warming trend for about two weeks, where the highs were in the low 40s and the lows were in the low 20s.  It felt like summer.  Some of the snow started to melt, and I could even see the ground in a few places, mainly close to trees, where the snowfall was not as deep.  But then on Tuesday of last week, we got a fresh six inches of powder.  The temps are still warm, so the new snow is melting, too.  The days are now three hours longer than they were on the shortest day of the year, and each day is a little over 3 minutes longer than the previous one.  Spring is on the way!

Here are some of the snow pics from last Tuesday: 

Going out the road from my place to the East Fork Road.

The East Fork, a few miles downstream.

 This squirrel has been picking up seeds from under my bird feeder.  He didn't like the snow, but it didn't slow him down.

 He burrowed under the snow and came up to climb a rock under the feeder to survey the situation.  No food up here.

 Then he burrowed under again and came up with a seed.

 This time—empty handed.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Algernon Strikes Again

It's my computer this time. I shouldn't be surprised because it’s three and a half years old and has done its share of traveling. I think the old jalopy is not long for this world. It keeps locking up on me, and a lot of my software doesn't work anymore, most importantly, my photo management software. It's hard to have a good blog when you can't post pictures.

I've ordered a new computer from Dell, but apparently they have to go make their own silicon because the expected delivery date is not until March 17. I could've ordered an off-the-shelf computer from Amazon and gotten it in a few days, but I’ll get more computer for less by ordering from Dell.

So far my e-mail still works, intermittently, but I don’t know how long that’ll hold up. Anyway, I may disappear for a few weeks, but I plan to be back in full around March 18 or so. It’s feeling like spring up here, with warmer temps and much longer days. It should be an exciting time for the blog.