Tag Archives: great outdoors

Let’s Do This

“It’s a  tough job, but someone has to do it.” This comment usually comes to me with a smile, but he/she has no clue. When you turn your hobby into your job, suddenly your hobby becomes work.

Heart Lake

A couple of years ago, I entered into a contract with Wilderness Adventures Press to write a fly fishing guide to the mountain lakes of Northwest Montana. Basically this boils down to visiting some of our mountain lakes, fishing, and writing about it. Sounds great, right? Hah!

Recently I sat down and took inventory of all the mountain lakes I need to visit this summer and scratched my head. I’d compiled a list of about 60 lakes. Whoa! I thought. I think I might need some company. And maybe a little help.

Maybe this is where you come in. I have a poodle and a pack goat and they’re good listeners but lousy conversationalists. And they’re not much for sharing camp chores. Wanna go? You could even bring a friend if you want.

Most of the mountain lakes on my list are reached via backpacking, although many of the hikes are under five miles. I usually camp overnight. This gives me an evening and a morning in order to get to know each lake. Then it’s on to the next one. I have trips planned for each week beginning in June, so you could plug in for a couple of days, a week, or a month or more. I need someone who can handle a camera and/or wouldn’t mind having his picture in the book. I have all the camera equipment.

Oh, and for the record this isn’t a job offer. But it is an offer to be a backpacking trout bum this summer. As the saying goes, the pay is lousy but the benefits are out of this world.

Send me an e-mail if you’re interested and I’ll share more. Of course, we don’t know each other so if it looks like we click I’d need references from you. And you’d need references from me. Fair’s fair.

Shall we do this?

Deadly Nature

“WOW! What was THAT?” It was as if the ground had just exploded at our feet.

I did an about-face in the forest trail and looked at my friend. This was his first backpacking trip, and also his first experience with the thunderous flushing of forest grouse. And I’ll have to raise my hand and admit that I’m always startled by the sudden launch of forest rockets from right under foot.

I smiled. “It’s just a bunch of grouse,” I said. “No worries.” To my friend’s credit, he calmed right down and even did a fair immatation of the grouse calling to one another to regroup.

A harmless situation. Just a bunch of stupid birds. Still, my smile faded to a look of sober concern. “We have to be careful here. This is not our home. Nature is about as gracious as a traffic cop.”

If there’s one thing I enjoy more than backpacking, it’s introducing others to backpacking. I can say the same about fishing, hunting, and camping. But whatever the outdoor activity, a healthy dose of respect is needed. Nature can be a dangerous place. Screw up and a pleasant outing can become your worst nightmare. Therefore I always teach my newbie friends the basics of emergency wilderness survival. Some of the basics I press home–

  • Know how to navigate. Carry a map, compass, GPS. Why a map and compass if you have a GPS? Because batteries go dead, and electronics can fail. Kjellstom’s fine book Be Expert with Map and Compass has been around for decades, but it’s still a great resource.
  • Carry a mobile phone. You may not always have a signal, but if you do (and if you carry a GPS and/or know how to locate your position on a map) you can relay your coordinates to rescue personnel.
  • Pack redundant fire starter. I can make fire three different ways. Staying warm in an emergency situation is your first priority. Hypothermia sucks. Especially since it can kill you before you realize it’s killing you.
  • Include a small flashlight and spare batteries. Headlamps are great because they leave both hands free for other stuff. Just like having redundant fire starters, redundancy is a good idea here as well. Keychain flashlights are light and compact and can provide enough light to cheer up a lost or injured hiker.
  • Space blankets (also known as thermal blankets) can provide emergency shelter. Replace them every year, as they can deteriorate with time.

Emergency kits can become really personal, based on the items needed for a particular area. Because of this, some outdoorsmen like putting their own kit together. But no matter whether you buy one or do-it-yourself, make sure the kit is light and compact or you might be tempted to leave it home – “Just this once.” That could have deadly consequences.

Just my thoughts. What do you think? Advice or comments from your end?

Nature-al Harmony

One of my favorite things to do in the forests of Montana is nothing; I just sit, watch, look, and listen. I notice how chipmunks dismantle evergreen cones to gather the nutritious seeds. The little harvesters will bury those seeds and forget where some got buried. However, from those overlooked caches new trees will grow. The chipmunks get food, and the trees’ seeds get planted.

Copyright Mike L. Raether

The trees are pillars of life in the forest, providing platforms of nesting sites when alive and hollows for cavity nesting birds when dead. As I sit, I listen to the birds rather than watch them, as I’ve come to recognize many just by their songs.  

The amazing interconnectivity of living things! Although this interconnectivity was noted as early as the Fourth Century, it wasn’t recognized as a science until about middle of the 20th Century—and then the new science got a name: Ecology.

Ecology celebrates the harmony of nature. In the forested mountains in Western Montana, Lodgepole pine springs up first after forest fires; they even need fire, as their cones can only be unlocked by wildfire. Although lodgepole occupies many different niches in the forest, it has a life expectancy of only 100 years or so, and is then replaced by other kinds of trees. Western larch occupies ridges and north facing slopes, as they need more moisture than is typically found on south facing grades. However, ponderosa pine prefers south slopes, as it likes the hot, dry conditions usually found there. Aspen prefer deep draws where there is abundant moisture. Cottonwood takes the moistest niche of all: River banks. Some organisms take this a step further: they form mutually beneficial relationships, like the example of evergreens and chipmunks above. Each gets something for their cooperation even though they’re often very different from each other.

Don’t you love it when everybody wins? Lodgepole don’t fight with ponderosa and aspen don’t fight with cottonwood. They each have their niches. Nature usually cooperates with nature. But humans, who are considered the most intelligent creatures on earth, too often bicker, fight, and sometimes even destroy other humans. Maybe we aren’t so smart after all. What if we invested our energy in finding ways to get along instead of trying to exterminate one another? What if we just agree to disagree and leave it there? I think the devil gets a good laugh when we try to rip out each other’s necks.

I’m a conservative but I have many progressive friends. On some issues we’re never going to agree, but we don’t divide on those issues. We might discuss them, even have polite disagreements, but then we part as friends. If we only hang with those who are like us, what does that say about us?

I don’t advocate being phony. As Charles Caleb Colton once noted, “Neutrality is no favorite with Providence, for we are so formed that it is scarcely possible for us to stand neutral in our hearts.” Know what you believe and why you believe, but be gracious.

I want to advocate replacing hate with love. And by “love” I don’t mean the warm fuzzies; I mean the kind of love that values others above self. Here’s a look at this kind of love:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, ESV).

Your thoughts, pro or con? All perspectives are welcome. 

You can comment, send me an e-mail, or even subscribe.

Hurry, Hurry, Hurry

Siri. Alexa. Cortana. Echo. And then there’s the Staples Easy Button. “Siri, search Internet. Alexa, order pizza. Cortana, turn on the garage lights. Echo, what should I name the baby?” There! That was easy!

Dipper Falls, Ward Creek Trail, Montana. Photo copyright Mike L. Raether

We talk to our digital assistants to save time. But save time for what? So we can jam more stuff to our already over-busy lives? Hurry, hurry, hurry. To where? To what end? That six-foot-deep hole in the ground will be dug soon enough; no reason to rush it.  And yet rush the grave we do.

At the turn of the 20th Century, when a physician treated someone it was most often for the flu or some other physical disease. But no more. Now when physicians see someone, it’s usually for a stress related problem.

Are you stressed out? How to tell: Try sitting for a half hour doing nothing. Can’t stand it? Can’t be idle for just a half hour? Then most likely there’s too much stuff clawing for your attention.

Let’s consider a few options for lowering your stress level. There’s lots on the Net about this, but seeing as how you’re here, let’s consider some stuff quickly – quickly ’cause we’re in a hurry, right?

  • Have a talk with God, otherwise known as prayer. God likes to hear from us, and I’m convinced we can talk to Him friend to friend. I don’t advocate being disrespectful, such as addressing God like, “Yo, Pop, wassup?” But you don’t need to be formal. Just talk to Him conversationally.
  • Sit down to dinner with the fam, or share a meal with a friend. Shut off the tube, close the laptop, trash the newspaper. Use your mouth for something other than chewing food: Talk.
  • Build a network of friends. I’m an introvert, so I know how hard it is to make new friends. Still, I look for ways to relate. Here’s some advice from Arnold Bennett: “You will make more friends in a week by getting yourself interested in other people than you can in a year by trying to get other people interested in you.”
  • Breathe. I mean it. Breathe. You might say, “I AM breathing! If I wasn’t, I’d be DEAD!” What I mean is, sit comfortably with your eyes closed, relax, and slowly draw a deep breath through your nose and exhale through your mouth (to do this properly, you’ll need to know how to belly breathe). Repeat for five minutes. Don’t know how long five minutes is with your eyes closed? Tell your friendly but impersonal digital assistant to set a timer for five minutes. And don’t peak to see how much time is left.
  • Laugh. Out loud. Hard. Repeat. Of course, first you have to find something to laugh AT. How about laughing at yourself? Most of us take ourselves way to seriously.
  • Get some exercise. Hike, walk, run, whatever. It’s been proven that exercise relieves stress. Also helps your bowels move. And increases your sex drive. Hey, jus’ sayin.’

I think I’ll go hiking. Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and Echo are gonna hafta figure out life without me . I’m gonna slow down and live.

Now it’s your turn, if you have the time. You can comment here, send me an e-mail, or even subscribe.

How Do I Love Thee, My Pack Goat?

The news from the doc wasn’t encouraging.

“You’re done carrying 50 pound packs, splitting wood, and packing out game on your back. You’re wearing out your spine. Keep it up and you’re looking at another back surgery. I don’t want you lifting over 25 pounds.”

Yeah, right. I’m an outdoorsman, okay? Carrying a heavy pack, splitting wood, and packing out game on my back is what I do. But that first surgery hurt much more than carrying a heavy pack, splitting firewood, and carrying out game on my back. I sure didn’t want another back surgery. So…

“Grover” – photo copyright by Mike L. Raether

Enter the pack goat.

For some time I’d been intrigued with the idea of goat packing. Goats have many advantages over other types of pack stock. True, you can’t ride them and they can’t carry as much weight at llamas, mules, and horses but as far as I’m concerned, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.

How do I love thee, my pack goat? Let me count the ways –

  • I don’t need a big stock trailer. Goats can be transported in the back of a pickup, but personally I use a little half ton trailer with extended sides.
  • Goats can carry up to 25% of their weight. My pack goat weighs about 165 and carries about 40 pounds. That’s 40 pounds on his back instead of mine. I like this idea. A lot. As some pack goats can go over 200 pounds, this means 50 pounds or more on their backs instead of yours.
  • I don’t have to shoe my goat or even trim his hooves, as long as we hike enough. A goat’s  hooves wear down pretty fast on a hard trail.
  • I don’t have to pack feed. Goats eat just about anything (except tin cans), although they do like a handful of grain as a treat.
  • Goats usually don’t buck or bite, but they might nibble on your shirttail to see if it’s edible.
  • They’re affectionate, but they have bad breath. Goat burps are stinky. Then again, so are human burps.
  • They’re easy to keep. Currently my pack goat lives in a 16X48’ enclosure using 50 inch tall cattle panels. In addition, he has a little house where he can get out of the weather. I could easily add a couple more goats to this set up.
  • They don’t eat much and their feed doesn’t have to be top quality. Last summer I bought a ton of grass hay for my pack goat and he’s just now getting to the last bale.
  • They don’t drink much water. In fact, they can go for a few days without drinking. Dry camps don’t bother them.
  • Pack goats are usually cheap to buy, but you may have to raise them from kids as trained and experienced pack goats are pretty spendy – if you can even find one for sale.
  • They’re incredibly sure footed; they can go everywhere you go and places you can’t (or won’t) go.
  • They’re recycling machines. Goat raisins make great compost.

There are a number of different breeds of goats, and some are better for packing than others. Alpines, Toggenburgs, and Saanans are all larger breeds that make good pack goats. You’ll want a goat that will weigh a minimum of 160 pounds when mature. Most pack goats are wethers (castrated males). But if you like goat’s milk get a doe for packing and you can have fresh milk in camp.

So – are you ready to do it with a goat?

But wait, there’s more! (I’m being facetious of course, but there really is more). I’m interested in your thoughts. You can reply, send me an email, and/or help design the new monthly newsletter –