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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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This is the view to the South East. There are water fowl and song birds everywhere, just not anywhere in the picture.

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From the front the Ibis is just a vertical bronze line (flanked by a circle), along the dry stream.

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At some point the line gives way to a curiosity of birdness.

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Just walking up from the marsh…

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I put the turn wheel in place and secured it’s tightening screw with locktight glue: ready for action.

 

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The corten steel wall and raw wood beam window complement the Ibis nicely. I took this shot from underneath a truck. The concrete drive was packed with vehicles and construction workers, as this is supposed to be the last week for construction.

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I hefted some boulders from a pile out in the parking lot and piled pebbles till the concrete base blinked out.

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He has tall orange stakes around him, taken out for the pictures- lets hope he stays out of traffic.

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He is at just a little angle to the concrete, which swings his wheel out just enough to discourage casual spinning, while allowing the magic vertical line view from the front as people descend down between the buildings. I’ll head back out when the site is finished and take more shots.

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Just wondering again where that concrete base went.

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That structure is a Blue Heron nesting complex, full of Blue Herons. On the water is a flock of White Pelicans.

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This marsh opens to Farmington Bay, and out to the Great Salt Lake. Antelope Island is in the distance. This is right along one of E & I’s bikerides- the bike trail comes all the way from Salt Lake City (ending in about a mile at the Lagoon amusement park), and runs along the boundary of the Nature Center. Guess we’ll be saddling up to visit the Ibis!

 

This morning the Ibis built its nest site out at the new Great Salt Lake Nature Center at Farmington Bay with a little help from my friend Jed and I.  Elizabeth imagines it must be quite a shock for the little guy after spending the past five and half months puttering around in the studio.

Under his feet I welded in large stainless steel anchor posts that rest on stainless steel angle stock (shown in December post). This stainless steel footing is immersed in a concrete footing.  A concrete filled posthole reinforced with rebar drops below the concrete form box, adding thousands of pounds of strength to the structure ( the post hole digger is in the image at the left). The angled boards brace the sculpture while the concrete cures. I will return on Wednesday and remove the bracing and form-box, affix the turn-wheel, take the protective wrapping off the legs, replace the stones under and around the feet, and give him a final wax & polish.

 

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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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Floodgate Closed.

Ready for New Years’ Eve now that the Ibis is complete. Patina went well and he is a nicely layered French Brown toning from reds to golds to chocolate. He wandered around the yard and I took pictures as he explored.

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Floodgate Open.

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“Back” side.

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Twinkle in his eye.

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Skinny front view.

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Waterfall Floodgate; would be a perfect addition to the yard.

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A heart of falling water.

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Wings folded along his back.

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Strolling about.

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Nesting area?

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Ibis Floodgate!

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Head sprouts overnight.

Last night’s snow squall convinced me to wait ’til things warmed up in the afternoon before rolling the shop door open for welding. 34 degrees and breezy was warm enough for the Ibis.

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Blending in the weld from bird to square tubing.

I laid it all flat on the table, and aligned the head/neck and tacked the neck in place then stood it up to double check. Then it was on to welding with the Argon tank showing empty, but hissing along for all the day’s welds. With the weld line finished, it was on to metal chase. Still some finessing left on that front, but well enough for today.

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This view offers the trademark curve of the Ibis bill.

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Chasing the sun.

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Skinny bird.

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Nora frisks about to ask if it can finally be walkie time, then waits impatiently as I snap off a few pictures after shutting things down.