Tag Archives: Montana

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.

The Gift

It didn’t come from under a Christmas tree. It didn’t come wrapped in colorful paper. It wasn’t even a tangible gift, although it was just as real and wonderful and exciting as the dawn of a new day. The gift was given to me by my father, back in the carefree days of my youth. His gift was a love of the outdoors.

Copyright Mike L. Raether

Some of my best childhood memories are of times spent camping with my family next to a whispering stream, and waking up on crisp mountain mornings to the smell of frying bacon rising from a cast iron pan strategically placed over a cheerful campfire. And then there were those times Dad would wake my little brother and me in the middle of the night for a long drive in the dark to arrive at first light at a trout lake. There we would slide a homemade rowboat from the top of the family bus and into the lake, and push off into the morning mist just as the sun winked above the tops of clean-scented evergreens. Most mornings we would fill stringers with pan-sized trout, gleaming trophies for a kid to take home and proudly share with the rest of the family.

The gift of the love of the outdoors is not something meant to be kept to yourself. It’s meant to be passed on, and it isn’t reduced by the sharing; it multiplies and brings joy to others. I’ve passed the gift along to my children, and they in turn are passing it on to theirs. In all of this the gift has come full circle and returned to me, bringing fresh joy to my life, like wildflowers suddenly encountered along a mountain trail.             

As Priscilla Wayne once noted, “…appreciation is the food of the soul.” What is it about the outdoors you appreciate?

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 –

Opportunity Lost

It was a great spot. I could see 100 yards in most directions through the Lodgepole Pine that clothed this Montana ridge. It was late October, and the snow was pocked with fresh deer tracks. By the half light of a promising dawn I brushed a few inches of snow off a convenient log, took a seat, and rested the rifle across my knees.

“Graceful Deer” by Dawn Huczek is licensed under CC 4.0. Cropped from original.

I had a buck tag in my pocket, but I wasn’t hunting deer. I had one of the  few cow elk permits for this area and I was out to fill my freezer with some of the finest eating available from the hunter’s woods.

And mixed with those whitetail tracks was elk tracks. From experience I knew that elk fed below me on the grassy, open south face at night and bedded during the day in the tangle of dense downfall and brush on the north face. I was hoping to intercept them on the crest of this east-west ridge.    

I leaned my back against a convenient tree, blew out a frosty sigh and settled in for a wait. After a few minutes I raised a cow elk call to my lips and blew a few enticing notes. I waited, then repeated. I waited some more.

The whitetail buck appeared out of nowhere, as unexpected as a spring snowstorm. Suddenly he was just there, standing barely 30 yards away, eyes boring into me. Apparently he’d crept in to investigate the elk call.

The buck appeared curious, perhaps wondering where I’d come from. I studied his antlers through my binoculars. Nice rack. Not huge, but nice. The main beams were thick and gnarly at their bases. They gracefully swept up and forward and in width stretched out well past his ears. There were just three tines per side but they stood tall and proud, the tallest more than a foot long.       

“I think I’ll let him go.” I lowered my binoculars. I was more than a mile from my truck. It would take all day to get this buck off the mountain, and my elk hunt would be cancelled for the day. I had plenty of season left to fill my buck tag. Four more weeks lay ahead of me. Still, he really was a pretty decent buck…

I raised my binoculars again for another peek while the buck stood as still as a fence post, watching me. I might get a chance at a bigger buck later in the season, but I might not. If I filled my buck tag now, then I could put all my efforts into hunting elk for the rest of the season.

“I think I’ll take him.” Slowly lowering my binoculars, I began easing the rifle up to my shoulder. But the buck had grown tired of the game. Suddenly, without warning he turned, flipped his tail and was gone. I’d looked too much, and waited too long. The opportunity was gone as quickly as a popped balloon.

I continued calling for elk but without success. Late in the day as I descended the mountain, I thought about the drama with the buck. Why had I hesitated? That buck was probably a gift from God, a diamond opportunity to tag out. And I’d missed it.       

I began thinking about some of the other diamond opportunities God has given me that I’ve missed because I’ve hesitated. Not just opportunities to take game, but opportunities in other areas of life.

God is not silent. He calls to us, sometimes even challenges us. And like that buck on that ridge, He often waits patiently while we make up our minds. But also like the buck, He won’t wait forever. If we hesitate too long, the opportunity might turn, flip its tail and flee. Of course, sometimes the opportunities come again. But sometimes they don’t.

By the way – you may be wondering if I ever filled that buck tag. No, I did not…

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 –

Thanks, Sierra Club; I Needed a Good Laugh

I don’t know why the letter found its way into my mailbox. As an outdoorsman I’m a deeply- committed environmentalist, but I’m not a radical environmentalist. So when I found the Sierra Club’s recent fund raising letter in my mail, I settled down for a good laugh.

“DIY dip dye hair” by mommyknows ( Kim Becker) available at https://www.flickr.com/photos/mommyknows/7847448616, under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0. Full terms at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0

The letter abounded in scare tactics and alarmist statements, all designed to extract money from my pocket to help support the Sierra Club. They claimed, “…endangered species legislation is under attack… especially with the recent election of Donald Trump…”  The letter identified a number of animals it considers in deep weeds: “…lynx, ocelot, grizzly bear, gray wolf, and wolverine…”

I’m not too familiar with lynx, ocelots, grizzlies or wolverines, but as I live close to the land and deep in the mountains of Western Montana, I’m very familiar with wolves and the problems they cause. So let’s consider wolves and what the Sierra Club has to say about them.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed the Endangered Species Act [ESA] protections be removed for the gray wolf in the lower 48 states, allowing this iconic species to become a victim of unlimited hunting, trapping, and poisoning across the United States.”

Unlimited hunting? Really? Hunting is tightly controlled all over the country by game laws in order to protect the resource. Poisoning? Currently the only country that allows poisoning is Russia – and why? Russia has a history of huge problems with wolf predation.

The Sierra Club’s letter continued, “…the wolf is considered fair game for hunting by any method including trapping – a painful, inhumane, and cowardly way to kill.” While it’s true that, at least in Montana wolves can be hunted by many means, including bow, rifle, handgun and shotgun, the picture we’re offered is that of drooling, crazed hunters lusting after a chance to kill a wolf.

What about trapping? I’m not a trapper and I don’t think I’ll ever become one, but it’s a free country. If people want to trap, I say let ’em trap. But what about trapping being “…inhumane and cowardly…”? Traps usually don’t kill; they simply hold an animal until the trapper returns to the trap and dispatches the trapped animal quickly and humanly. In fact, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Website talks at length about the ethics of trapping. Trappers are encouraged to Use dispatching methods that are quick and humane.” And according to Montana trapping regulations, traps must be checked at least every 48 hours.

The Sierra Club letter had more to say about gray wolves: “…when congress removed [ESA] protections for the gray wolf in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming in 2011, massive public hunts ensued. Since then more than 1,700 wolves have been senselessly slaughtered.”

Where did they get this figure of “1,700 wolves”?  And “senselessly slaughtered”? Since when is it senseless to destroy a group of animals that are running amok and eating themselves out of house and home? When deer, elk, and pronghorns overpopulate in Montana, hunting regulations are relaxed allowing increased harvests of animals that might starve to death otherwise. And since when is it senseless to kill wolves that are attacking a farmer’s or rancher’s stock?

What about the health of the Northern Rockies’ wolf packs? According to this report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “The NRM [Northern Rocky Mountain] wolf population continues to be robust, stable and self-sustaining. As of December 31, 2015, there were at least 1,704 wolves in 282 packs (including 95 breeding pairs) in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. The wolf population has exceeded recovery goals identified by the Service and partner biologists since 2002. Wolves continue to expand their range westward in eastern Oregon and Washington. An additional 200 wolves in 34 packs (including 19 breeding pairs) were estimated in Oregon and Washington. The total wolf population in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon and Washington was estimated to be 1,904 wolves.”

This report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was a cooperative effort by the fish and game management  units of Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon, Washington, and Montana with the help of the National Park Service, the Utah Department of Natural Resources, the USDA and seven Native American nations.

What??? No help from the Sierra Club or any other environmental organization? I have to ask, Why not?

The Sierra Club closes with the warning, “…the Trump Administration is …working hand and hand with anti-environment extremists… [and therefore] our work has taken on an added urgency.”

If that isn’t alarmist propaganda I don’t know what is.

Now, don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not trying to talk you out of supporting the Sierra Club. It’s your money. However, check out the claims before you reach into your pocket. You have a brain. Use it. Think before you drink the Kool-Aid.

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 below, send me an email, and/or help design the new monthly newsletter –

The Perfect Storm

Springtime in the Rockies.

Last Thursday evening started with the first BBQ of the season: grilled teriyaki chicken, paired with Jasmine rice and kale salad on the side, followed by the first thunderstorm of the year.

Photo Courtesy of Wilerson S Andrade, https://www.flickr.com/photos/will_spark/8602965815
Photo Courtesy of Wilerson S Andrade, https://www.flickr.com/photos/will_spark/8602965815

Blasting wind, horizontal rain, lightening streaking across the sky almost right overhead, and closely accompanied by house-shaking thunder. Awesome! I love a good storm. After supper my Standard Poodle and I sat out on my deck and enjoyed the show together.

Did I get wet? You bet! Did I enjoy the storm? You bet! After getting thoroughly soaked, I retreated to the house.

It was The Perfect Storm. However, perfection has its limits. A diamond can be cut perfectly, but it cannot exceed that perfection. But the perfections of God are unlimited.

How about you? Do you like a good storm? Tell me about it. Or maybe you’d just like to muse with me on the perfections of God. I’d like to hear about that, too.

Your turn –

Do It On the Fly

My raft was floating high as we drifted downriver, but my hopes were about sunk. We were near the end of a five mile float trip down Montana’s Lower Clark Fork River and my grandson and my daughter’s boyfriend Jeff had not had one hit. They had tossed lures and bait from one side of the river to the other in an effort to nail one of the Clark’s hefty trout but with no success. I had my fly rod aboard, but I’d stayed on the oars the whole time in order to give them the best shot as they had come from out of state. But then it happened.

A Fat Clark Fork Cutthroat
A Fat Clark Fork Cutthroat

Jeff pointed toward the opposite bank. “Look at THAT!” he said.

“That” was a series of trout rises just downstream from a small, rocky point that jutted out into the river and stalled the current.

“That” was what I was waiting for.

I had them both real up and put their spinning rods away as I rowed across to the rocky point and dropped the anchor. After squinting toward the rises and determining that the trout were feeding on a hatch of PMDs (Pale Morning Duns), I tied a #14 PMD dry fly to the end of the leader. I made a few false casts to work out some fly line and dropped the fly just downstream from the point so it would float down the edge of the broken current and meet the feeding trout.

Fish on! I soon boated a fat rainbow of about 15.” I dried out the fly, dabbed on a little dry fly floatant and worked the fly back out to the feeding trout.

Fish on! I handed the bobbing fly rod to my grandson. The fish made a few determined runs, then came unbuttoned. By now the fly looked a bit bedraggled, so I tied on a fresh offering and once again dropped the fly just upstream from the feeding trout.

Fish on! This time the fly rod went to Jeff, and immediately the trout made a smoking run downstream. Jeff managed to turn the fish before it got into the backing, and it responded by stubbornly sulking on the river bottom. Jeff and the fish played a game of tug a war for a few minutes until the Jeff won. Another chubby ‘bow of about 15” came to the net.

This last effort put the trout down and they stopped feeding. I rowed the raft down to our takeout. Jeff shook his head as the raft bumped the shore. “Man,” he said, “I gotta learn to fly fish!”

How about you? If you’re a fly fisher, you’re nodding your knowledgable head in appreciation. There’s few things more exciting than catching trout on a dry fly. 

However, if you’re not a fly fisher you don’t have to lose out on the experience of doing it on the fly. You can get with a local outfitter and fishing guide such as Joe Cantrell who just about has every trout named in every hole. Joe can arrange a guided float trip for you on the Lower Clark Fork River. Included in his reasonably-priced package is all the tackle and flies, free casting lessons if you need them, and a hungry-man shore lunch. Joe also owns a lodge on the banks of the Clark Fork and can put you up for a fair price.

So, how about it, fishers? Do you do it on the fly? Or would you like to learn more about it? Tell me!

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 –

Mushrooms!

“You try them first. If you live, I’ll try them.”

Bag of Meadow Mushrooms
Bag of Freshly Gathered Meadow Mushrooms, Dirt and All

I’d just phoned a neighbor and informed her that she has Meadow Mushrooms popping up all over her lawn. Although I’d made a positive I.D. on the choice fungi from some I’d gathered from my own property, she was hesitant to eat them. And rightly so. Mushroom poisoning is no fun. And if you eat the wrong kind of mushroom you can end up planted in the ground and pushing up mushrooms over your grave. However, because I told her I’d already eaten some and was still standing, she thought she’d give them a try.

Meadow mushrooms are among the finest of edible mushrooms. Mushroom lovers dream about them. And based on when and where they grow and confirmed by making a spore print, they’re easy to identify. The taste is like commercial “button” mushrooms, only more so.

Meadow Mushrooms, Ready to Dehydrate
Meadow Mushrooms, Ready to Dehydrate

After pigging out on as many as I could (first raw, then sliced, cooked, and sautéed with shrimp and angel hair pasta, then finally sautéed in butter all by themselves), I loaded the rest of my harvest in my food dehydrator for later.

This morning I got up thinking about gathering more Meadow mushrooms. I’m very greedy when it comes to mushrooms. Having harvested all the Meadow mushrooms from my property, I called my neighbor and asked her if she’d tried them.

“Yes, I did,” she said. “They’re wonderful! But I can’t eat them all, so if you want more come and get them.” 

Bwah Ha Ha!

Are you a mushroom lover? Go ahead and leave a comment!