Friday, August 28, 2015

Wilderness Walks - Conserving What I Love

I serve on the board of the Eastern Wildlands Chapter of the Montana Wilderness Association.  Its a great group to be involved in.  The MWA does a great deal involving policy, resource management plans, and other sometimes rather dry--but critical--components of the conservation movement, the work to preserve wild places and the wildlife that lives there for now and future generations.
I think this sort of policy-based activism will make meaningful, long-lasting changes.  I am so grateful for the MWA volunteers and employees who lobby our legislature, who pour over every single page of environmental impact statement, who hold public land rallies at the Capitol, etc.  That said, my favorite part of the "job" is meeting other people who love the outdoors and exposing them to new places and experiences.  Its all about making connections.
This spring, I lead my second annual wilderness walk east of Billings to a lovely butte speckled with petroglyphs, overlooking the sweeping sagebrush prairie.  I had a great group this year--and it was a beautiful day of hiking under the big, blue Montana sky.  I was thinking about it again after my last Eastern Wildlands meeting.
Connecting people to their place has to be one of the best ways to help preserve it, I think.  If people don't know they don't care.  Making the place real--not just an abstract wild somewhere else--is so critical, in my opinion, to its long-lasting preservation.  It made me think of a t-shirt I got once from my sister.  It was very, very early on in my introduction to the environmental/conservation movement.  The t-shirt was covered with pictures of wildlife and this saying:
"In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will only understand what we are taught."  Baba Dioum
I always loved that.  Its made so much sense to me--and continues to do so today.  It makes sense.  Watching birds doing their bird thing--hunting, swallowing, calling, answering, preening, perching, soaring, nest building--makes me want to make sure they always have a place to do it in.  Experiencing the wild power of a thunderstorm echoing off sheer granite peaks makes me so grateful for the untrammeled wild places we've got, and the power of nature--and what a small and important part I have in it.   It makes me care more about the wildlands and the urban landscape.  It makes me want to make my yard a migratory stopover.  It makes me want to help people fall in love with the sage grouse.  It makes me want to live lightly, yet deeply.
I know so many people who feel overwhelmed and disconnected in their world.  I want there to be places of solitude--in the town and in the mountains--to go recharge, to find one's self, to have a moment of quiet introspection.  Its done so much good in my life.  I am happy to play even a small part in ensuring these places will be here for me in my old age, for Keleigh and Eli, for the mountain goats and the marmots, for the huckleberries and the rosy pussytoes.  We're all in this thing together.
FYI:  Wilderness Walks are open--and FREE--to everyone.  You don't have to be a Montana Wilderness Association member or anything.  There are walks all across the state and of varying levels of difficulty.  For more information please visit: http://wildmontana.org/our-work/programs/wilderness-walks

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Mega Chard, as Big As Matt's Head--Bigger, Even.

There are a lot of things to like about chard, if you ask me.  We grow it every year.  First, it is a fresh leafy green which carries us from the cool of spring through the heat of summer to the cool of autumn again, even when its friends, say, the spinach, are bolting to seed or think its too cold to continue living.  Second, the leaves get huge without getting too fibrous and tough to enjoy making them very productive.  Third, its so pretty with its rainbow colored stems and veins.  Its a very nice plant, I think.  I'll be having some on my pizza tonight, added in the final moments, just long enough to wilt.  Yuuuuummmy--and, of course, its packed with nutritional goodness, too!  That is a win, win.

Monday, August 24, 2015

These Are a Few of My Favorite Birds: Harlequin Ducks, Meadowlarks, and Great Blue Herons

Cedar Waxwing
Great Horned Owls
When camping with my nephew this summer he asked me what my favorite bird was.  Gee!  What a hard question for this bird loving soul!  Ultimately, I had to break it down into categories to puzzle out my answer.
Mountain Bluebird
The bird which I think can lay claim to my favorite song, liquid, burbling, magnificent music for my ear, would have to be the Western Meadowlarks.  Hands down.
Mallard and ducklings
Long-billed Curlew
The prettiest to look at though would have to be the Harlequin Ducks with their strikingly contrasted mohawk, perfectly circular white facial spot, and stunning mahogany colored flanks.

Harlequin Ducks

But, in the end, I gave the overall coolness award to the elegant and commanding Great Blue Heron.  They are beautiful on their tall, slender legs with their long, shaggy neck plumes catching the breeze.  In addition to looks, they are large and often conspicuous making them easy to watch--even with the naked eye.  They have offered me some of the most interesting bird behavior viewing I've seen.  We've spent hours watching them poised in utter stillness as they hunt and then, in a flash, spear a fish and toss it back in one fluid motion.  We watched them improbably bounce about the tops of evergreen trees, swaying with the boughs, building nests.
Baltimore Oriole
Brown-headed Cowbirds
So, I guess, what I learned is that, if pressed, I'd name the Great Blue Heron as my favorite bird.  Who knew?  Good question, Eli.  Even I am surprised by that one.
Mountain Chickadee
Cliff and Bank Swallows

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Not Matching, Odds and Ends

I composed a cute little poem in my head while knitting this dishcloth.  Its made up from three balls of yarn--blue variegated, solid lime, green variegated.  The latter two were such small ends of yarn that they were not enough for a project on their own.  Put together they made something pretty and functional.  I liked that.  It set my mind to rhyming.

I ultimately wrote the poem down on a scrap of paper--we were at a fair vending tie-dye at the time and I didn't have my journal handy.  Matt, in an uncharacteristic I'm-going-to-organize-our-paperwork mood, cleaned out the papers after the show and I've never been able to find the poem since.

Its interesting because I compose a lot of poems in my head that I never bother to write down.  They are transient poetry, here and gone, just like, well, pretty much everything in this world.  Me, mountains, meadowlarks....  So, it strikes me as funny that one I actually bothered to set to paper has also ended up a transient piece of poetry, here and gone, just like that.

I suspect it was recycled.   So it goes.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Natural Bridge - Yellowstone National Park

Matt and I had planned to go to Yellowstone last weekend.  Unfortunately, there was some scheduling issues at work and in the end we opted to stay in town, work around the garden, spend time with friends and family, and take in a concert instead.  It was a great weekend.  Sometimes staying at home is exactly where you're supposed to be, I think.  Of course, I almost always think Yellowstone is the place to be, too.  With that I decided to revisit my photos from a fantastic, easy little hike we took last spring which I never wrote up--Natural Bridge.  Its not strenuous with negligible elevation gain and only three miles round trip--perfect for the last day of the weekend when our legs are tried.
The trailhead for Natural Bridge is across the road from Bridge Bay Marina's extended parking area.   The trail starts out paved and runs parallel to a road leading to the Bridge Bay Campground.  At the camp the trail curves left and leads through a lovely, shady forest.  After about a half mile through the trees the small foot trail meets up with a wider, graveled bike path.  The bike path actually used to be an old stagecoach road from West Thumb to Lake which has since been converted to more pedestrian travel.   Our guidebook says that people could still drive to Natural Bridge until the 1990's.  I am sure glad its a hiking and cycling trail now.  Anyplace people can drive to is always more crowded and littered.  Its amazing how just a short and easy hike can change how many people are willing to go see the sights.  Hit the trails in Yellowstone and you leave the crowd behind, in our experience.  More wildlife, fewer bits of microtrash.
Gray Jay (a.k.a. Camp Robber)
The bike path/trail continues on through the trees, skirting along a pretty meadow until the Natural Bridge comes into sight up ahead, towering over the trail.  A short series of switchbacks later and we were on the level with the Natural Bridge itself.  That was really the only steep part of the hike.  The rest was a real nice stroll through the woods.
A natural bridge is a neat geologic formation anywhere.  Matt and I used to go hiking near one that was cut by the Boulder River.  The Natural Bridge in Yellowstone is the only such feature in the park though.  It was discovered (by white people) in the Hayden geological expedition of 1871.   This particular natural bridge has a span of 29 feet over Bridge Creek and is 51 feet tall, according to a really neat sign board at the base of the bridge, before the switchback assent.  It had the Yellowstone Natural Bridge scaled with some of the bridges in Arches National Park.  Well, Yellowstone's is tiny by comparison!  Tiny!  It made me want to head to Arches!  We will someday.
Matt standing in the ravine taking in the view through the bridge's arch.
Because of concerns over structural integrity--there is a spruce growing smack in the middle of the bridge with resulting crack from root penetration--people are not allowed to actually cross over the Natural Bridge anymore.  There are stairsteps cut into the ravine behind it which allows passage down to and over the stream that carved the bridge in the first place.
The tree at center in the photo above is the spruce growing on the bridge.  Its so impressive to me that its made such a good perch out of the bridge considering the soil and wind conditions.
While I am certain it would be neat to cross over the bridge I must say that this route behind it offered a very interesting perspective from the water level--through the hole the water carved to create the arch.  Water is such a magnificent force.
Then it was back down to the main trail, back out to the junction with the foot trail, and back to camp.  We encountered a doe mule deer with her fawn along the bike path portion of the trail.  We gazed into each other's eyes a moment before she turned and led her youngster deeper into the trees.  I never cease to be impressed by how quietly and quickly the woodland creatures can vanish from sight.
It was a lovely hike.  Easy and beautiful--and we saw two other people the whole time.  I hope we can get back out pounding the park trails again soon.

Monday, August 17, 2015

I Like to Chiffonade

I recently learned, in the course of my daily reading, that I like to chiffonade.  I have liked it for years--I just didn't know that was the term for it.  Chiffonade.  Oooh, la, la!  I like the cutting technique all the more now that I know its fancy name.

I don't really know why I started cutting my leafy green things like that.  I don't remember seeing someone else do it.  I don't remember reading about it.  It just seemed natural to me.  It was an easy way to get finely cut greens, especially when dealing with an absolute abundance coming out of the garden.  It works for tiny basil leaves to jumbo Swiss chard leaves bigger than my head.  Its a great cutting technique.  It just made sense to me.

How to Chiffonade
Make a stack of greens, somewhere between three and a dozen leaves.
Roll the stack of leaves into a tube.
Slice up the tube crosswise, like cutting a carrot, with a kitchen knife.
Voila!  Finely shredded leafy greens.
For an even smaller shred sometimes I slice up the tube as above and then make one more cut lengthwise down the whole thing.
Its the only way to chop greens, if you ask me.  :)

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Strawberry Oatmeal Delight

 The strawberry patch has done better than I expected.  They're still trickling in....to my  morning bowl of oatmeal.  Yay!  I love it when things exceed my expectations.  And taste so good doing it!
Montana-grown oats, homegrown strawberries, and a glass of apple juice we pressed from local apples.  What a way to start the day!