Montana Homestead


The ranch hangs in the rain shadow of the Little Belt Mountains, and when the lowlands are dried to dust and ash, twilight rain squalls blow out the day’s heat on our high perch. The storms gather in premature twilight, and announce themselves with a whip of lightning and a booming voice that shocks deeply, echoing up and down the valley and reverberating from surrounding hills. This rainbow appeared just after sunset. The cloud, still pelting rain, tipped its underbelly and caught fire from the sun- already beyond the mountains of the Continental Divide and below the horizon- and banded a nearly circular rainbow that doubled and tripled, shining in an ultra-red bandwidth I’d never imagined possible and the camera was powerless to grasp.

A few years before cancer took my father, his sole companion and stalwart cattle-smart Border Collie- Ben, was scalped and nearly killed by an 800 pound black bear. The bear killed him a few seasons later, and was in turn shot and killed by the Belt High School art teacher. The next season my German Shepherd chased a juvenile black bear out of the yard. The bear is much larger now, and Stanley the Keeshond is no replacement for Carmine the Shepherd when it comes to bears: and the bees that we had nudged out from inside the walls of the house in the 1990’s have returned- and the bear wants their honey. His muddy paw prints decorate the wall under the front porch that the bees live behind. He chewed up a porch column in frustration as they lit out and stung him. Then he went to the back of the house and tore off an eight foot run of siding, trying to get at them from another angle. Elizabeth and I arrived and saw the results of his attempts on the hive. I patched the back of the house with steel roofing leftovers, and set 20 bug-tags for cattle’s ears under the eave of the porch near the mouth of the hive. The poison tags convice the bees to pick up and move their hive, honey & pupa & queen & all, to somewhere else. It worked the last time they moved in, but it can take awhile.

The house has running water, gravity fed from an ice-cold spring. There is no hot water any more. I brough up a sun-shower this year, and the second day of its life it was strapped to the old derelict propane tank in front of the house to soak up the sun. E and I biked up into the Little Belts along Belt Creek to the old mining town of Neihart, then drove down to the town of Belt and found an old used lawn mower for the yard. When we returned the sun-shower was laying in the shrubs surrounding the propane tank, gruesomely / mercilessly – slain! The shrubs were pressed into a pathway of the bear, and the propane tank was scratched by his claws. That night we slept with the doors closed, and the next day, on a trip to Great Falls to see the Russel Museum’s exhibit of Russel’s watercolors, we stopped in on some friends and called Fish & Game about the bear. The following day Ranger Kelly arrived with a live trap Bear Can, and baited it with raw chicken, fruit, and honey. He was 2 for 2 on trapping bears this season, and so far we have blown his streak. I hope the bear stays away and the bees move out and I can get back up and pull the walls apart and clean them and fill them with hard foam and rebuild it all- so the bees and bears keep to themselves. If a bear is caught twice, it is killed- so better see the bees on their way and keep the bear alive and away from the house.


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