April, 2006

Winter Kills

April is perhaps the worst of all months in Montana. It is wet, muddy, chilly and windy. Some plants are starting to sprout, and the herbivores are trying to eat the sprouts. The highest mortality rate for herbivores occurs now, and the dead are referred to as "winter kills". Animals are weak from the Winter and there is still not enough food. Grazing the sparse vegetation sprouting on open south facing slopes exposes them to predators. We have seen a number of carcasses around the property; usually there are just a few exposed ribs and a leg or two. The head must be a real delicacy, as one typically finds only bits and pieces of skull and jaw. Pauline spotted a Bald Eagle perched atop one carcass; it must have been taking advantage of another animal's kill.

Neko and Pumpkin have become scavengers. When they find a winter kill, they drag odd parts back to the Carriage House to chew on, only to barf it up later. We considered sewing the parts together to make our own version of frankendeer. Instead, Gary goes walkabout with the pups until they reveal the source of body parts, then bags the remains for the trash. The dogs are given treats for helping retrieve the parts, so they aren't too disappointed. Other than the rotten smell and barfing, one reason we don't like the dogs hanging around corpses is that predators and scavengers often return to those sites for a snack. Neko and Pumpkin could turn into a meal for those meat eaters.

Signs of Spring are starting to appear. Slopes are starting to green up, birds are singing, and we can hear Place Creek rushing by. Our woodpecker friend has returned and is rapping on the metal roof to attract a mate. He serves as a nice alarm clock as long as he uses the metal roof rather than the wood siding.

The latest estimate for resuming construction of the Main House is May 15; this is very dependent on the weather. Some readers have wondered why we have referred to the debris clean up as "deconstruction". The answer is that we are retaining many of the basics of the original design and parts of the original structure.

Pauline has been admitted to a Bridger Canyon Quilting Group. The size of this group is quite limited, since they only admit people who are seriously into quilting; they meet regularly in member's homes. As part of this activity, Pauline is making quilts for the Main House that will fit the "outdoorsy" ambiance of the property. The quilt shown at left is also made a bit more cozy by the (purposely) tattered seams. It features scenes of elk, moose, bears and wolves.

April 22: We burned the second of three slash piles created by construction of the driveway. The first burn is pictured in our November report. There is still a bit of snow left (note the drift in the far background of the upper left quadrant). We stood by with a backpack sprayer, a fire extinguisher and buckets of water taken from Place Creek (visible in the brush at the bottom of the gully) in case the fire spread. We started the fire in the dew of the morning at 8am. The temperature climbed to 75°F by afternoon; we finally left the glowing ashes at midnight, when it started to snow. Here is the scene at 9am the next day. The fire will probably continue to smolder for a week or two.


In Memoriam

We are very sad to report the passing of a neighbor. George Christie drowned in a boating accident on April 15. George appeared in the background of one of our March report photos when he came up to help burn remaining timbers from the Main House. He brought us two wonderful elk sausages and told us how he shot the elk from his garage while still in his pajamas. Perhaps he figured that they had eaten enough of his hay over the years that they owed him one (he did have an elk license). We told him about all the deer carcasses; he told us about winter kills. He was excited about the boat he was going to buy.

In earlier times, George came up and tried to help however he could when the Main House burned, and he plowed the drive for us until we moved in permanently. His family originally homesteaded in this area over 120 years ago. He was born, raised and lived in the home just across the highway from us. We bought our land from the family trust created by his father. We were hoping to have him make a custom furniture piece for the Main House once it was finished; we have seen several of the pieces he made and they were beautiful and imaginative. He enjoyed writing "cowboy poetry" and had lately taken up the guitar; one of his poems set to music was played at the well-attended funeral. A part of the canyon has been lost.

A news item regarding the accident appeared in the local paper. It is ironic that the title for our monthly report was chosen before this incident; relatively warm, gusty Spring winds and Winter chilled lake waters certainly contributed to the accident and its outcome.


Parting Shot
The Third Slash Pile

The 3rd pile is just above the Carriage House on the way to the Main House. There were two loads of nice logs we donated to a man who runs a sawmill as a hobby. He may cut some up so we can use them in the house. Weather permitting, we can now burn this final slash along the road. This one is relatively small, so should not be such a long undertaking as the others.


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