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July through September, 2008

Godwin's Law
(The Inevitable Comes to Pass)

August 9 – At Sunset, Looking South

We returned from vacation late July 3 and woke the next day to hazy skies caused by forest fires in California. Our fire season began late due to the cool, wet Spring; at the end of July, there was only one fire of notable size burning. The lateness of seasons continued: July seemed more like a normal June and August like July – there was snow atop the higher peaks of the Bridgers into late August and it snowed again in early September *. A late August fire burned 5 times the acreage of all previous fires combined, but was soon controlled by the September cool weather and rain. The Summer tally for Montana was 125,000 acres (compared to California's 951,000).

Between July 3 and September 3 we had 19 guests. That is too many for us to enumerate all the things we did with them. Most of our report covers what we managed to do between guests! The guests were: John & Janet; Lois, Rita, Vicky & Kathleen; Claudia & Mack; Carrol, Norm, Carol & Steve; Gail; Mike & Lisa accompanied by Trish, Neal, Surl and Peg. We capped off the Summer guest list by hosting the yearly Cork and Fork cocktail party, which about 40 people attended.

John and Janet (from Orcas Island) dropped by for a break in their cross-country trip. John accompanied Gary on a hike around the property to check out the weed situation. Canada Thistle and Leafy Spurge are still increasing, but we found evidence that some colonies of insects are beginning to thrive. In this picture, some Hyles Euphorbiae caterpillars and Aphthona flea beetles have done a great deal of damage to a spurge plant.

One of our top priorities for this Summer was getting the area southeast of the house regraded in preparation for landscaping. We hired friend Steve to do the regrading. This picture looking ESE from the South Patio shows how the last debris pile from the "old" house has been removed and smoothed out. Note the haze from the California fires.

We added to a berm along the west side of the upper drive to emphasize the cut through the ridge (at right) made to access the Main House site. Steve let Gary drive the Bobcat to move the dirt around while he ran the excavator. And he allowed Gary to use the Bobcat in the evenings and on weekends, so we got a lot of other heavy work done.

In early June and late July we had power failures lasting about 5 hours. The July failure happened a few minutes after this picture was taken. In one day, two fast moving, violent storms swept over Bozeman and into the canyon, bringing lightning, hail, rain and 85MPH winds. Topsoil Steve had spread on a steep slope washed away in places where water drains from the driveway, but no corrective action was needed. We have one phone that operates off the 48v of the phone line, so could still place and receive calls. Our propane fireplaces operate automatically without power, so the house would be heated in Winter. One inconvenience we have that city dwellers do not: the well pumps do not work so we do not have water.

This telephoto shot looking north from the "lower 40" shows some of the landscaping work done at the east (right) side of the house. The debris piles have been removed and graded to blend into the slopes east and south of the house. We used our dump trailer to haul rocks and topsoil, which Dan and Jennie helped us shovel into the desired areas. Gary and Pauline shovelled 5 tons of topsoil in two days. For one load the truck, trailer and topsoil grossed out at over 20,000 pounds. We definitely needed 4WD low range to get up the driveway!

This view of the South Patio looking west shows our newly seeded "lawn" covered by straw to retain moisture and protect new shoots from the intense sun. The lawn is low-growing native grasses that should need very little water once established. A margin of rock separates the house from the grass and a "stream" of rocks helps divert rain water away from the house. The area immediately south of the patio will have to wait until next year.

Most of our pictures show vistas of grass and sagebrush with trees and mountains in the distance. What we often neglect to show is the wide swath of forest and berry bushes that extends along Place Creek for about ¾ mile through our property. This is where the bears and moose hang out. People chuckle at the "Bear Crossing" sign about ½ way up the driveway – until August and September, when they often report: “I saw a bear on your driveway right after that sign!” Moose tend to hang out further up the drive, so we are looking for a "Moose Crossing" sign to post there. We enjoy having such a wide range of ecologies on a relatively small piece of land.

August heat brought afternoon thunderstorms more typical of July; these were often followed by spectacular sunsets. When the sun peeks below the clouds just before setting, we see brilliant rainbows (in this case, a double rainbow) with a mix of sun and shadow on the hills to the south. Dry lightning often accompanies these storms and can cause forest fires, but we have had so much moisture this year that the heat-generated storms brought rain – even the harvested fields have returned to green. The rainbow in this picture arced completely across the canyon.

Another part of the property we neglect to picture is where we put junk, equipment and leftover building materials. This area is up the old road north of the Carriage House and is not visible from most parts of the property. We may erect a storage shed here someday. Included in the picture are Trish, Mike, Surl, Lisa, Neal and Peg as well as Neko, Zip (Dan and Jennie's dog) and Pumpkin.

Dry weather in August brought out a plague of locusts (aka grasshoppers). They especially appreciated some of the new plants we installed last Fall and this Spring, as well as the grass we had planted in early Summer. Cool weather arrived the first week of September and dramatically reduced the plague. We will re-seed in late October, replace some plants and hope the others recover next Spring.

Fall begins the time for wildlife to prepare for Winter. We can hear the elk bugling across the canyon; they will cross to our side by the end of Fall. Bears don't get far from the creek, so we don't see them at the Main House. We do see lots of berries in the bear scat near the creek. The aspen are turning yellow and glow when the sun is behind them. After Winter, early Fall is our favorite season.


Seed Nazis

When we buy bulk seed, we usually get it from a place we have heard referred to as the "Seed Nazis" — an allusion to the famous Soup Nazi episode of Seinfeld. As with the Soup Nazi, one gets the impression one has to pass muster before one can purchase seed. Our latest encounter:

“I would like to buy this seed.”
"What will you be using it for?" (it's not bird seed...)
“To restore some disturbed native grass areas.”
"Townsend, Three Forks, ...?" (native depends on where you live)
“I'm in Bridger Canyon.”
"What elevation are you at?" (said with a dubious look)
“About 5,400 feet.”
"North or south facing?" (still looking dubious)
“South – lots of sage.”
"Can you get water to it?" (still not convinced.)
“Yes, to some areas; I'll sow the other areas in late October.”
“That works. You can have the seed.”

In spite of the 3rd degree tenor of the questioning, we appreciate they are making sure we are getting what we need and know how to care for it. And, they do have the lowest prices.

Bug Census

Caretaker Jennie is a botanist who does part-time weed control research for the US Forest Service. Gary went with Jennie on a hike around most of the Leafy Spurge sites on the property in late July. Our goal was to see what biological controls (i.e., bugs) were establishing colonies and to collect and redistribute bugs to any sites that did not yet have colonies. Even though Gary had released 4 types of bugs at only 2 sites several years ago, we found colonies of all types at the 6 sites visited, including one site Gary had located only a few days before. We also found that Hyles Euphorbiae (released decades ago as an experiment) is thriving. Based on her experience with biological control of Leafy Spurge, Jennie was able to point out the evidence the bugs were well established and already making significant inroads in the spurge infestations.

Unfortunately, on this hike Jennie spotted Sulfur Cinquefoil, so we have another noxious weed to add to our eradication agenda.

Parting Shot
Bird Watching

The Bridger Range is one of three major corridors for raptors (primarily hawks and eagles) to migrate south for the Winter. Every day in the months of September and October, volunteers hike up over 1,500' to an observation platform at 8,600' on the ridge, count raptors for 8 hours, then hike down. Arthur (at right in black) joins the volunteers regularly and leads hikers to the ridge. Gary has hiked up several times and Pauline made the trek once. It's pleasant when the weather is good, but we have had to shovel snow off the observation platform some days and suffered near hypothermia at times.

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* Actually, there was snow on the Bridgers continuously; snow at the bottoms of some avalanche chutes as low as 7,000' never melted.