Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

So I just wanted to take a minute to wish everyone a Happy New Year. I would love to expand on this a bit but frankly I just don't have it in me since I've spent the last 16 hours in the hospital. But please everyone be safe in your celebrations and ring in the fabulous new year in style! Love you all.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Snow Day!

I used to only associate snow days with going to school in the winter in Wyoming but apparently they are much more encompassing. I awoke to over 3 feet of snow this morning and a call into my boss that said work was cancelled for the day. Talk about awesome! Normally 3 feet of snow wouldn't hinder any of us rough and tough Montanans but the stuff is still falling and we literally have a white out going on. I can't see out 10ft past my bedroom window so its understandable not wanting to make the folks from Noxon and Thompson Falls drive into work in those kinds of conditions. The local weather station is predicting that we get another foot or so before the days end and then the day after tomorrow we're supposed to have another big storm. It definitely looks like its going to be a white Christmas after all. Woo hoo. Boy do I love winter! And you should note there is not one iota of sarcasm in that statement... I really do love winter. So if you are curious about this picture this is PRE current snow storm at one of my higher elevation study sites. I took it after the first snow storm we got down here in the valley and there was about 7 feet already up at the site that I had to snow shoe over. The tops of most of those trees you see are probably covered completely now and will stay that way til at least March. So for you Cali folks thinking about moving to Montana... you might want to reconsider!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Doty's Are Coming Horrah Horrah!

Kami and Kenny are coming down from Kalispel Saturday morning to spend the weekend with me and Mace and I am sooooo looking forward to the visit. Not exactly sure what we are going to do but it will most definitely be the same ol "up to no good" game plan that we usually succumb to. Just kidding. Our time is probably going to used wisely by cooking together, catching up, and just being happy together. Its been way too long since I've seen the two of them. And out here in the middle of nowhere, visitors are a super big deal, especially ones as nice and sweet as the Doty's. As you can tell by the picture above they are a couple of wild and crazy kids. That's why I love em!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Something is not right... something is quite wrong!

So here I sit in my office today thanks to management meetings that go on adnausium once a month on Mondays and I realize something just isn't right. Anyone want to venture a guess what it may be? Stumped? Well today is December 1st and I'm looking out my window on a bright clear sunny day and its nearly 50 degrees out! This is just messed up. Now as some of you know already I'm am the ultimate winter baby. I love snow, I love cold, and I even dig the shorter darker days during winter that most people bitch about. So having this sunny warm weather on the 1st day of December is just nuts to me. I keep hoping that one of these days I wake up to about 3 ft of snow on the ground so that my winter field work can get underway. Its hard to snowshoe into a study sight when the snow keeps melting on the tops of my mountains. Its slushy and slippery and flat out dangerous to work in. I'm just praying for those days of nice firm, compact snow that I can troop over the top of in my Alaskan Guide Series snow shoes. That's right... my office actually decided to go high tech this year. The snow shoes that I have been using would make any Eskimo say "what the heck?". So maybe I just want to get out and try the suckers out I don't know but I need some snow to make it happen.

On a more personal note. I didn't shoot any deer this year. I shot at one yesterday on the last day of hunting season but missed. I actually pretty mad at myself though I'm not sure there are too many people out there that could have made the shot I was going for. I was up on a ridgeline and saw a doe running across the powerline about 400 yards away. I cranked up the power on my scope and started leading her as she ran but she stopped dead in her tracks the second I pulled the trigger and I knew it was a miss since I was aiming about 6 inches ahead of her hoping she'd keep running. I cranked another shell into the barrel and hoped to have gotten a second try at her but she had already ducked into the timber. Smart deer! Oh well... a couple of the guys I was hunting with got some does so it wasn't a complete loss and of course Mace filled his deer tags but no elk for any of us. Oh well some seasons are better than others and the warm weather and lack of snow didn't help any. All I have to say is Bambi better watch out next year *jokes*

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Gobble Gobble

Ahhh Thanksgiving! Today is my absolute favorite day, let along holiday of the year. I awoke, as I do on may days, when the sun hadn't even thought about coming over the horizon yet. The house was quiet and gave me time to reflect on everything I am most thankful and grateful for. I let the minutes tick by and decided to see if I could catch the start of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on Satellite and by golly I could. So with my feet kept warm by sock monkey slippers (a great gift courtesy of Kami from a few years ago) and a fleece blanket wrapped around me I sat in the living room next to the crackling fire drinking coffee with cocoa enjoying the same parade I've always managed to watch year after year since childhood. There was something very comforting about watching the festivities. I can remember always getting up early as a child to catch the start of famous parade and an hour or so later mom and dad joining me down in our basement with their own mugs of coffee or cocoa. Its a tradition I just can't get past. It definitely made me miss spending Thanksgiving with my family though, but I'm trying to stay lighthearted today so I wont go there in this post. So as I'm typing this I have a break in cooking. The stuffed turkey is in the oven. The pies are already baked and cooling (apple, pumpkin, and mince meat... I couldn't resist). Jello salad is setting up in the fridge. All I really have left to do is mashed potatoes and gravy and green bean casserole. I am definitely a traditionalist when it comes to Thanksgiving day meals. Mom and I would always go all out even if it was just the three of us having the meal together that afternoon. We couldn't help ourselves I think. Each time we'd start to plan out the menu we'd remember things we liked and would just keep adding to it. Cooking would take hours but it was so much fun and so rewarding in the end... not to mention the weeks worth of left overs that always resulted. So if you can't tell today is a happy day and I do sincerely hope that you are all enjoying it where ever you are as well. Love and God's blessings to you all.

Monday, November 17, 2008

New News on the Dad Front

Well I'll be buggered. For those that didn't know already dad is back in the hospital for like the billionth time, or at least so it seems. The docs were still worried about how much weight he'd been dropping so they admitted him yet again and started up a pump that runs 24 hours full of a nutritional suppliment called TPN. I'm sure its not the best tasting stuff in the world so its a good think they are running it through a Pick line in my Dad's upper arm. He ended up having a series of X-Rays the other day with Barium contrast and they found that his intestine has a nice kink in it which could be part of the reason that he still isn't able to keep any food down that he's tried to consume. If its not one thing its another. So how are they going to deal with this. Well thats a fabulous question actually since it hasn't really been long enough since his last radiation treatment to do surgery they are kind of tentative about their plans. Obviously they need to get the kink out and as soon as they can at that. Soooooo the skinny is that on Wednesday afternoon his surgeon is going to put Dad under anesthesia, make a small incision and see how things look. If dad reacts poorly to the incision and look about, the doc will sew him right back up and they'll try again in another 10 days or so. If things look good he'll continue on with the surgery and unkink the part of the gut that needs unkinked (is that a word???). So if you have a few extra minutes on Wednesday and the thought crosses your mind, please keep my dad in your prayers and hopefully things will start getting better for him after everything is said and done. Have a great week folks! Love ya.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Skating anyone?

Okay I know that I was begging for snow in my last post so this one may come as a contradiction, but I ABSOLUTELY HATE ICE!!!! We've been having a ton of rain lately which means there is a lot of standing water on the roads, both paved and dirt. Well I had to drive up to Kalispel for a meeting yesterday which typically is no big deal and I usually enjoy the 2 hour drive going up through Plains then cutting through Hot Springs where I generally wave at the town since Scott still lives there (I think). I really should stop one of these days when I'm off the clock and see if I can hunt him down to say hello. Anyway I digress, I got out of Kalispel around 5pm which again isn't too bad except the rain had slowed down, the temp had dropped like crazy and all the standing water on the road was now just a sheet of ice. If you ever take the short cut between Plains and Polson, remember not to do so on an icy day since the road is about as curvy as a coiled up snake. Lets just say that it was a long, dark, tense drive back home and I was happy when the day was over.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

So far... Not so good.

I have officially declared that we need a bunch of snow. Why you may ask? Well that would be because I want to shoot a deer. And I know my vegetarian sister who may or may not read this at any point would be screaming "no no... don't shoot Bambi" but to no avail since I'm gonna do it anyway despite her vehement protests. Its not because I'm some horribly evil person that wants to kill things. Its because I enjoy hunting and also enjoy the venison jerky, roasts, and back strap steaks that come from a successful hunting adventure. So far however we haven't been seeing much in the line of "shooter deer". Seen plenty of does and little spike bucks and if it gets toward the end of season and I haven't gotten anything they will be fair game but for now they have an official Tracy Pass Slip. But as for the snow, we need some to push the bigger bucks down into the open and to also push the cow elk down off the high country so that Frank and Mace get a chance at a shot. It will be nice to have a freezer full of wild game. People think I'm weird for thinking that but then again they didn't grow up in my family where elk burger and steaks were more commonly cooked for dinner than chicken or beef. My brother, sisters and I were all raised on wild game and never thought anything about it. It was yummy and so much healthier for us than anything that mom could have picked up from the super market. So my preferences have remained toward wild meat and have missed having to available. So anyone and everyone who reads this, start praying to the snow gods for me and maybe I'll start having some luck.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Well thats an ixnay.

So much for going to the Griz game tomorrow morning. Mom I took dad in for radiation and his normal Friday follow up appointments at the hospital this afternoon and he ended up being admitted for the next 5-10 days. The game plan is to keep him there until he stabilizes and hopefully quits losing weight. Maybe even gain a few pounds in the process. So instead of going to the game I'm going to try and bring it to him. Most of the UM games are broadcast over the Internet and the hospital has high speed wireless. So I'm going to take advantage of it and make sure dad sees his Griz kick some hiney tomorrow. Please keep him in your prayers. We're all pretty worried about him right now. Hope everyone has a good weekend. Go Griz!

In the Tummy of the Grizzly Bear.... GO GRIZ!

It has been an excruciating 3 years since I've been in the awe striking presence of the University of Montana Grizzly football team. I tell you those are a long 3 years. But by tomorrow that will have all changed. Yes thats right. I'm going to go watch our Grizzlies kick some serious UNC butt tomorrow up in Greeley. Dad has been talking about this game pretty much non-stop since the beginning of football season when he found out the Griz were going to playing down here in Colorado. He has been looking forward to this game all through his treatment and told me that no matter what he was going to go to it. So we himmed and hawed about how to make the event as comfortable as we could with dad being such a hurting unit these days. Thankfully Brenda works in a Nursing home and therefore got us both a sporty wheelchair and handicap decal that we can use over the weekend so that at least dad will be warm and cozy in that rather than on the cold aluminium bleachers of the stadium. I'm seriously thinking I should decorate the wheelchair this afternoon with appropriate maroon and silver streamers. I figure if he has to ride in the thing he should be doing it in style. Don't you think? Lucky for me I was down in Colorado at the right time to go as well. So we'll have two huge Griz fans at least cheering our little lungs out at the game. Mom's coming too and she of course gets excited but its not quite the same as the annoying loudness my dad and I share at the games. I'll be sure to fill in the details of our extravaganza tomorrow at some point. FIRST DOWN .... MONTANA!!!!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Just another day in paradise.

I realized today that I had been very neglectful of my blogger page over the last few days. I've constantly been checking Kati's page to see what she is up to (as usual) but just didn't seem to have the mood strike me to write. And in all honesty I still don't feel up to it but what the heck I have nothing else going on at the moment.

Mornings are slow here at the Hancock Bungalo. Thats not to say they aren't nice but it seems like a far cry from hiking the vast terrain of the Cabinet Wilderness by 5 in the morning. I still can't seem to sleep in past about 5 but I guess thats a good thing since I have to get back to it in less than a week. Typically I wake up and the house is absolutely silent. Mark isn't even up yet rummbling around. So what do I do... lay in bed, wide awake, staring at the umbrella that has been decorated to look like a hawaiian hut over my nieces bed. Sometimes I plug the little lights that Rebecca has carefully wrapped around the underside of it and sometimes I don't. Its a quiet and reflective time for me. I find myself having a very frank and humbling conversation with God at thesetimes of the day. Once I hear Rachel's alarm go off in the room next to mine, I start getting with the program. This usually means getting up and listening to all my joints and bones creak and crack a bit. There certainly are days that I feel much older than my 25 years. I blame it on those years of competitive sports and now beating my body against the landscape I love so much. I have a cacophony of sounds from my knees, ankles, back and neck as anyone who has been my roommate can testify to. Mark, Rachel, and Brenda are the first to go out into the world while Rebecca's school doesn't start until an hour later so she and I get to do breakfast together. Its pretty nice having our own little time together. Once she is gone the house is again so very silent. Mom and dad take their sweet time coming upstairs in the mornings though when they finally are up and about Dad and I break out the coffee as I've mentioned in a previous post.

After morning rituals are done, or as dad would say, the 3 S's. We head down to the hospital for Dad's radiation treatments. The treatments themselves really don't take very long, maybe 15 minutes at most but for dad they are excruciating. A few years ago he broke his back and he's had trouble laying on hard surfaces ever since. Most of the time he goes in pretty chipper but by the time he is done we can see how tired he is. It definately takes a lot out of him. But the good news is that Dad is down to 4 more treatments and we're definately having a countdown. There is hope and light at the end of this tunnel. I keep teasing dad about the hair he has coming back... his normally silver fringe of hair is actually darker than it was before he started the whole ordeal. I keep telling him that he's going to have less grey hair than I do by the time everything is said and done. Thank god for dye.

By the time we get back from the hospital and picking up prescriptions and what not, the girls are back from school and our evenings of cooking dinner, the girls going to swim practice,helping out with homework, and watching the normal barage of politcal commentary on Fox News ensues. I must say that I'm really sick of all the hype about the upcoming election. It seems like for the past 3 years that is all that has been on the news. Its not like its honest reporting either. Both sides are skewed so much that its more of a comedy routine than actual news. Thats me on my high horse there if you cant tell. I do get a kick out of watching Fox News with Dad though. He keeps getting so fired up whenver something about Obama is discussed. Can we say that I come from a conservative republican family or what? I like it though because its nice to see dad get worked up about it, its almost as if he saves up his remaining energy just for that purpose in the evening.

So thats my days down here in Denver. Its nothing really exciting but I have to admit that I'vc enjoyed my time with my folks and family. The time has gone by so very fast and its not exactly fair. But I'm sure there will be days in the near future that I come back down to see everyone again.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Why is it that something so cheap and easy to produce tastes so fan-fricking-tastic? I'm just talking about plain ol add some cream and sugar if you want coffee. For the last several months I've been trying to cut down on my coffee consumption and switched to herbal teas. But I felt like there was something missing in my life. Sad but true. So one of the first things I did when getting down here to Denver was buying some coffee since my sister hates the stuff. I know I know... talk about blasphemy. I've been enjoying my black brew ever since. Dad has been drinking about half a cup with me every morning when he gets up. We just sit in Brenda's family room and chit chat about a little bit of everything. I think its one of the few times during the day that he feels halfway normal. Mornings were my time with dad. Having breakfast together and talking about what was going on in our lives. So the coffee drinking is pretty significant, especially since he is actually able to drink coffee again after 13 months of not having a drop of the liquid life force.

I have to say that yesterday was one of the best days my dad has had since I've been down here. Eating was still an issue when it came to plain foods but he was more his normal self. Joking around, giving my nieces a hard time about boys, and even sitting on the front porch and bsing with the mail man who was walking his route. We sat out there together talking and enjoying the fall evening with me slipping dad a chocolate chip cookie every once in a while. When Brenda came home from work we were still out there and she contributed to the fun by breaking out a bag of candy corn. Even after all that sugar in the afternoon his blood sugar levels were good and he kept it all down. Thankfully he only has another 8 more radiation treatments to go and then he'll have to wait a few weeks to find out when they will do surgery. Hopefully that will mark the end of this whole cancer thing for him.

Hope everyone's week is going well. Love and miss you all.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Everyone Came out on Top

Well so far this weekend has been grand in terms of football wins. All the teams I was cheering for (note: I have no voice now) won yesterday and Friday night. Gators, Huskies, and Griz all reigned supreme on the gridiron. Just as it should be.

As some of you know, when Brenda and I get together we happen to embibe just a wee bit. After everything was said and done with Rachels hair, makeup, and dress, she and Dusty scedadled to the dance and Brenda and I popped open a bottle of her favorite chardaney to go with Cheesy Potato Bacon soup from Safeway. I must say with the bread and soup it was a perfect wine. Two bottles and a shot of blueberry vodka later, Brenda was snoozing away happily in the big overstuffed chair while Rebecca and I were still up and watching the movie Harold.

After the movie ended I was still wide awake so I gave Mace a call to find out if he was feeling better. A nasty flu bug has inundated Trout Creek and it finally made its way to Mace and the rest of his family. Guess I got out of Trout Creek at the perfect time to avoid that plague. Thankfully Mace sounded 10 times better than he had the day before. I know he was miserable and its absolutely no fun being sick like that when you are alone. He's still a pretty weak and dehydrated but I'm sure by this evening most of that will have been resolved as well. At least thats my hope anyway.

Welp I need to go finish getting ready for church. Hope everyone else's weekend is going well too. Check you on the flipside.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Today Go Gators Tomorrow Go Huskies and Griz!

I am being inducted into the multi-team cheering hall of fame this weekend. Rachel, my oldest niece is having her high school's football homecoming day tonight. I have been invited to come along and hang out with her friends at the game and cheer my lungs out for her poor little Stanley Lake Gators. Apparently they don't have much of a football team but how can you not go to your own school homecoming right. The dance is tomorrow night though and I get to do Rachie's hair for it. Thats pretty darn cool. She has a fabulous purple dress that her boyfriend Dusty is going to go head over heals for. I tell you I'm glad he is an upright and decent guy because I'd hate to be the one to beat up my niece's boyfriend for being a jerk... and I would if that was the case. They actually make a really sweet couple and I'm excited to be getting a change to get to know him better and see them interact so well.
As for tomorrow I'll be in the stands of Platte Canyon High School up in Bailey cheering on the team that Mark has been coaching for years now. I've only been able to see a few scrimages over the years and it will be nice to see Mark's Huskies kicking butt. So far they are undefeated this season and hopefully tomorrow will just be a continuation of that trend. Now while I may be sitting in the Husky stands and wearing blue and black war paint with the girls but my heart is also going to be with my fellow Griz fans as they play Eastern Washington on Saturday. So yeah... thats my weekend so far. Mom and Dad headed up to Cheyenne today to spend the night and get some simple house stuff done. If I hadn't already promised Rachel I'd do her hair I'd have gone up with them but I'd made the prior committment and I want to hold those kind of promises. I think its good for them to have some time to themselves too and they'll be back by tomorrow afternoon so I'm not horribly worried about not going with them. But since the weather is turning south even as I'm writting this, keep them in your prayers for the return trip tomorrow. Have a great weekend all.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

I Hate Circadian Rhythms

I swear to God I had every intention of taking advantage of sleeping in on this trip but my internal clock is making that rather difficult. I woke up only 18 minutes later than my alarm at home would have gone off. I guess small progress is still progress but waking up at 4:48 rather than 4:30 doesn't seem like much consolation. I have to say though Becca gave up her bed for me and it was fabulous. So much better than sleeping on the hidabed in the living room. Not that I would have really minded that either but its nice to not be sleeping in the middle of the common areas of the house and having a little peace and quiet to myself. Just so you know... my nieces are just the coolest kids in the world. I love that we are so close and that we can always have fun together. It was nice sitting with them both this morning before they headed off to school and goofed around together. No matter how old any of us get we'll always be silly together. Its also nice to see what beautiful and considerate young ladies they are both becoming. They are showing some more serious and introspective sides and have such a good relationship with each other even when they are both in pissy moods. I know by family relation they are my nieces but I swear they are more like my little sisters. Its a nice relationship.

That's it for now... I need to get some work done. Woo hoo for writing grants on elk winter habitat restoration.

ps...Even after Kati reminded me to take my camera with me to Denver I somehow managed to forget it... forgot my razor too but that's another story. My Bad!!! So much for taking cool pictures while I'm here. I guess you'll just have to deal with pictureless posts or just some representative pictures of Denver like the one from last night that I kyped from the internet. So sorry... its a bummer. But I will get Brenda to take pictures of Rachel's homecoming and email them to me so I can post them later.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Mile High City

I made it to Denver safe and sound. All flights went off without a glitch for a change. I already miss Mace like crazy, but I am glad I am down here. I can already tell that this is going to be a good visit. Have a good night all and God Bless.

Short and Sweet

I should have more time during the next three weeks to get some posting in since work wont be getting in my way. I'm flying down to Denver today and wont be back until the 27th of October. So keep me in your prayers while I travel and please more than anything keep my dad in your prayers because he's having a rough time with his treatments right now. Love you all!


Saturday, September 27, 2008

How About a Pumpkin Split?

Yesterday was dooms day for Polly's pumpkin. About 3 weeks ago her pumpkin had stopped putting on any size to it and we all figured that it was because it was just too cold at night for it to be growing anymore. So yesterday Polly decided it was time to cut it off the vine and get the official weigh in. Frank made a handy dandy platform sling that he hooked up to the bucket of his tractor so that after we cut the pumpkin off, we could easily get it out of the corral it had been growing in. Much to our disappointment when we lifted the thing onto the platform we found it was no 260 lbs like we'd been figuring. Something was very wrong. After hooking the platform to one of the sping scales Polly had for weighing beef, we found that her pumpkin only weighed 180 lbs after subtracting the weight of the platform from the total.

After taking a few pictures of it with the kids and consoling each other over the bumminess of not at least having a 200 lber we started rolling the pumpkin around to check it out in its entireity. In doing so we found the problem. In one of the creases on the back side of the pumpkin there was a split that ran almost from the stem to the butt of the pumpkin. Not only that but right where it had been setting on the ground there was a hole big enough to slide most of my hand through. I could reach in and start pulling out seeds that were rotten. That was the reason it was so light... it had lost all its solidness and bugs were eating it from the inside out. We're not exactly sure why it split but our currenty theory is that the pumpkin tried growing around the board we had it set on and the strain on the wall was too much so it just split at the edge of the board. Mace and I are going to get onto Pumpkin Chat and ask around to see what may have caused it to happen or if our theory is valid.

The good news is that even for the problem of it splitting, Polly's pumpkin is still gorgeous. And for our first try at this its still a big pumpkin. The bad news is that with the split, we doing think its going to make it to Halloween. Its already trying to rot and other soft spots are forming on the back wall. But for now it looks awfully cool sitting on the lawn in front of Polly's house and the kids think its pretty darn amazing. My pumpkin is still growing strong so I don't think there is any worry of it being split. Mace and I plan on cutting it off the vine a couple days before I head down to Denver so I can see how much it weighs. Then when I get back I'll carve it with Lane and Gracie and we'll set it up for Halloween.

I have to get my camera back from Polly... we took a bunch of pictures and she's downloading them to her computer. Once I do though I'll post some of the pictures on here and you can see how hers did. Have a great weekend all.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Talk About Amazing

My parents just celebrated their 43th wedding anniversary on Thursday and I can't help but think I hope and pray that I will be as lucky some day. Its becoming such a rarity that people actually stay together at all, let alone 40 some years. I think I'm truly blessed to have come from two such strong and caring individuals. And the best thing is, I know they are still madly in love with each other. I'm not saying its the same giddy kind of love that they probably had when they met as teenagers, that's right they'd been dating from the time they were 15-16 years old to the time they got married, but a mature and deep love that you only get from knowing and being with someone that long. When I first think about my parents individual characteristics I think of two very different people, so maybe opposites really do attract. But when I continue to dwell on it I see more and more similarities between the two of them. Their deep rooted Catholic faith, their love of science, nature, and history, their sharp as a tact intellects, their ties to family values both from past generations to their own children and grandchildren, their desire to be the best people they can be in this short life, and the fact that they grew together toward common goals. That's the stuff of love for a lifetime. Yep I really am lucky to have grown up as theirs. And as you can see by the picture, the grandkids are lucky to have them too!

Since my dad has been sick I have been thinking more and more on these kind of things. I guess that's only natural, though I wonder if the rest of my siblings have done the same. It definitely has been a year of reflection on my part and maybe that's why a lot of emotions have been closer to the surface for the past few months. And as most of you know I tend to keep a lot of things bottled up pretty tight so its been weird not having that same control over it as usual. Frustrating actually. Good thing Mace is a patient listener.. well patient in that he'll calmly wait till I'm ready to say anything about what I may be feeling. Hard to let go of old habits. But in some ways its harder anyway because I miss all my girlfriends from Missoula. I'd never been one to hang out with any number of girls until college and found it great when just chit chatting over random stuff. The serious stuff would come up and it was easier to talk about it with them. But I really don't have that here. Trout Creek is by far a male dominated community, and not meaning to sound horrible here but there just aren't many women my age with a "non-party" and halfway intellectual attitude or lifestyle that I might feel comfortable having as a friend. Heck... there just aren't that many women even close to my age! So it gets a little frustrating at times. And even when I do get a chance to talk to my college gal pals on the phone I don't feel like getting into the sad parts of my life (that just gets depressing), I want to enjoy hearing from them and joking with them instead. Messed up I know... lol. Gah even on this I don't like getting into it.

Sooooo we're going to leave that all by the way side. I started this post on a positive, MY PARENTS, and by God I'm going to leave it on a positive as well. What could be more positive than the awesome apple pie I mad this morning and letting cool right now. That's right... nothing. I must say this one is gorgeous don't you think? Apple pie is the shizzle. Polly has a great apple tree in her garden that had a boom crop last year. We spent hours picking, pealing, slicing, and freezing most of them for apple pie and apple crisp fillings during the year. I tend to like to put the apples in oatmeal in the morning before heading off to work. Its filling and delicious. But I looked in my freezer this morning and saw one lonely ziplock bag stuffed with apples from last year and realized that a new crop is going to be ready for picking any day now so I might as well used these babies up. So I am. I should be a baker... I swear! Set up a bakery for other people to enjoy my goodies. Most of the time I'd rather bake it than eat it and cooking has always been a stress reliever for me. Good thing I have a bunch of people that love what I make so that I'm not really hogging out on it myself. My rear end thanks them as well... lol. The staff in the office love me. I'll drop off some goodies in the morning in the conference room next to the coffee maker and by the time I come back from the field every crumb is gone. I think the guys in my office are glad to have me around. I keep watching food network and finding more and more recipes that I'd love to try. Glad the holidays are fast approaching so I can try out a few of them for Turkey day or Christmas.

I suppose I ought to go check the pie and make sure Flash hasn't gotten to it while its cooling, and then go down and check out Mace and my pumpkin. 270 LBS PEOPLE!!!! If it grows just another 7 inches it will make 300 lbs. I'll be happy with that though if the weather holds out we might be able to reach 350 lbs. Really makes me wish we had started the plant earlier and had a little bit longer of a season. I can't imagine how huge it really could have been. Signing out for now... have a great weekend everyone. Oh and of course ... GO GRIZ! (its homecoming today).

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Pumpkin update

Just had to post this before I went to bed. I measured our pumpkin this evening and by our calculations it should weigh over 250 lbs now!!!! Its also started to turn to a nice deep yellow-orange and shines when the sun hits it just right. Talk about gorgeous. I'll be sure to take some pictures after work tomorrow and post them on here. Its even filling in some so its much more round rather than like a big flat wagon wheel. Okay... thats the excitement for me today. Well that and I avoided getting sprayed by a skunk that wandered by while I was eating lunch on Gem Peak. Woo hoo!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Colorado Rocky Mountain High

My tickets are booked, my itinerary sent to those who might need it, and the appropriate people are excited about me coming to see them. Yep that’s right; I’m going down to Denver again. Initially I’d hoped (many months ago) that this visit would take me to Cheyenne but with Dad still going through medical problems and still living with Brenda, Mark and their two girls in Westminster my travels will take me to Colorado. Not that I mind. Over the past 7-8 years I’ve probably spent more time in Denver with my sister and her family than anywhere. Whether I’m sleeping on the hida-bed in her living room or down in what I call “my room” in the basement, going to Brenda’s is always a good time. Even when I was there for a month in Feb/March under pretty horrible circumstances I still had the comfort of being with close family and being in a familiar setting after spending hours in the hospital during the day.

I’m a little nervous about this trip. Not the traveling or anything like that, but not being sure how Dad is going to be feeling. The last time I was down there I knew he was going to be pretty miserable after surgery and I was better prepared for some long emotionally challenging days, though there were some things that I’m not sure I could ever have been prepared for if they had happened, but we won’t dwell on that today. With Dad starting radiation on Monday, and continuing that 5 days a week for the next 6 weeks, and still being on oral chemo treatments during that whole ordeal I’m not sure what kind of condition he’s going to be in. And that alone worries me. I just know that I wanted to make sure I got down to see him and my Mom before the snow starts flying up here and I’m not able to get out. Even flying in October may be a little tricky since its predicted that we are going to have an early and very hard winter here in Northwest Montana. I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll be able to fly out of Missoula on the 7th.

But for good reason I’m also excited about the trip. I love spending time with my family. Anytime we get together great memories are both shared and created. Brenda told me she is running out of meal time ideas so in my spare time I’ll try and find some cheap, easy ideas that I can take down there and help out in the kitchen. Dinner usually revolves around some sort of chicken or ground beef as the main protein so I can understand how that can get repetitive after a while. I have the same problem here at home. If nothing else I can make pancakes from scratch on Saturday mornings and through so chocolate chips in there for Mark and the girls. The last time I was down there I made a few loaves of lowfat banana bread that got scarffed down pretty fast. I’m sure I can make some more or some coffee cake that Rachel and Becca love.

Marks football team is doing great so far this season and I’m hoping to be able to go up to Bailey at least once and see the boys play. I lived down there for 4 summers and while Mark always told me how his two a day practices were doing I only was able to stay long enough in the season to see a scrimmage. So it would be a real treat to see an actual game. Mom and Dad have been going up and rooting with the family since its kind of reminiscent of the small high school football scene at Seton Catholic where my brother and sister went to high school. There is a special feeling when it comes to rooting for the underdog because they always seem to come out on top even though they don’t have the numbers in their population that the big time high schools do. I can scream my lungs out with the best of them. Heck I haven’t been to a football game since my last year at U OF M… I need a little sport in my life!

Anyway… I’m rambling now so I’ll stop for now. Hope everyone is having a great weekend. God Bless and GO GRIZ!!!!!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Care Bear Stare

Well it is that time of year again when the bears are out and about getting fat for the upcoming months of torpor (fancy word for hibernation... aka bear lethargy). Bears don't technically hibernate. My mammalogy professor took 3 days in college explaining why it wasn't actually hibernation but a food induced comatose like situation called bear lethargy or torpor which is why their body can still have productive contractions during cub births in their dens. I wont bore you with the details but it was interesting stuff at the time and you'll just have to accept it.

I was out running another stand exam yesterday morning and within a two hour period I came across two sets of black bear. The first was a sow with two cubs from this season that were absolutely adorable. I wish they hadn't been so spooky or I could have gotten a couple more great pictures of the cubs. I was lucky even to get this one. There is absolutely nothing as cute as a bear cub. Note of caution though... try to stay out of mama bears way. Black bears may be skiddish but they aren't stupid. If they think you are going to try and harm their cubs they wont wait a second to come after you. Most of the time though they either tree up or go running off through the forest. This mama bear and one of her cubs ran for the nearest dark patch of woods while the last of the cubs was confused and started to climb up the nearest aspen tree. He got about halfway up before he realized the rest of the family wasn't doing the same and came crashing down the tree and rumbled after his mom and sister. I basically just leaned against a tree and watched with a smile on my face. They were a good 50 yards away from me before they realized I could be something dangerous walking through the woods with tree borer and tape measure in hand. I think it was the orange vest and hard hat that gave me away... *laughs*.

The next bear I came across was a young female that was pretty curious about what I was doing in the woods and just climbed up a nearby tree and watched me while I worked. She didn't seem fazed in the least that I was intruding on her grazing. I made my measurements pretty quickly however and continued on my merry way in order not to spook or anger her to much. She posted herself in a tree down hill from me so with the zoom on my camera I got a really great shot. Luckily enough I have not run across any grizzlies in my adventures out in the woods though there are plenty of them out there. Several area's in which I work are grizzly relocation points of bears that have tried pestering camp sites in Yellowstone and other prominent tourist areas. I've seen sign of them but thankfully they are smarter than their black bear cousins and boogie out of an area long before I even know they were there. Last summer I made some great castings of grizzly bear prints with a grad student and bear researcher from MSU. I know I know... booo to MSU but he's a great guy and is do ecological studies that will be really interesting if they get published. Environmentalists keep saying the griz population around here isn't healthy and vibrant... this kid has other news for them. David has seen enough proof to know that our population is actually one of the healthiest in the griz recovery areas... plenty of cubs... plenty of habitat to grow in... not as many people for them to come in contact with. Take that you GREENIES!!! Not that I'm bitter or anything. It just gets frustrating when you're told over and over there isn't a sustainable griz population in the area and you know otherwise. I know I'm preaching to the choir here so I'll stop. Hope everyone is having a great day. I'm loving my super short Labor Day Holiday Week! I'm already in my weekend here. Woo wooo!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Boo yah!

My pumpkin reached the 100 lb mark today. I might get 200 out of it yet. Pray that it doesn't freeze. I've begun to make gord sacrifices to the pumpkin gods... dancing around a fire and lighting pumpkin spice candles for effect. *just kidding mom, you know I'm not into false god worship* But it is a joke between Mace, Polly and myself. I still say if our pumpkin had gotten as good a start as Polly's had we would be kicking her little hiney. Her pumpkin has a good 20 days on our and is only 40 lbs heavier now. I'm gonna catch up ... I just know it.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Appreciate Your Heat

That's right I'll say it again you city dwellers with electric or gas heat, you better appreciate that luxury and how easy life is with it. Out here in the boonies most people resort to two types of heat. The first is clean burning propane, as Hank from King of the Hill would say. Its a great fuel source for heating anything but its downsides are the price up here and the fact that you have to have a monster sized propane tank sitting somewhere relatively close to your house in order to get you through the winter.
The second option, and seemingly most popular in this neck of the woods is WOOD! Just about everyone I know has some sort of wood stove or even wood belly furnace to keep their houses warm in the winter. I tell you what, nothing keeps a house as warm or dry in the winter as wood heat. I certainly learned to appreciate that over the past two winters when I would come into the house after a day in the field snowshoeing, getting cold and wet. But of course wood does not get delivered by little elfin type fairies, no no, if you want it you either have to have the chainsaw and wood permit to go out and get some, or know someone that will do the work and sell it to you by the cord (for those of you that don't know, a cord is a volumetric unit that is a pile of stacked wood measuring 4x4x8 ft).

Now Frank, Polly, and Mace are all hard working, independent people, so I'm sure you can guess which option they go for every winter, that's right WOOD! That's not to say that they don't have propane on the side in case of a particularly hard winter, but their primary source of heat is a wood stove in each of their homes. Each spring and fall Frank and Mace buy a wood permit, lovingly provided by yours truly out at the ranger station, and head out Martin Creek or Huckleberry with two 3/4 ton pickups and a 17 ft flatbed trailer. In a days work the two men can load the trailer and two pickups with anywhere between 3 and 4 cord of wood. That may not sound like much but when you look at everything loaded it seems like a ton. Mace's house is smaller so he only goes through about 8-10 cord of wood in a winter, the other house is a lot bigger and has a fireplace which is less efficient than a stove, so I shudder to think how much would we go through there. All I know is that Frank fills a bard full of wood and by the time spring rolls around there are only a few hunks of red fir or larch rolling around.

So over the last couple years I've participated in getting wood with the boys. Yesterday was just one such occasion. You all know me, I'm not one to sit around and have things done for me. I'm living here so I think its only right of me to help. Besides I'm no fragile little gal that's afraid to break a nail. Nope, not me, I'm out there with a set of gloves, work boots on, and picking up 30- 50 lb pieces of wood with the best of them. We all take turns between running the chainsaws, moving the trucks, and loading the rounds in each one of the vehicles. Between the three of us it goes pretty fast. Mace and Frank pretty much have it down to a science so the first few times I felt like more of a hindrance than a help, but I've gotten the hang of it and will run the block and cables from the downed timber up to the road as fast as any guy, maybe even faster than some. Now I couldn't go work with the guys from that show Axeman or anything like that but I pull my own weight.

Once the trucks are loaded, the battle is only half over. This time of year with the rain fall and freezing and thawing between night and daylight, the roads off the mountains are pretty well beat up. Around every turn you either meet a washboard surface or some pothole that makes the truck dip precariously in one direction or another, which isn't too great when you have round pieces of wood stacked about 5 ft high in the bed. So we take our time and occasionally have to pop out of the cab and go adjust the load a little. Then we head home to offload and restack the wood. By the time everything is said and done we're all sore and tired and ready for a shower. All in a days work right? Oh wait... yesterday was my day off... *laughs*.

ps... I guess that means today we need to split it all and restack it again. It never ends.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


I am happy to report that, after measuring my pumpkin today and comparing the measurements to a very sophisticated table provided by that a lot of people with too much time on their hands compiled, my pumpkin has grown quite a bit. The last time I blogged on here about it an put that picture up the circumferences was 37 inches was only 15 days old (the number of days it has been set on the vine) and weighed approximately 23 lbs. As of today, only a week later, the circumference is 58 inches and weighs 59 lbs. Talk about growth! I know its nothing compared to those giant pumpkin growers on the East coast that are breaking records with pumpkins that weigh over 1600 lbs but its a start. The seed that we started from came from a guy living in Pennsylvania and was about 830 lbs when the season was over an done with. I had hopes that we would get at least a 2oo lber by the time our season ends so maybe it will still happen if we can keep it safe and warm into the first part of October. We started the seed way too late compared to what those East coasters do, but then again they have a longer season to start with and don't have the big temperature difference between daytime and night. Mace and I are even talking about running an electric blanket out from his house to the pumpkin so that when its covered by all the tarps the entire system will be water proof and warm. If it gets too much colder at night we might just have to. I want my chainsaw worthy jack'olatern! Polly's pumpkin is a behemoth weighing in at over 100lbs already though hers doesn't seem to be growing at nearly the speed ours is. Hers is a prettier pumpkin by far though; perfectly round, bright orange and not a scar on the sucker. Ours on the other hand... well its had some identity issues. Its trying to change to orange but taking its sweet time doing it. It has a few blemishes that I can't figure out how they even happened. And there is no such thing as round in its pumpkin vocabulary. One side seems to be growing faster than the other and the top of the sucker near the stem has a big indentation for no reason whatsoever. With all its little imperfections we still love it though and treat it like the king of the garden it has become. So all hail King Pumpkin... ruler of gardendom!

ps... I'll post a picture of it with this blog tomorrow. I forgot to take one today.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Woodland Elk Crossing Guard

I got an up close and personal view of a bunch of cow elk today. There I was minding my own business using my factor 10 prism to find what trees where in and what trees were out of my stand exam when suddenly I hear the snapping of twigs and the rustling sound of underbrush. Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal to me except for the fact that it was literally over my right shoulder and very near, which would give me very very little time to react if the critters coming my way were dangerous. I don’t know if these cow elk were particularly dumb or the breeze was just wafting my scent away from them but within a few seconds 4 cow elk and one very young bull broke from the underbrush into the clearing to my right.

Deciding to enjoy the experience and since they didn’t seem to be all that worried about me, I took my pack off and sat with my back up against a huge larch and watched them while I entered habitat type data into my stand exam mini handheld computer. Yes the days of recording data entry after data entry by hand are past. Now I have a computer the size of an old school game boy prompting me to answer stand questions. The cost of each one of these little buggers is $2800… seems outrageous compared to a piece of paper and a pencil. In some ways it’s great because it makes sure I don’t leave out information, but at the same time it doesn’t really give me the option of writing further notes to explain some of the entries since old growth stand exams run a little bit differently and require additional information. So I still lug around a big metal folder clipboard to write more things down. It is a bigger pain in the butt really. But my gripes about technology aren’t the point here.

As I was sitting and watching over the next few minutes I realized that I hadn’t checked the status of my cow tag online yet. Yep, I can be watching and animal this noble and majestic and still be thinking about how good it’s going to taste this fall. Creepier yet (for those of you non-hunters) and better yet (for those of you fellow hunters) I began thinking which one of these particular elk would make the best meal and of course began wishing it was about 2 months later, I wasn’t on the Forest Service clock, and had Mace’s 7mm with me. So what do you suppose the first thing I did when I got home was? That’s right, get on the state’s fish, wildlife and parks website, type in my ALS number, and check and see if I got a cow tag. Much to my major disappointment and chagrin I hadn’t been drawn. My hope of putting an elk of my very own in the freezer is not to be this year. I know… so sad isn’t it. At least I can still go deer hunting. This buck I saw last spring would do nicely. I actually wonder how big its antlers are now. Doesn't matter I guess. I'm just looking for a nice tender deer for roasts, jerky, and backstrap steaks. Robin (my vegitarian sister) is cringing right now reading that I'm sure.
Mace was bummed about my lack of elk tagage too and gave me the “well there is always next year speech” (little solace at this point and time). He had checked his status a few weeks ago. Luckily he got his cow tag and so did his dad. Hopefully the weather will cooperate this year and we’ll find a nice juicy cow since last year it wasn’t till the last day of the season that Mace found one and couldn’t get a shot on because of how warm hunting season had been. My countdown to opening day though has begun….. Tminus 56 days! Woo hoo!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Pumpkin Prowess

Fall has definately come around this neck of the woods. Its not just because the weather is cooling down a bit or the fact that the sun doesn't hang for quite as many hours in our big sky as it did during the long days of summer.There is a difference in the air that I just can't quite explain but can definately feel. It wont be long now before the western larch's needles start turning a bright yellow-orange. Thats actually pretty cool around here because of how many larch there are in our forest. You don't really think about how many there are until the needles turn and whole hillsides are a contrast of orange against the deep green of all the other trees. Those will make for some great pictures to post on here when the time comes.

With the creeping in of fall I find myself hoping my pumpkin will grow faster. I feel like a witch or mad scientist out in the garden waving my hands chanting "grow my little one grow". Don't worry I haven't gone off my rocker, I'm just excited about how big this little sucker might get. It set on so late that its having to play catch up to Polly's 100 lb one now. I'm very jealous of my future mom-in-laws gourd actually. Its a nice bright orange and a perfectly round 67 inches in circumference as you can see from the pic I took of hers yesterday. *sniffle sniffle* It puts mine to shame at the moment. I can't really complain though. My pumpkin is still in that light yellow baby pumplkin stage of development though it should start to get more orangy any day now. My little guy has put on about 20 lbs in the last week and is starting to so show some umph. I think its weights close to 35 lbs total now, though maybe even a bit more than that since its getting harder to lift. Its kind of a pain in the rear end though. Mace and I are so paranoid that it might freeze at night (already had frost Aug 1st) that we have a system of covering the entire pumpkin plant every single night. It starts with wrapping the pumpkin itself up in a giant towel, then putting a big box over that to keep the little guy as warm as we can. After the pumpkin itself is covered, we use the system of boards we set up running the entire length of the plant to support the 6 tarps we need to cover the plant. It looks pretty haphazard after all is said in done but it keeps the plant a good 20 degrees warmer than the rest of the garden, which is worth it after all the work we've put into pruning and burying the vine itself day after day. I know it sounds like a lot of extra work, and it is, but its been really fun seeing something grow so much so fast that it seems worth it. Again... there isn't much to do in Trout Creek Montana, I have to get my kicks in somehow.

I picked the last of my raspberries and made the very last batch of jam yesterday. Mace's chest freezer is pretty much filled to the brim so I'm not exactly sure where I'm going to put these last 8 jars. Between making raspberry and strawberry jam, freezing the peppers we've roasted from the garden, and the litany of other stuff we've made and canned over the past few weeks cupboards both at Mace's and Polly's house are getting stuffed. Its a nice feeling really seeing all the hard work paying off. Weird thing is is that both gardens still haven't be fully harvested. We've just been picking at it as thing have ripened but there is still a ton out there. All the onions, carrots, rest of the beets, more peppers and tomatoes, green beens, peas, etc etc I'm not sure where everything is going to go. Its been a great growing season and the produce has been yummier than ever for it.

Last night Mace and I cooked for the whole family using pretty much just stuff from our garden. We had a giant salad with carrots, lettuce, cucumbers, yellow peppers, and red onions all of which came from our garden except for the lettuce. Then we had elk steak cooked on the grill with roasted new red potatoes and carrots (again from our garden). It was one of the best meals we'd all had in a long time. Fresh veggies are just too yummy. To top the night off we all sat around a fire pit outside and roasted marshmellows with Lane and Gracie (Mace's nephew and niece) and watched the shooting stars til midnight. All in all it was a great evening.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

It Feels Like the Plague

I had been battling a cold for the past 3 or 4 days. Apparently yesterday's adventure in the rain was the last straw. My body gave up the ghost and I had to call in sick today. I barely slept last night because I kept tossing and turning in bed. I hate when you get a head cold and only one nostral is stuffed up so you flip over to your other side to try and get your sinuses to adjust only to make the original nostral clear and the other stuffy. So its a tetter-totter act all night trying to find some comfort. Hopefully today I'll recouperate and I'll be able to go in to work tomorrow so I don't use a sick day up since tomorrow is actually the start of my weekend for me. I'd like to save any time off I have in case I need to go back down to Denver if Dad has another surgery. Time to take some more Theraflu (the non-non drowsy kind... I want to sleep) and get back to bed and a book. Anyway, keep me in your prayers and waft some healing juju my way.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Rainy Day Blues

The weather around here just seems to go from one extreme to another. Sunday we had 100 plus degree weather and now its down to the mid 50's and rainy. I just can't win. I was out in the field by 5 this morning and it rained every single minute of the day. Luckily I pack my rain gear no matter what everyday. It definately came in handy. I think I need to re-waterproof my old pair of Carhartts though. I did it a year ago but I think the waterproofing has finally given up the ghost in the wash because about 30 minutes into my hike to my first site my pants were absolutely soaked through from rubbing against scrub brush and bear grass. By the end of the day I was glad to get home to a hot shower and a warm pair of pj pants and a hoodie, not to mention some coffee as well. I must admit the rain did make for a pretty picture though. Hope everyone's week is going well.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

I'm Mellllting!!!

Why is it that anytime you want to spend the day outside that it turns out to be like a furnace outside. I woke up this morning, went to Thompson Falls to go to church by 7:30 and it was so nice out. Perfect 70 degrees, sunny, nice little breeze so I was hoping it would stay that way. Boy was I wrong. I stepped out of church an hour later and was welcomed by a blast of sweltering heat as soon as I opened the door. Ick! Have to say I made a quick dash from the church steps to the air conditioning that I knew awaited me in Mace's car. It had to be 90 degrees by then and even hotter by the time we rolled back into Trout Creek. After a quick change into shorts and a tank top I thought that maybe it would be tolerable to be outside but soon found out that I was mistaken. I was going to go down to Mace's and help him mow his yard today but he said he wasn't up to battling the heat either. Can't say as I blame him. Hopefully as the sun begins to set this evening it will cool off and we can tackle at least part of it. I almost feel like going outside and joining Gracie and Lane in their little kiddie pool out back. Every half hour or so Lane gets out and turns the water faucet on to cool the water down again.

This kind of weather makes me think of when I was working down in Denver and living with my sister Brenda. Over the 4th of July one summer we both had the day off and I invited my friend Kati to spend the day with us lounging around in Brenda's hot tub and drinking ice cold margaritas. Don't worry Mom, we were both over 21 at the time. Actually Brenda and I had several hot tub margarita parties. It was pretty cute when Mark brought out a round with fresh cut roses from Brenda's garden decorating the glasses. He's such a sweetie really, though he would rather die than ever admit to it. I have to admit that spending those few summers down in Denver really brought me and my sister closer together. You'd never know there was a 16 year age difference between us. We developed an adult relationship that is pretty special really. Thats not to say I don't have great relationships with Robin and Brian, my other sister and brother, but its not exactly the same either.

Well enough of this writing stuff. I think I'm going to go rent a movie at the local store and head over to Mace's to hang out in the coolness of his air conditioner until it cools off a bit and we can mow the yard. Hope no one else is melting like we are or like these clocks are for that matter. Kudos to Salvidor Dali... lol

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Critter Twitter (part two)

Ahhh, Saturday morning and I finally have time to continue with my critter/work related saga. Life is good! So where were we? I already talked about my wolverine, doing goshawk and harlequin duck surveys, my bats in an earlier post, and old growth stand exams in a previous post as well. I guess that means I'm up to flamulated owls and mountain pine beatle attacks.

From about May to the beginning of Aug, I work intermitently at night. Not just because of my work with various species of bats but also because I spend several weeks calling for flamulated owls. Because this owl is strictly nocturnal and you wont hear a peep out of him during the day, I use a multi use caller to try and get a response from the little bugger at night. If I get a call back from an owl I keep calling and taking azimuths until I can triangulate the position of that particular bird. Then in the day time I return to that area and see if I can find a nest site to monitor. This species looks like a minature version of a screech owl with eyes as black as coal and live in Ponderosa pine stands. Its actually pretty amazing we have any of flamulated owls on our forest since we have few true old grow ponderosa stands. They seem to have adapted to a mixed stand of ponderosa, doug. fir, and lodge pole pine. I think they are kind of cut really. And they have really long "whooo whoooooooooooo" kind of call. What every kids grows up thinking an owl should sound like.

Another project that I'm involved on with the Siviculturist on our district is a genetic improvement project for Western White Pine and Whitebark Pine. This is a pretty big deal. For those of you who were in my forestry/wildlife classes you'll know what I'm talking about but since this blog is for everyone here is a little history and breakdown of the problem. Mountain pine beetles inhabit pines, particularly the ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine, and the white pines. During early stages of an outbreak, attacks are limited largely to trees under stress from injury, poor site conditions, fire damage, overcrowding, root disease or old age. As beetle populations increase, the beetles attack most large trees in the outbreak area. The beetles kill the trees by boring through the bark into the phloem layer on which they feed and in which eggs are laid. Pioneer female beetles initiate attacks, and produce pheromones which attract other beetles and results in mass attack. The trees respond to attack by increasing their resin output in order to discourage or kill the beetles, but the beetles carry blue stain fungi which, if established, will block the tree resin response. Over time (usually within 2 weeks of attack), the trees are overwhelmed as the phloem layer is damaged enough to cut off the flow of water and nutrients. In the end, the trees starve to death, and the damage can be easily seen even from the air in the form of reddened needles. Entire groves of trees after an outbreak will appear reddish for this reason. Usually older trees die faster. After particularly long and hot summers mountain pine beetle population can increase dramatically which can lead to the deforestation of large areas. The attacked areas are hard to miss as you can see here to the left. *sigh... whew didn't know if I could make it through all that* Everybody still with me or was that too much??? If I bored you I'm sorry, I think this stuff is pretty interesting. So what does that have to do with me? Well those trees that resist the attack are super important. They are the trees we use for genetic improvement of the whole stand. Each year I go out and find white bark and western white pine trees that have indicators that they have survived and beat out pine attacks, such as the streams of hardened resin. I code and mark each individual tree then come back and cage as many of thier cones as I can to protect them from clarks nutcrackers (like the one here to the right) and all the squirley species that will eat the cones. A month or two later I go back and de-cage the cones and collect them to send off to the Forest Service Genetics Lab. There they look at the resistance factors and create genetically improved seed from which to grow new sapling to plant in areas that have been devistated by the pine beetle attacks. This kind of work is important for many reasons. Whitebark pine and western white pine forests are habitats used by many different species of critters, including grizzly bears and being as I'm a U of M grad and our mascot is the griz, I think we ought to keep them thriving don't you?

So what else do I do? Well last year we had a miserably hot and dry summer and so I spent a good 3 weeks to a month up in a guard tower watching for fire starts. Thats the tower I was in up on Star peak last year. It not much to look at but it served its purpose. I give a lot of credit to those guys in the old days that did that all summer long. It doesn't sound like a tricky job but it really is. Its amazing how tired your eyes get when looking out accross the forest through a pair of binoculars day after day. Its also kind of a lonely job. Sure you have radio check-ins with the dispatcher and call-ins for supplies and what not but thats not the same as having a nice conversation or even chit chatting with someone. Another problem is that at certain time of the day the clouds swirl in a way that look like it could be smoke. So you have to sit there and check and recheck until you are positive its just a cloud. It wasn't all bad though. I got to rough it for a while and eat out of a mess kit. Yes, thats right... I call that fun. Makes me think of camping. Plus the night sky up that high is amazing. Shooting stars all over the place, I started to learn my constellations since I brought one of my field guides with me that had those kind of charts in it. It was a peaceful and someone reflective time when I had the chance to let my eyes go back to normal.
Well I think that concludes my critter saga for a while. I'm sure I'll remember more and experience more things that I'll have to post on here. But for now this will do. Hope everyone is having a fabulous weekend. I'm going to go out and garden up a storm now. Hasta luego mis amigos.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What should be isn't

I was going to continue with my critter saga today but found I just didn't have it in me. So sorry to those who were waiting on the edges of your seat for it. You'll have to bear with me and give me another day. My headache is going full swing and I actually spent most of the day sleeping. But now I have to go off to work and hope that my throbbing head abates a bit through the night. I'm sure its due to lack of decent sleep but hopefully I'll be back on days within the week and can get back to a normal sleep schedule. But until then be patient and the critter twitter post (part 2) will soon follow. Peace

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Heck with Stranger Danger... Try Critter Twitter!!! (part 1)

Since I don't talk to my friends and family every day, or with some even every month, when I finally to talk to them and they ask what I've been up to my mind seems to go blank. Its not that I've been doing nothing. No quite the contrary. Its that I've done so much that I don't even know where to begin. I work in a field that you switch from project to project and have about 20 things going at the same time that my focus from day to day switches. That also means that I need to be able to access the knowledge needed for a specific project just as fast. During the winter its a bit easier since I'm not out in the field nearly as much and I spend a lot of my days in the office going over all the data I collected in the summer. But while spring and summer field season are in full swing I feel like I'm going a mile a minute. So here is a little break down of some of the things I do. Yay... its Story Time with Tracy again!!!

One thing that I have going on, and one of the most exciting in my little book, it my monitoring project on a wolverine that we caught and collared last winter. Some of you already know the story but for those of you that don't... here ya go. Sometime before this past Christmas, I'm not exactly sure when anymore, we had a local come into the office and say that he was pretty sure he saw a wolverine cross the road up over Steven's Peak in front of his snow mobil. Now for those of you that don't know, wolverines dont usually just pop up out of no where, especially in the middle of the day. They are night time critters. But not only that, wolverines had never been known to exist in this part of the country. The closest one we knew about was up in the Yaak, just south of the Canadian boarder up in Troy District. And at that, that was a fairly recent occurance. Wolverines just didn't come down this far south in Montana. My boss was a bit skeptical about the whole story and thought that maybe it was a fisher or martin that crossed the road and the local was mistaken. But just to be sure Doug (the the big chief) and Steve (the second big cheif) told me to take the big diesal 4x4 powerstroke (thats the big guns in the winter) and check it out... and oh try not to get stuck in the 4 feet of snow on the way up. So after making sure the big boy green rig had chains in the box and a snow shovel in the back I made my way up to the peak. A couple hours later, and a glorious few dig outs to put the chains on those huge tires I got into the area. Low and behold the local was right. There were wolverine tracks crossing the road a couple times up there. So after straping on my trusty snow shoes, donning my gloves and hat, I took after the set of tracks that looked the freshest. The further I got from the road the more tracks showed up, and not only one set, but two. It was a mother wolverine and a kit that she, for some reason, didn't throw off for the winter. Finally it got too late and I headed back home to tell the office the news... it was a big deal. So after relaying the event so the big chiefs they decided that I was going to get ahold of a few of the biologists in the Fish and Wildlife service and see what they wanted to do about our little find. Thats when I met Ray Pederson, one of the carnivore kings with Montana FWS. Great guy I might add. After about a month of planning and everyone sending me back and forth up the peak to find where exactly the wolverine and her kit were denning (thank god for remote sensor night cameras), we set a day to capture and radio collar the adult wolverine. Now this truly was an experience for me. I got to be up close and personal with a critter most folks will never see in their lifetime. Ray darted her and I got to collar, record, and program all the gps settings because I was going to be the one monitoring her for the next few years and relaying the information to FWS. I'm happy to report she is healthy and still in the area, though I'm not exactly sure what happened to the kit. I think she finally threw it off this spring to make room for possible new kits. Big thanks goes out to Ray for forwarding the pics he took of the collaring since I didn't have any of my own.

The first project I usually start off the field season with is monitoring Northern Goshawks nests. If you are every interested in doing this yourself you need to invest in a good hard hat. Why? Well because when you happen to be in a nest area, the Norther Goshawk, particularly the male, is pretty damn protective. They dive bomb you with beak and claws at the ready. In our area the Goshawks are a species of special concern, so we are trying to monitor how many returning pairs we have return every year to nest and hopefully find some new pairs in the process since they seem to be moving into the area more and more. We go to each known nest site at least 4 times in a field season. The first time is to find a pair in last years next area and pin piont if they've moved and for what possible reason. The second and third times is to check on hachling success and the forth time is to check on fledgling success like the one over here on the left. Well he's more of a juvenile but you get the point. Its the last three times you really have to worry about being attacked. These birds are a pretty neat critter and have a really neat call if you like that shrill cross between and eagle scream and a crow caw. Once you hear it you'd never forget it. Well and the fact I have a caller that we use over and over to find the suckers. One of the neat things about the Goshawks is that they are an indicator species for the overall health of the forest they put their nests in, guess that means we are doing something right in those particular areas. Woo hoo, thats a switch.
Another bird project I get to do over the summer is one I absolutely love since it really beats the heat in June. Harlequin Ducks! Yeppers I said I get to work with some pretty niffty duck. Not only are the really pretty to look at they are fun to get near. This project entails me walking up and down some of the creeks that feed into the Clark Fork River in a set of hip wadders. Harlequin ducks are fast water ducks so you'll often find them in the rocky breaks on the creeks where whitewater starts to form. They nest next to the calm water pools though so you really have walk the whole creek to find them. This is usually best when done with too people walk the creek though. Usually you have one person start at the head of the creek just about where its wider than 3 feet, and the other person walks up from the bay side or the mouth. The only real dangers in this project is slipping on the river rock and getting a little wet, but then again thats how you beat the heat. Again we're monitoring hatchling sucess with this species because they are another indicator species of water habitat health. Its fun when you finally find a family of them and they are piddling around trying to teach the bambinos how to swim behind mama. Usually it involved a lot of baby quacking and flopping around near the shore until they finally get the courage to take the plunge.

In the interest of time, I'm going to have to make this a multi-part post. So I hope you enjoyed this segment and others will soon follow. Plenty of critters to go.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Gorgeous Scenery

So what you might be asking, since there isn't much to do in the god forsaken middle of nowhere town, is why do I live here in Trout Creek. Trust me it isn't because of the two bottom of the line bars (boy do I miss the Rhino and Arriba) , post office, and country store that sells everything at about 200% mark up. No its definately not any of those. I does have to do with the job and the country though.
Most people probably wouldn't appreciate it as much as I do, especially those folks that have lived here their entire lives *cough MACE cough cough*. Its always been around them so they don't think about the beauty and wonder of it all the time. See coming from Cheyenne the surrounding area looks like this picture over here on the left. Now don't get me wrong. I love where I grew up. I loved feeling the wind (and there is plenty of it) blow against my ears when I would walk my dog in the praire above my house. I loved the sunsets and the rolling hills. I loved that you could see for miles over the waving long grasses. But my love for the forrest developed fairly young. My mom and dad tell stories of going camping with before I'd even turned 1. They plopped a box on the floor of the camper and made me a bed. As I got older, 4-5 yrs old, I couldn't wait till the spring and summer rolled around because it meant going up to the Snowies and camping for the weekends. It meant being in the woods. It meant hiking, chopping firewood, getting to shoot dad's .22, and cooking on the coleman stove. I still love the smell of white gas in the stove and lanturns. It meant playing cards with mom and dad when it was pooring rain out. It meant taking my dog and dumping her in the lake up at Lake Owen and Rob Roy. The woods held this special place in my heart and I wanted to be there as much as I possibly could get away with. The older I got the more I loved it too, since I was able to do more.

So once I had the career of my dreams working in the woods and working with criters how could I really complain. Well I still complain about Trout Creek itself but thats just a minor detail. The country is truly spectacular. One place that I've spent quite a bit of time in this past year has been the Cabinet Moutain Wilderness Area. This pic here on the right is the view from the other side of Freezout Creek up over Vermillion Pass. Actually Vermillion in general is where I've spent a great deal of time since thats the latest area for Old Growth Stand Exams. Basically that just entales going into specified stands and making sure they meet old growth criteria for protection. The forest in my district pretty much all burned out in the 1910 fire so we really don't have much for old growth and the Forest Service Forest Management Plan says that we should have at least 11% old growth forest for species habitat. HA HA HA... thats a joke. When you are dealing with a single story stand as the remainder of the forest I'd be shocked if we actually had 2% old growth. So what do we do about this? Well thats where I come in again and perform Common Stand Exams on "potential old growth" stands. Meaning I look for indicators in a stand that within the next 50 or so years that the stand would make suitable old growth habitat. If we have "potential old growth" that goes toward that 11% I was talking about earlier. I know I know... it seems kind of like a cheat but its the best we can do in a single story stand that evironmentalists wont let us thin and make at least multi-story. But I digress again here. The point was that the scenery actually is quite lovely even if it isn't the healthiest forest in the world. I see that as one of my goals. Making the forest healthier for the critters that live in it. Dad would be proud of that bit of forestry intellect I have in me.

The picture you see right above is another view of the Cabinet Mountains but from on top of Chicago Peak. I took this in the middle of May so you can tell we had a lot of snow over the winter and a late spring at that. In a lot of ways it made for a great year. I got to do a lot of winter work and hiked my buns off (unfortunately not literally... still have more buns that I'd like) with a set of well loved aluminum snow shoes. 

Anywho, thats enough from me for now. I'm going to go enjoy the weekend. Its Huckleberry Festival Y'all! Tootleloo.