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The storm rolled in while we were in town for a late afternoon hardware store / grocery run. 4-wheel slip-n-slide back up to the house. In a lull the next morning I put in this new gutter drainpipe. The house and I came to a modified agreement of how this might be possible, still needs adjusting, but the rain soaked me off the ladder.

Nora gets me up at 3am and I dozily take her outside for piddles. There is a little lightning from a far valley over the high hills. Nora is terrified of thunder and has had a rough time during the days of storm- her Thundershirt has taken the edge off, but when the lightning thunders she shakes so hard her teeth chatter. I sleepily wonder if she awoke me because of the storm when a flash blinds the night, and Nora manically races a tight circle around my feet. The thunderclap sends her like a shot out into the night, straight toward the forest, and untold miles of nowhere. I run to the house for my headlamp, and call for her swinging the dim beacon into the rainy ink. I jump back inside and grab the truck keys, jumbling the key fob to chirp the locks: she loves the truck and always races to it when it chirps. I can feel the next lightning bolt building in a dead pressure, and Nora flashes out of the wet night appearing at the door and bolts inside. There is a large metal roofing panel affixed to the house outside the door, where my dad’s dog frantically ate away the house panelling in a mad terror during a pounding storm; and that dog wasn’t afraid of storms.

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Grass seed for the new berm before the rain really soaks us.

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Porch fix is my rainy day outside project. I rebuilt the floor and ceiling of the porch back in 2008 while I was helping my dad through chemo. The brittle synthetic quarter-round trim I’d dressed it with didn’t make it through one winter, and has bugged me since. I backfilled all the gaps with expanding foam and/or silicon caulk, put in all the new quarter-round and caulked the seams. The porch beehive is empty, save for a bumblebee who flies in and out even in a heavy downpour.

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The Kennedy Rocker I restored last fall keeps me company while I pop off all remaining old trim and finish nails. I get it all done just after dark, and finish by the glow of the old yellow porch light.

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Morning is misted and still. And soaking wet.

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The woods fade gently into the clouds.

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The lilacs are weighed down with rain, and have stalled their bloom.

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E & Nora escape the house during a break in the rain.

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I work between the raindrops to move a bed of lilacs I’d temporarily planted in a fairy-ring in the grass of the back yard two seasons ago, mixing with iris split from the front corner.

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Expanding the bed pulled out these border stones (added just a few years ago), so I reset them as a decorative border to help with the roof runoff.

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I split open old salt feed bags to block off the new bed ’til we return in July. 

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Look up at the ceiling for a view of the new quarter-round and fixed seams of the ceiling panel. The blue bench was another yard sale resurrection from last fall.

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After a few more bouts of rain E places newspaper around all the newly split Iris along the corner and I gather and spread pine needles/cones as mulch. We also weed and bailer-band-line the big garden out in the yard- we’ll move many volunteer poppies from the back yard there in July (they are just about to bloom now).

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I place old roofing tiles at the foot of the retaining wall as weed barrier.

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The little waterfall we added to the creek at the footbridge is churning away with high rain water.

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So many wet greens- the rain pressed down the high grasses on the steep hillside.

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I used the pick-axe to needle around and find most of the remaining sandstone deposited along the creek from years back. I moved them up to cover the roofing tiles and define the iris bed.

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Next I cut open and lay out a big tyvek grain bag found in the old machine garage.

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Then stake it in place. This area has issues with stinging nettle, wild carrot, sows ears, and every other kind of weed.

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The storm breaks apart in the later evening, and we have a cotton-candy sunset. Tomorrow is the cattle-drive. 

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Mid-morning; stone hefting time. The space from the Iris to the stream is backfilled with a variety of sandstone rocks, put in 5 years ago when I had bobcat help for a project that never happened.

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One wagon load at a time, the stones pile on. 

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One last section to trench and grade. This concrete boulder was an unwelcome find.

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Drainage trench is added.

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Belarus is a Balkan state of the old USSR; in the late 1980’s they entered the U.S. tractor market with a great 4×4 unit at the half the price of other tractors. My dad, who only bought ancient used farm equipment at estate sales, bought a brand new Belarus tractor and it outlasted him. This old inner tube was lying in a corner of the big garage.

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I fillet the tube.

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Trusty Russian rubber will line the new grade.

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Another early morning trip to the shale seam.

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E picks a nice bundle of limestone.

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We head back up and fill all three buckets with limestone.

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wait for it…

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Limestone over shale, with a border of sandstone. Some day I’ll make sandstone steps to continue the big slabs by the storm door.

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Now the basement will be much drier, and the original concrete slab from the 1800’s should remain intact til’ the end of civilization- so another decade or so…

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All the dirt from the grading made great backfill for this new retaining wall of rail road ties, leveling out the yard as it drops off into the creek.

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My plan for this little bit of yard and stream from 5 years ago is beginning to take shape.

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I added in bailer banding to edge the garden along the ice house, just above the new retaining wall.

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While I was at it, I put in edging for this flower bed. Its mirror bed on the other side of the path is lined with brick, done four years ago, and holds 30 purple iris- all about to bloom.

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We are up early with the sun, and hear the Ruffed Grouse make his whumping ramp-in of booming thumps quickening to a whirr; his mate lives in the yard and she flew onto a perch in the willow trees yesterday with a big thwack. This is the second year she has been with us, but the first time we have heard the male. We also were entertained by a yard battle between Bullock Oriels, a yellow juvenile male and a mature orange Oriel. The first we’ve ever seen them here. The mature orange would drive upstart yellow into the stream and hold him in the water on his back, and when not crashing him to the water, he would trounce him in the willow brush pile. Their flying display and chatter went on all afternoon. This image is part way up to the highlands, just below where our blue bird houses begin. We aren’t here for blue birding, but another blue.

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Blue Shale is the blue we are after. A Killdeer is nesting nearby and runs about faking a broken wing, or fully lying on the ground making her best death throes; no one buys it. I have two big red feed buckets that blew into the valley last fall, and an old steel one as well. I will fill these with stone that I snap from their fault lines with a pickaxe. This will be my drainage fill for the runoff zones down at the house.

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In the late 1970’s the county got permission from my dad to dig here for road surfacing on our county road. It seemed like a great idea, but once broken down to a pumice after years of traffic the shale becomes the slickest & gooiest surface ever imagined. The old seam snaps easily enough with persistent pops from the pick, and all three buckets are full in about 40 minutes. 

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E and Nora find this nursery tree of woodpeckers and bluebirds.

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Low range 4 wheel takes us slowly down the fields and back to the house. I dig a trench out into the yard to disperse the roof runoff, away from the bricks I laid in last night.

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Bucket number one ready to drop.

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Bucket number two, twice the volume of bucket #1, is slid into position. 

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The holes are filling up.

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Should have dumped this one first, as it has the big clean shale shards. I toss them in to bring down the weight before dumping the rest.

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Some backfill dirt and the sod is replaced over the dispersal drainage.

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Rain is in the forecast, so we’ll see how well this works!

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I use the dirt to backfill an ever-dropping zone where the outhouse had been (one of two locations for the outhouse- back before indoor plumbing and a septic field- which is directly under the wagon…)

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The grade rolls down against the house- aarg. Even the concrete under the storm door grades steeply toward the house. I’ll have to dig out the entire area and regrade it.

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Nora offers that the lilac bush needs to be completely removed at the root. I begin cutting it back to a large rootball with my sharp spade shovel.

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In the far back yard, across the stream I find the headless remains of our nesting yard grouse.

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A few steps away I find her head. Just a half hour earlier I thought I’d heard her bang onto her perch in the willows and laughed to Elizabeth. Her murder is more likely what I heard.

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We asked our local lady falconer what would have knocked her head off and left her, and she thought it was most likely our yard weasel. They are like cats, kill switch always on.

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I buried her in the yard, and when I put the sod over her it pressed out her last warbling chirp from under the ground. This gave Memorial Day an added sorrow. 

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A tough old rootball goes after another tough old rootball. 

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Swinging a pick axe next to a fragile old house takes some doing.

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The old tough old rootball is finally bested by the younger tough old rootball, just before the sun takes away my shadow. The wire mesh is an old triage for a packrat entrance. That will get fixed with concrete on our next trip.

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My shadow is long gone, but the work kept going- so hot to finish all the digging, but I found the shadow again.

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Dug out beside the house, and a long trench drops into the yard. Now I just have to grade the whole area by the house.

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The sod roll at the end of the trench- chocolate lime sweet roll. In the shade of the willows, beyond Lyle rock, is a growing mountain of soil.

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Trip #2 to the shale seam for 40 minutes of pickaxe for me: accompanied by the vaudevillian theater of the Killdeer. Meanwhile E has found another seam on top of the shale, a seam of limestone rocks all neatly breaking into similar fist size shards. She collects these and piles them into the truck bed.

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The trench is deepened, cleaned, and the grade set from the house and the storm door and the yard. Then lined with roofing tar paper- found in the old garage.

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The entire load of shale is gobbled up by the huge void. I toss E’s limestone into the trench, even though they are so pretty, they lay a perfect bed.

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Trip #3 to the shale seam. Nora is using her management skills (see shadow to R) to ensure a maximum of 40 minutes of pickaxe & shovel for me, with limestone rock collecting for E (I promise not to throw them into the hole this time).

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Blue Shale drainage grade.

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E’s limestone is at the foot of the storm door. I try out a big sandstone rock that tapers nicely with the grade.

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8pm. at it since 6am. done for the day…

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We took a new scenic route heading to the West Gate of Yellowstone from Idaho Falls, then on Hwy 191 along the Gallatin River. The river was swollen and roaring with the winter’s 200% of normal snowpack. The river leads us down to Bozeman. We had two mountain passes to choose from at Bozeman, and the heavy traffic and intersecting roads turned us about and we wound up heading for the more remote pass. The tarmac turned to gravel, and the gravel turned to dirt, and the dirt ended. We were a long way out in the hinterlands, just us and this brewing storm. We turned back and asked directions from a teacher closing up her one-room schoolhouse. She gamely explained that the pass we were looking for is only possible in late July, a real 4×4 exploration. We had lost a lot of daylight by the time we made Bozeman again, so we jumped back on the interstate and linked to our little blue highway- figuring we would find where the scenic mountain passes emptied onto their far end, rather than their starting point in Bozeman, and take the open pass on our return trip (which we did, and it was worth the persistence). 

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Day one at the ranch is spent the usual way; opening the house and mowing the vast yard. Day two began with this was-an-Iris garden. Last fall moles ate 250 Iris. The moles were so thorough that it seemed someone had dug all the Iris up and stolen them. We brought a plot of rangy and tough sunflowers from our Utah garden and planted them along the steep L side to help block the wild carrot and rangy weeds. Then we weeded the entire plot, revealing the few Iris remaining, and put down a barrier of newspaper covered with pine needles/cones. The flat end across from the bridge got a thick ground cover of an old pond liner from Utah.

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The lilac bushes throughout the yard were still ramping in to high gear.

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Pine Beetles killed our smallest pine tree last summer and I cut it down in a comedy of errors. Our three remaining pines received med kits to help them fight off the grubs. I drill into the living cambium at 4 inch intervals, insert a plastic needle in the little hole, then tap the plastic jar of insecticide onto the but-end of the plastic needle, then give it a few more taps to secure it within the tree. The rising sap of spring draws out the meds and disperses it through the tree. When all the meds are drawn into the tree I pull out the needles.

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A job in the shade after a long morning on the hillside Iris bed. 

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These two pines (with three heads) are next, if we can get past the massive Iris bush…

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The perfume reaches far beyond the yard. 

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This Sapsucker woodpecker watches me drill into the trees.

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Nora has counted the med kits, and thinks I should put a few remainders on the little yard tree, just to give it a boost.

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She offers her suggestions and mathematic reasoning, knowing I need her help more often than not.

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The string wraps the circumference of the tree, with 4 inch increments marked out so worker-Dan knows where to run his drill. The bit is marked with tape at the plunge depth so the holes don’t punch too deep. All Nora’s suggestions.

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I fixed a little wooden mallet a few years back, and now it comes in handy.

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In real life the lilac’s color seems like a gateway from another dimension- a dimension not visible to the camera.

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The other dimension smells pretty spectacular as well.

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Finishing up. It will take a day or so for the trees to empty the med kits.

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The old Iris garden at the front porch needs a wider plot, and a liner to keep the sod from taking over. I use an old spool of rubber banding discarded from a long-ago bailing rig as the liner wall.

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Most of the time Nora just lets me work along, offering no comment. “Supervising from a mental distance”, or some such is how she explains it.

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Nora checks in with Elizabeth to confirm that I can be left to figure this part out on my own.

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In expanding  the bed on the other side of the footpath, I come across a lot of tree roots from the big pines. The runoff from two pitches of the roof combine at this corner. The tree roots scramble out from under the old slab foundation. The corner of the house needs triage because of all the water- but that will be a different project. Right now I’ll focus on draining the water away from the house. 

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I dig below the slab foundation of the house and shear away all the tree roots. I’ll use the bailer banding to seal the ground line, then go the brick hump with the pickaxe and tease out some bricks to make a low lateral wall to hold the banding tight up against the foundation. 

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The bricks are squeezed into place, with banding against the flower bed as well. More steps to go, but this part is done and it is 7pm- I’ll pick it up again in the morning.

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A tree root, cut at the foundation line, pulling up through the length of the garden. All those Iris need split and replanted, but that will happen in late July after they have bloomed.

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Elizabeth could hear the herd coming over the hill from her respite on the porch, so she walked up the road a piece and spotted them a’ comin’. 

I got up bright and early to make the cattle drive, with frost on the windshield and heavy mud on the road from days of rain. A breeze turned to a wind as the sun came up, and gusted through the chill alpine day. The drive assembled 6 cowpokes on horseback, a slew of 4 wheelers, and a lead truck & trailer outfit, quickly setting about moving the 180 cow/calf pairs 17 miles from their low winter pasture at our lessee’s ranch up to the high summer pasture on my family spread. (Pressing our start was the neighbor’s big cattle drive of 400 head of red angus, a giant red swarm on the high green hills.) It takes 7 or 8 hours to make the distance, with a few little rodeos along the way, but moving a herd of new calves and their mothers always keeps the day interesting. (and it was my 50th birthday)

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This is a zoomed view from the center of the first photo: herd on hill.

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Soon enough the herd was at the bottom of the hill and it was time for her to hightail it back to the house.

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Zoomed view from previous image: a trickle of cows lead the masses.

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An oasis from the herd. The road had been thick soupy mud in the frost covered morning, now dry.

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Bellowing & squealing moos punctuate the low thunder of hooves announcing the arrival of bovine seasonal migration.

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Will last year’s fence repair be convincing enough to moooove the herd along?

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The brave leaders give Nora (inside the yard fence) long looks and a wide berth.

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The herd eases past the house in single-file at first.

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A ranking cow reports that Nora is a harmless glamour-coyote, and the herd beefs up.

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This moving bovine wall streams along, tired out and mellow after 17 miles. 

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The best grass is always on the verge.

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Along comes a horseless cowboy.

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He rolls up to the gate with the herd continuing along.

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Still smilin’ so things must be good.

 

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That spoiled horse had tried all the Barn-Sour Nag tricks over the 7 hour ride; rearing & kicking & screaming & falling over when saddled up; trying to swipe me off with tree branches; freezing and screaming when asked to move; suffering horribly any time her gal-pal pasture-mate was out of view or next to another horse; and finally giving up and trying to lie down near bottom of the hill.  I got off and she was led for the last quarter mile- and even that ended in an ordeal of shrieking. She helped me appreciate my dad’s good old horse Rudy even more, and his good saddle as well.

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The annual spring migration settles in to the lower hayfields.

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Groups of Mountain Bluebirds were scoping out birdhouses along this ridge.

E & I had planned a ski trip to the ranch in February, but Montana’s -20F arctic air and feet of snow had kept us homebound 530 miles due south in balmy Salt Lake City. Last weekend would be the last weekend for snow, so we drove out in a bit of a snowstorm that spanned nearly the entire trip, but only spat out a few white-out 4×4-only sections. We saw a huge herd of hundreds of Elk in the Madison River valley outside Yellowstone Park, as well as a Bald Eagle flying up the river. At Three Forks we saw Blue Heron’s and Buffle Heads (ducks), near where we spotted a Moose and her calf in fall. We made it over King’s Hill pass before the storm settled in, and I jumped back over the snow-blasted pass the next morning for powder skiing at Showdown before it closed for the season.  The rest of the week was spent sledding, taking Nora up Belt Creek canyon for a Nordic ski along a snowbound mountain creek, skiing the snowbound Kibbey Ridge road section of our bluebird houses, stomping about the hills in snow-boots, and keeping the wood-stove fed. As we diddled around on the snow, the Mountain Bluebirds began arriving in threes and pairs- or multiple singles.

Our overwintering Nuthatches had kept watch over the house and greeted us with enthusiastic antics. Mountain Chickadees had joined them and the ranch yard was a jungle gym of little birds catching bugs from the air. On a clear starry night standing out in the frozen silence, a sonar note repeated mechanically from midway up a hillside. It was emanating from a rotating platform, fading and growing more precise as it pointed in my direction, then past me and down the valley rotating around up the valley and down again. I hadn’t known we got submarines up this high, that, or it was a Saw-Whet Owl (it took two bird books to rule out the submarine). Coyotes sang at night and chirped from the hills during the day. The arrival of the Robins and the thawing of the yard creek signaled the slushing of the snow and the mushing of the mud, and we headed home a few days early in a truck more mud-ball than metal.

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Nora discovers what nothing smells like.

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E along the Kibbey Ridge road, our southernmost Bluebird line.

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E & Nora think this might be the last day for skiing, as Danger cleans a bbird house.

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View from the bbird house, down to the Highwood Mountains and Square Butte.

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Highland hayfield with the snowy pyramid of Iron Mountain.

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zoomed view…

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E & I while away the evenings with this 1,000 piece songbird puzzle in the shape of Western Bluebirds, while out in the hills the Mountain Bluebirds are arriving.

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Yesterday these ladies walked up here in a whiteout snowsquall while I was downhill skiing at Showdown ski area.

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Wishing we’d pulled the sled up here.

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Nora gives her lady a smooch.

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The north slope forest behind the house has gathered its snow. The barn is at the lower left.

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Wind and wan sun have already scoured yesterday’s snow from the hills.

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The yard is a thick drifted snowbank locking fast the gate.

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No squirrels to hassle the pretty new bird-feeder. None of the wild birds knew what to make of it.

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E completed this needlepoint over the winter, adding buttons (red berries and a white button sash) from her grandma Holder’s button tin. “A proper vest for a proper Rooster. Every Rooster greets the day dressed in his Sunday best, that’s what proper Roosters do.”, says E. with a giggle, adding, “No, I’m serious.” as we hang him in the ranch living room. 

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We were surprised to see groups of Mountain Bluebirds pinwheeling about, yet it was the day after the Spring equinox. Robins arrived a few days later.

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Living room art installation?

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Last summer I took out a florescent tube apparatus from the 1950’s, quite a contraption, and put in a ceiling fan. I forgot the ceiling paint then, so now it becomes a project.

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Plaster and sand, this is layer 1 of 2+ of tinted Killz paint to cover the tobacco brown spot of the old fixture.

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Smoothing out summer triage from a mouse nest that burst through the kitchen ceiling.

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Dave also put in a new trough in the horse pasture.

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E & Nora stand upon an old wall of a long forgotten building that served a long ago Gerhart.

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This Spruce tree was planted by my Grandfather in the 1960’s. It got a root down to the stream in the late 1980’s and hit a growth spurt. It perfectly obscured the machine shed from the house. One million acres of Montana burned this summer; standing dead forests of beetle kill exacerbated by flash-drought conditions of Global Weirding. This one tree in the yard represents hundreds of millions of trees now gone from the biosphere, probably never to return.

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Bark Beetles have infested it, so I grab an axe and 1,

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2

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3 (tree fell perfectly backwards…lets review the why/how)

When cutting down a tree I’ve learned 3 key tricks to making sure it falls where you want it to. (1) Wedge-cut to 1/3 of tree and at the correct angles to the ground (or @ 80 degree angle to 1/4 of tree is even better); (2) a sly slip-in bore-cut starting a bit higher than the wedge cut and stopping at least an inch from the clean singular line of the wedge cut and; (3) The Tag/Triggerleaving a skein of wood to the outside/back to anchor the tree (steps 1 & 2 create a tripod of sorts that keep the tree standing securely till the Tag is released, and alignments of the slip-in to the wedge-cut keeps the falling tree from kicking back, rolling, or the dreaded barberchair). Stop at each point and check yourself before going on to the next. If at the last step everything is in place, i.e. no pets (in the house is best) and no people on the fall line, pop the Tag with an axe blow or the saw. A good indicator that you have screwed up is if the tree moves mid sly slip-in back-cut and traps the chainsaw. You probably didn’t pre-check for tree lean or counterweight branches, which should always be step (0). You probably didn’t stop after the wedge cut and make sure the line met clean, or remember to start the second & inward cut from near-to-far to ensure a clean line and just came in from the face like a newbie. You probably didn’t align the bore-cut just above the wedge cut, or leave a perfect inch-thick line of uncut tree between the two cuts because you didn’t back-cut first, then move forward to establish the inch-thick line and the saw jumped too far forward. While you were at it, you likely took too much from the back of the slip-in leaving mostly bark to keep the tree in place, and you certainly didn’t use a logging wedge to assist the Tag from spin or back-pressure. You probably didn’t review your process that you keep in writing with your chainsaw gear (including unused chainsaw wedges), as you don’t fell trees much at all any more and need to keep the engineering aspects certain. Doing any 1 of the 3 correctly can make a pretty decent fell, screwing them all up (while hilarious) requires knowing where to run. The chainsaw bar is stuck fast mid tree and may be bent, the tree is nearly cut clean through (and all “caddywhompus” as my stepdad would have pointed out), with a sturdy Tag being just a bit of bark-covered wood holding it from toppling.  One way forward at this point to free the saw and topple the tree, is one clean hit to the Tag with the axe; the recommended method at this point of “caddywhompus” would be to drive in a few felling wedges first for a mitigated safeguard. We can assume no wedges were employed… and E yells “RUN”. When standing right next to a falling tree you can’t really tell where it is going, just that it is going- if your spotter yells run then something has gone wrong and you dash for safety. The part before cutting with a saw, more important than parts 1-3,  a part I’m pretty fussy about, is clearing low branches and making clear paths for escape. And having a good spotter that stands well clear and can yell RUN in a such a way that you just wind up running to safety- like stealing a base in baseball. E was in charge of RUN command without even knowing it was her job, and I got the running to base part right.

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Then its just A

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B

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C (with E hauling the branches far afield)

 

 

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Just a bit off the top.

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The logs are moved to the ice-house.

First thing this morning, after arriving back in Utah last night, was ordering two 24 packs of Mauget Tree Injectors to treat the 3 remaining Spruce trees for bark beetle, each massive tree is 30′ and higher- each tree like a giant sequoia version of the little runt that bested me. There is one behind me here, towering over the tool shed and obscuring perspective as I am far in the foreground.

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I stack them in plastic wrapping inside the ice house to contain the beetles.