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Monthly Archives: June 2019

Here comes the arctic front with days of hail, rain, and mountain snow.
A detail of the bluebirds in the storm pic. They finally decided to move from the garage to the new (2 years ago) nest box on the old power pole by the garage.
Clearing old nests from a bluebird house, and these eggs were a few nests down. E blew them clean and brought them home to SLC.
Xander inspects the groceries, while I get to work with the new hardware outside.
Last year the bees moved their hive three planks up, and a wren built her nest in the old hive. All empty now, so I foam them all closed. I also triaged the pecked and bored out corner planking with a long run of angled metal sheathing.
Up at the corral iris bed, before adding in ground cloth to the first two levels. A project abandoned after too many snakes under the rubber tarp made us wonder if ground cloth is just asking for more snakes.
All the weeds are piled on the old rubber pond liner, which in turn is piled on a nest of Garter Snakes and a fat Bull Snake. Clue: there is a discarded snake skin top L under the RR tie that E and I had startled ourselves with earlier. Of course I pulled the liner back just where the Bull Snake was coiled up. I used a rake to pull the tarp back more and Garter Snakes went everywhere. I went into snake overdrive and killed the Bull Snake with a shovel; even after seeing he had no rattle. They will flatten and widen their heads when threatened, to look like a rattlesnake, and he struck at the shovel after my first attempt wounded him. Glad he wasn’t the real thing, as it took me a sec to line up the second kill blow. A real rattler on a hot day (it was barely 50) would have had me- probably when I pulled the liner back. No more rubber liner tarps.
When E and I were up for Xmas we were visited by a whomp on the roof, and the clatter of little feet. Not Santa. A packrat knew to jump from the big pine to the house and had one or three entrances at three eve overhangs. I baited the basement trap and killed him, then reset the trap and it remained empty. Still, I need to block up those holes. I need to make a hook ladder. I’m not sure how long to make it, so I go with overlong at 16 feet. I use 2×3’s to keep it light, but strong. The rain and chill is about to shut me down for the day.
The next morning I create the hook, using bolts to secure the 90 degree angle protruding through the top. The legs will fit over the peak of the roof- and I will have to cut them down in-situ to fit the opposing angle of the connecting roofline.
Nora gives me some advice on rooftop safety.
The peak delta needs both ends capped, and to the R where the roofs overlap each other is the third critter problem. This will require the ladder be moved a few times. The plan for blocking critter access is first to push expanded metal into the gap, then fill everything with dense spray foam. This needs to set for about an hour, which means it will probably definitely rain on me when I’m up there, and rain lots more when I get down. Then I head back up for more rain and cut the excess foam away, and cap it with bondo heavy body. Weather permitting.
AL ladder is braced with webbing to the deck support, keeping it from kicking out when I’m on the second little ladder laid flat on the deck roof (this one is there mainly for descending from the wooden hook ladder). Then the hook ladder is pushed up over the crest and flipped over so the arms brace against the other side.
I also invested in this roofing climbing harness in case my wooden ladder wan’t as clever as it seemed.
I’ve screwed a support beam into the tool shed, and will climb up, toss the rope to E, and she will tie me off from the other side of the house.
Up we go.
Nora knows her plan is solid, and doesn’t even need to watch.
It might also hail a bit once you get up there.
Then hail a bit more.
Then sock in for a few days of 40 degree temps raining hard enough to send Nora hiding under the bed all night, while it snows on the mountains.
The hail slides off the roof in sheets.
In between storms I move the ladder and do the other side.
The bondo matches the color of the steel roofing; each end of the delta is backfilled and capped off. Just the last overhang to go. I thought I’d be able to scrape and paint while I was up, but the weather barely let me get my real fix done before we timed out and and had to leave. I did tighten down and add in many more roofing screws.
While the foam was curing up on the roof, I decided that one of my little improvements might get a feller killed- in blocking off the steps to the basement from packrats I had created a perfect rattlesnake den. I backfilled it with rocks and capped it with foam panel and wood sheeting. Next I lined the wood sheeting with cling wrap, closed the door, and sprayed in expanding foam. This will stick to the door and not to the panel for a perfect fit, and I foamed beneath the foam panel as well.
Here I’m cutting away the excess foam of the seamless fitting for the now snake-proof door. When closed it looks like an ice-cream sandwich. I will buy a bunch of chip rock granite and backfill the area I’m standing in, and a few others as well- just to make a smooth surface that allows no snakes to hide: E had a garter snake tell her a thing or two from the sandstone portion.
The view from the top on our way back to SLC- let me zoom in for you…
Mount Baldy is to the R in the distance, covered in fresh snow, now a few days old. We take the pretty back route over Bridger pass into Bozeman for more June snow.

Grant deadlines have kept E busy ’til now, and lucky for us, the weather up North has been cold and the spring has been slow. We saddled up the truck and jumped out of town in a hurry, as soon as E could break away. After a cool and blustery drive up, I unloaded the truck in a twilight rain squall.

June 17th at the ranch. Job #1 is always The Yard. We have arrived three weeks late for our spring mow. The overall season for Montana is 20 days behind the average, and up here the lilacs have just bloomed and the Iris are coming in.

The morning’s high grass needed to dry out from last evening’s rain before mowing, so I set about fixing the water heater, frizted during last fall’s hunting party, replacing both elements and the bottom thermostat. The elements were really stuck in there, and took some ranch-ineering to create smooth enough application of leverage to break loose without breaking. Got it all figured with a thick old bent nail and a section of pipe.

The cold & wet spring convinced us to forego the bicycles, and instead we brought up my lawn mower to live out its golden years helping this brush mower keep the yard in check (E found a used electric mower for our little postage stamp of lawn in SLC). Once I knocked it all down, we let it dry and E followed up with the bagging mower. The bag would fill at every turn.
E pulls wagon loads of weeds from the flower beds while I make the initial pass of the brush mower.
Nora helps me keep the old brush mower set at its highest level- the front end likes to drop from its pins.
Many late freezes have nipped the lilacs, blooms are still emerging.
We take a yarding break for some Bluebirding: many nest boxes are full- 6 chicks in most nests. My white pvc cylinder nest boxes are all full of Tree Swallows.
This was a busy deer bed two nights ago; two days of yarding to address the lawn.
Imagine if the 400 iris I planted a few years back hadn’t all disappeared.
E and I have just finished weeding the bed, to the right is the mass of weeds on a now infamous rubber mat.

-from E’s letter home: Last fall, Dan had put down a used rubber pond liner to deter weeds there at the edge of the iris bed where the foot bridge ends over to the corral gate. He pulled back the liner and discovered where all the garter snakes were living and a larger snake that looked like a rattle snake without a rattle. Eghads what a greenhorn mistake! Nine or ten garter snakes (each 24 inches in length) slithered away, but the other snake stood its ground. We had both been walking all over the rubber surface and stepping on the snakes, so that added to the weirdness of the discovery. Dan was pretty freaked out and decided to off the larger snake to be on the safe side. Internet searches when we got home confirmed that we killed a bull snake. They are difficult to distinguish from rattle snakes and flatten their heads to resemble rattle snakes when threatened, which is just what the snake did. So, we feel pretty bad ….. but with treatment cost of rattle snake bites coming in at $100,000 – $120,000, we thought better safe than sorry. 

It is warmer along the S wall of the house, and the lilac garden is in full bloom.
The bigger Iris bed in front, expanded last summer, will begin to bloom by week’s end.
This year’s cold spring have kept my hard trim of 7 lilac bushes looking ratty. The two in the middle are beginning to fill out. Later in the week I trimmed the suckers around 5 and laid ground cloth around one. It takes a whole lot of cloth to go around a bush, and I wanted to save some for the big iris bed at the corral (all prior to the discovery of the rubber mat snake haven).
Last summer’s White-Faced Wasp nest is now the home of our friendly Wren.
The willows are off to a slow start with frost pinched tips. On our last morning two pair of Bullocks Oriels arrive- double our previous nesting population!
The creek is running clear and strong, as we’ve pulled debris and cleared the shores for the past few falls. (and the cattle are up on the hill as yet)
A little marsh ends here at the bridge, a Mallard and his mate flushed from just around the bend.
The mower and I freed the poppies from the overburden of grass and weeds. Just through that shadowed spot at center is our Rhubarb patch.
Nora with the rhubarb.
This section of the yard is left wild. In 2013 I removed all the metal scrap that been heaped for years, which was replaced by weeds and wild carrot that I knocked back, and now it is finally looking healthy.
The Cedar Waxwings, Robins, Wrens, Bluebirds, Goldfinches, Calliope Hummingbirds, Kingbirds, Oriels, Bats, and bunnies are all pretty happy with the digs. No sign of our house bees, although the sub-letting bumble bees are busier than last year. I just learned of the Old World tradition of “Telling the Bees”- informing the household bee hive of any deaths, births, or marriages; best done through rhyming song sung softly at their entrance.

Just after dark a funky short semi truck drove past, and a bit later E saw bright lights up the coulee. It was our bee keeper, dropping off hives while the bees are all home for the night. He headed down and placed hives at the neighbor’s as well.

This pair of swallowtail butterflies kept busy in the lilacs.
As big as my hand and always here or there or drifting in between.
This 4’x3; painting was begun last fall, and then I was crowded out by the plants coming in for the winter. With the plants out on the deck for the summer, I’ve been back at it for awhile now and thought I’d post some progress picts.

Mount Arikaree and Arikaree Glacier are the subject of this painting. I’ve summited this 13 thousand foot peak more than 20 times. After the last ice age 10,000 years ago, the glacier retreated into its cirque. Glacial meltwater passes through the talus field to emerge on the low shoulder of the mountain with only 1 part per billion of sediment- some of the cleanest water imaginable. Colorado State University’s Alpine Research Center is based in this glacial watershed, and last year they predicted Arikaree Glacier would be gone by 2025, with the sister valley’s Arapaho Glacier meeting its end soon after. I was the protector of these glaciers and their watersheds from my 18th birthday though to my 30th; I kept individuals from leaving physical footprints and infecting the watershed with giardia, but all the billions of humanity’s footprints are stomping it into oblivion now. While painting I’m streaming interviews with arctic / antarctic scientists, biologists documenting the 6th Mass Extinction, investigative climate journalists, climate activists such as Extinction Rebellion, Dark Mountain poets and authors; keeping my head in the game of reality while memorializing the heart of the mountain, already so much smaller, and ever smaller, and gone. Climate Collapse is finally obvious in everyone’s back yard, and if your back yard is alpine wilderness, it is already over. There is a white-hot place in my mind now that wasn’t there in my patrol days, a spot the glaciers kept cool, and now with them dying- it is a strange inescapable light, an ultraviolet long wavelength, a wave form of oblivion.

This is the underpainting combined with blocked in color from last fall, just a few layers along. Before any painting, I had to create the “canvas”- MDF sanded and primed, and a new hanging system using a French Cleat on the back ( I may go back through my other large paintings and retrofit them with French Cleats as well).
Acrylics allow opacity or thin transparent washes, so I’m going back and forth a bit with bold areas of saturated color followed with multiple transparent washes to tone and shift.
Eventually I hope it will feel as if the sun is setting far below us, shining back up to the mountain- creating the indigo/violet/magenta spectrum that can’t be seen on any other solid object save a high mountain at sunset/sunrise. Unless you are there seeing it, it will seem impossible and even fake- however within the large field of this painting I am pushing and pulling with value/intensity/saturation and hot/cold contrasts trying to find an immersion that allows the odd sensation of being there in that strange light. These pure colors are invisible to the eye in the white light of day, and occur only when the sun has already set and is long past the horizon for all the lower elevations, allowing these wavelengths of light that vibrate on the extreme ends of the visible spectrum to reveal themselves with a clarity that stuns the imagination. Still a long way to go…