Monday, December 31, 2018

Me and the Secretary


                                                     Me and the Secretary

There had been more than a week of really cold days this past November, below zero days up here.   I’m referring to the Marias Pass area, back to Bear Creek and east to the reservation. The country had finally become wintered up.  We’d had some snow followed by some low temperatures.  I still had horses at our place however, and so when I was asked by a friend to lead a ride into some of the best country I know, special country I’ve ridden in for pushing forty years, I nodded a go. 

The country I’m speaking of is the Badger- Two Medicine, east of the continental divide and south to Birch Creek, directly adjacent to Glacier National Park.  Many of you know the area, some very well.  At the least, you’ve read about it, in this publication and many others.  The Badger- Two Medicine hasn’t been without controversy over the course of the past half century and that profile has heated up significantly over the past decade.  Oil and gas exploration, motorized vehicle use, grazing of livestock, national monument status, and Native American treaty rights have all had their time in the public’s environmental bullseye.  Amazingly enough however, oil and gas leases have been, slowly but surely, and not without hard public advocacy, eliminated, one after another.  Motorized use in the Badger became prohibited following very contentious debate by both sides of the issue.  You won’t see a snow machine or a four wheeler anymore.  Monument status in the Badger has been raised to discussion level in Washington D.C, and the Blackfeet Tribe has begun to exert its influence in decision making forums relative to the area.

This past September, a judge reinstated the oil and gas lease of Solonex, LLC in the Badger- Two Medicine, and after twenty one years, Big Oil was back in play.  Game on.  From my perspective, however, Solonex only added more fuel to the fire.  Of additional concern to me over this past year has been the specter of monument designation, at first blush an environmental boon to the area but in my opinion, a move that would put the Badger in the public consciousness and on display to the ever burgeoning increase in tourism and visitation.  More drama.

Well alright, so what about the ride we were about to do?  Me, my good friend, and the Secretary of Interior, Ryan Zinke were up.  The three of us on a private ride.  No security, no press, nobody.   Ryan wanted to see the country in question and I was good with that.  They rode mules and I rode a horse.   We’re saddled up and off we go, onward and upward into the heart of some of the dearest, most sacred and precious country I know.   It was a beautiful day, cold and crisp, the snow was as white as a polar bear’s ass, and the sun was out.  I didn’t know what to make of Ryan.  He’s big and tall, a decent looking fellow.  I may have been expecting what we’ve all read, a grandstander, shoots from the hip, a big mouth.  Nothing could have been further from the truth. 
I’ve read what you’ve read.  I’ve heard as well what you have, on the news and on the stump.  I agree, it’s not very flattering.  

As we rode ahead into the high country, the day absolutely spectacular, that sun keeping us warm, and the sky as blue as Butch Cassidy’s eyes, I was with a man who was kind, courteous, and generous.  Hell, we shared his Maker’s Mark whiskey over small talk while letting the country speak for itself.  The Secretary was curious, I could see.  He asked questions and listened respectfully as I responded, and added my thoughts on about everything he could see.  And we could see from the Sweetgrass Hills to Divide Mountain and down towards Heart Butte.

I want to tell you that my mission that day was to focus on one thing.  And that was the Badger-Two Medicine, nothing more.  I didn’t want to go anywhere else, not to the ANWR, not to the Yellowstone, not to the Bears Ears.  I stayed with the country I know.  And I repeat again, for the most part, I let the country do the talking.  Ryan listened.  I could see it and I know it to be true.  He loved our ride, he loved the country we’d ridden him through.  And when it was all said and done he looked me in the eye and told me he wouldn’t tear up the heart and soul of the country he’d just ridden through.  He could give Solonex drilling rights somewhere else.  I believed him.
He’s gone now.  Done at the Department of Interior.  He’s been a disappointment to many.  I just read a scathing article about his reign in this publication this morning.  I don’t know what to say at this point but let me get the following off my chest.  Ryan Zinke is a Montana boy.  He showed me a real good side on a very special day in the backcountry.   On that day, he put Montana first.  And consequently, he put you first. 

Friday, December 14, 2018

All Signs are Trending Warm!

Oh yeah, all signs trending warm!  I like that.  It's getting closer and closer to Christmas Day and as of today, the temperature is in the mid 30's.  Supposed to be in the 40's tomorrow and who knows, I might be sun bathing, with an edition of Sports Illustrated in my hands, by the weekend.  Not likely.
Nevertheless, we're behind schedule in the cold and snow departments, and as I look back to a year ago, we had a good two feet of snow on the flat by this date and had multiple below zero days and nights as well.  That was a trend I wasn't very fond of and as many of us experienced over the course of one of the toughest winters on record in the northern plains and Rockies, we've been pinching ourselves in the butt every day the temp moves above freezing.

I've thoroughly enjoyed the cool crisp, and sunny days we've had since Thanksgiving.  The country is quiet, bereft of humanity, preparing for whatever winter has in store for it.  The country is waiting.  There is a light layer of snow on the ground where the sun doesn't shine and on a walk the tracks of many animals tell a story.  Tracks don't hide.  Snowshoe hares, red squirrels, coyotes, white tail deer, an elk, a moose, no grizzly, and yes, wolves.  There's been some talk of a white wolf leading a small pack of four to five members through our little valley.  The wolves come and go.  I think they do a whole lot of travelling, always on the hunt for food.  I know those snowshoe hares pretty well.  One might see lots of tracks but it's rare to see one.  They make lots of tracks at night and you'd think judging by the mass of tracks in the evergreen thickets you'd be stepping on them.  But even back in those days when I used to hunt them, I never killed more than three a day and that was while putting in some serious effort on snowshoes.  In this country, hares are good feed for lynx and coyotes.  I haven't seen a lynx in a while but they are here.

You might be thinking I'd run into a grizzly.  God knows there's plenty in the area.  But it's winter in these parts and I haven't seen any sign in more than a month.  They're denned up and I'm happy for that.  There's an easier feeling one has moving through the woods this time of year.  I can't make that claim come April and on through the warm season until after November.  I'm not carrying bear spray and not having to be hyper alert.  Those bears are sleeping the good sleep.

This past summer was a rather slow one on the bear scale.  We did have a pair of grizzlies in the back pasture for a week or so in May.  One was big and one was small.  They were digging for glacier lily  roots and never caused a ruckus.  I lobbed a few cracker shells at the bigger of the two one morning.  Sent him packing.  But he was back after a while and I let him be.  Those two bears didn't cause any problems and they both left before too long a visit, most likely to find better feed.

On about mid August we began to see grizzlies, with some regularity, on our rides into the big country to the east of us, only miles from where the mountains meet the prairie.  Two separate families of griz, mama's with their young cubs.  We got a real good look at the sow with three cubs, feeding on service berries.  Those bears were very close to the area we'd planned on riding through.  We took a "different fork in the road, one less traveled."  No sense in upsetting their program, nor ours!  That wasn't out last meeting with grizzlies.  The following week we bumped into another family of a sow and two cubs.  Same general vicinity but clearly distinct from the first bunch. Those berries sure seemed to be losing their ripeness.  They were rather dry but must have been packing a punch.  No huckleberries in that area.  There's always a mystery in the animal kingdom.  Those bears were filling their needs somehow and someway but only they know their way.

Back to tracks.  We had a short blow in mid September.  Got a few inches of wet snow.  A day or so after the storm the weather had turned warm again and it made for stretches of mud on the trail.  Talk about tracks.  And oh boy, were there grizzlies in the area.  Over the trail course of at least four miles there were tracks of three more bears, the last being of a very large boar grizzly.  He'd been traveling the way we were headed although probably the day before.  I kept glancing down and off to my right as we rode and began to notice another big track, one I didn't immediately recognize.  I stopped and took a hard look down and I was seeing the large front print of a wolf.  Their tracks never fail to amaze me, particularly those that are most likely from a large, adult male.  My jaw about dropped.  A single track of one big wolf.  There's a story there for sure but I'll never know it.

Speaking of wildlife, wild country, and the like, I did another trip into the back of beyond in mid November.  I accompanied the current Secretary of Interior, Ryan Zinke, horseback, into a remote area that is currently in some environmental jeopardy.  My mission was to show the secretary a small piece of some of the best country I've ever known.  I've been riding and fishing it for more than thirty years.  And you just read a bit about it in the above paragraphs.

If you're familiar with the career of Secretary Zinke you also know he's a lightning rod in the enviro-political world these days and has earned the reputation for being "kind" to the oil and gas industry.  I kept my mind open to the day as it unfolded.  The air was cold but crisp, the sun was out, and the wind had died down to a dull roar.  Once again, I found myself on horseback in the Badger- Two Medicine country, a lucky man to be there regardless of the political world we now live with.  We rode on and then upward, heading into the heart of the matter, a good covering of snow, the world bright as a polar bear's ass.  I was looking for tracks, typical me, but also enjoying the ride, and believe it or not, the company.  There wasn't much in the way of tracks up high.  Winter had found the tops of the ridge tops we rode over.  The deer, elk, and moose were gone, having moved to a less harsh environment down on the river bottoms and winter range.  We were alone in a winter wonderland, just the three of us and this beautiful world.

I wanted to add that last sentence as a reminder to myself and you, the reader, that during the course of that wonderful day, we didn't do a whole lot of serious talking.  We didn't have to.  The country we were in did most of the talking.  Oh yeah, we had a five to ten minute session once we'd hit the river trail.  We talked about saving the Badger- Two Medicine from oil and gas development and giving the area unnecessary added attention in the form of "Monument" designation.  It was an easy discussion and in no small part was I not thinking about the critters and the tracks of those critters that make the world a better place!

                                             "Oh, it's a long time, from May to December."

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Monumental Monuments


                               Monument Designation of the Badger-Two Medicine Country
                                     Monument Designation of the Badger- Two Medicine


     I think back to days gone by, specifically those early, formative years guiding raft and fishing trips on the Snake River through Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.  What great country that is, and was, for me.  Needing to know a bit of the area's history I learned that Grand Teton National Park had been initially, almost a half century before I arrived on the scene, a National Monument, declared so by the president in 1929 by way of the Antiquities Act of 1906.  That act allowed the president to set aside "land to be protected as important historic, cultural, and ecological sites without the approval of congress."  There's some fine print added to the original Antiquities Act and some of that has been the subject of modern day interpretation and discussion.  Nevertheless, to this day, the president of the United States is allowed to set aside land or water that he deems is needing of protection.  In recent history, George Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama all added numerous monument status to lands and water that were deemed in need of increased protection as National Monuments.  Specifically, in 2016, during his last year in the White House, Barack Obama set aside the Bears Ears country in Utah, more than 1.3 million acres of land as a national monument.  Then the fun started.

   During President Trumps first year in office he directed the Secretary of Interior, Ryan Zinke, to review some of the existing monuments with an eye toward reducing the sizes of many of which he felt were not being used in a manner consistent with the original intent of the Antiquities Act of 1906.  The 1.3 million acre Bear Ears National Monument along with the 1.6 million acre Grand Staircase- Escalante National Monument have taken center stage following the review and may very well be in the process for severe reduction in size in the year ahead.  The Bears Ears is projected to go from the 1.3 million acres down to 120,000.  That's quite a change!  A drastic reduction in acreage is also planned for the Grand Staircase- Escalante as well.  Needless to say, in many quarters, and most certainly among every environmental organization known to man, there has been a loud outcry of opposition to the administrations actions.  "America's conservation legacy defines us and is the envy of the world.  Today is a dark day for that legacy.  "Teddy Roosevelt is shaking his fists.  Undermining one of our bedrock conservation laws and selling out to industry flies in the face of T.R., who president Trump said he wanted to emulate."  Oh boy!

     And here's where it gets interesting.  Ironically, or coincidentally, I'm not sure which, while at the same time taking aim at the two monuments in question, Secretary Zinke proposes that the Badger Two Medicine country of northern Montana become a National Monument, to the tune of 130,000 acres of country that begins six miles from where I'm writing this blog as we speak!  Bear Creek Ranch lies just six miles to the west of the northeast border of the, at this time, informally proposed Badger- Two Medicine National Monument.  More than a few of you reading this blog, many of you guests of ours, or close friends at Bear Creek Ranch over the years, have ridden on more than one occasion into the heart of the Badger- Two Medicine, with us.  You know the country of the Badger- Two Med as well as many others.  You've been there.  You also know it's some pretty special country, raw, rugged, spectacular, and drop dead beautiful.  And you never saw another soul on a ride you did with us.  That country is still quiet, very lightly visited, and even more importantly, well taken care of by those of us that do visit.  And that's the beginning of the rub, the conflict, the internal turmoil that lies right below the surface of potential monument designation.  At first blush, "protecting" the Badger- Two Medicine Country seems like a no- brainer.  After all, this nation's conservation legacy lays in no small part on the efficacy of the original Antiquities Act and the intent of that act is to protect our public lands.  I get that.  BUT.  Does the Badger-Two Medicine country need the additional level of protection that National Monument status would provide it, if any?

    What is so important to recognize at this point in time is that the Badger-Two Medicine country is protected at many levels because it is in the Lewis and Clark National Forest.  The Badger Two Med has been given increased protection over the years from oil and gas exploration and the use of motorized vehicles.  Both of those added levels of regulation were won after lengthy battles on the public and legal stage.  The Badger Two-Med country works very well under the "multiple use" directive of the Forest Service.  Folks hike, fish, hunt, and ride freely, without federal restriction.  There is also a limited amount of livestock grazing also permitted.  In my opinion, and I have been a long time and ardent user of the country in question, the existing levels of protection in the area work real well for about everyone.  The glaring exception to that last statement is the role the Blackfeet Tribe plays in the present and future of the area.  I'll add to that thought in the following paragraphs.

    At this point I'll cut right to the heart of the matter.  The Badger-Two Medicine is everything it is, beautiful, majestic, raw, and rugged because it is not a monument.  It has not nor should be added to National Monument status because it will have a bulls eye painted on it both in this country and around the world.  A bulls eye of visitation that it doesn't need.  The Badger-Two Med is what it is because it has been left alone, unlike our National Parks and Monuments, and monument status will change that irreversibly.  If the Blackfeet Tribe desires more use or management authority in the country then I say bring it to the table. 

     Pushing back on National Monument creation anywhere is hard for me to do.  My natural instinct is go all in on monuments and provide the kind of protection all our remaining wild places need and deserve.  But I am also seeing a change in the character of many of our wild lands as they continue to get more and more visitation and use.  This past summer the visitation in Glacier National Park went well beyond the 3 million mark, almost double the use I normally noted not many years ago.  Trails are crowded as are park facilities.  And the irony to those thoughts is that Glacier National Park is fully visible and directly across Highway 2 from the north boundary of the Badger Two-Medicine.  We look north into the park as we ride just to the south of it and we rarely see a soul on our side of the tracks.  And those souls rarely see us! 

    I cringe at the thought of National Monument protection in the Badger-Two Med.  That country is  good just the way it is today.  I don't want that to change nor do I suspect that current users of the area would embrace that change either.  What I fear is that the enticement of the false narrative of added protection in Monument status will blind many folks to the reality that  National Monuments bring, and that is potentially immense additional visitation and use. 

    As I've heard on many occasions in my life when looking at a difficult decision that doesn't need to be made, the wise man sayeth;  "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."  The Badger-Two Medicine Country ain't broke.  It is good the way it is.  It doesn't need fixing, certainly not to the extent that Monument status would bring.

    There's a whole lot of stuff in this world I know very little about.  But I do know a whole lot about the Badger-Two Medicine Country.  I know that monument designation of that country will change it forever, and not for the better.  Bill Beck, Winter 2017

Monday, November 20, 2017

An Oxymoron? Managing Grizzlies.

                                                                Managing Grizzlies

The very contentious issue of debate regarding the "listing" of the grizzly bear is again coming into focus in the American West.  On Wednesday, November 29th, in Missoula, many of this regions grizzly bear bureaucrats will be gathering, once again, to discuss the status of ursus horribilis, most specifically, in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (or NCDE).  The biggest piece of that day long discussion will be to debate the merits of delisting the grizzly in Northern Montana and if in fact that is going to occur how will the grizzly be managed moving forward.

They'll all be there.  You know who I'm talking about!  From Wilderness Watch to the Sahara Club, and all of 'em in between, every environ- meddling outfit within five hundred miles. They'll all be there in force, in all their glory, sanctifying the the status of the grizzly, and theirs as well.  And of course, grizzly bear managers from the Fed, the state and the tribes will be driving the agenda for the day.  I'm looking forward to attending, as a member of the general public and I do hope the public makes it's presence felt. I can already feel the hair on the back of my neck getting stiff! 

I've lived in grizzly bear country for quite some time, going back to the the early 80's and on up through the present.  I am writing this piece, having just come back from feeding in our barn, not expecting to see a bear there but keeping my eyes open regardless.  I think it's a bit late in November to find a hungry grizzly poking around near our feed bins but who knows, it's only been a couple weeks since the last grizzly's presence exited the property.  I've been run out of there on more than one occasion over the years.  There's a foot and a half of snow out there and a whole lot more in the high country so chances are any bear in the area is denned up.

Most of my life over the past forty years has been spent at our ranch, directly adjacent to the southern edge of Glacier National Park, just to the north of the Bob Marshall Wilderness complex, and just west of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.  There's lots of bears in the area, to say the least.  Always has been.  Yes, we've noted some fluctuation in population over the years.  The decade of the 90's was really something, grizzlies everywhere.  One summer we had three different sows with twin cubs on and off the property.  We lost a colt to a sow with a cub one Spring night and the following evening had eight different grizzlies doing a dance around the culvert trap, set up to capture the sow that had killed the colt.  A buddy of mine and myself counted 55 grizzlies between May and June 1st within ten miles of the ranch one year.  It seemed like there were bears everywhere.  These past ten years we appear to have lost the big, dense population of bears that we once had but I don't think they'v gone too far!  The population of those bears appears to have moved, or migrated if you will, in an easterly direction, over to the prairie country and the Rocky Mountain Front, back to their historic habitat, before the advent of the white man. We saw eight of the big bears there this past summer over the course of two days within a few miles of each other.  And I doubt if we saw them all.  There was bear sign everywhere.

I'm wondering if there will be some sharp folks attending the upcoming meeting in Missoula?  Will there be some real outdoor brain power present at that gathering of bear professionals?  Will they all have their laptops at their disposal, ready to augment their argument with satellite imagery data uploaded from a solar powered live feed 200 miles distant on Grant Ridge?  How many of them will have spent years in the out of doors, in bear country, among bears, accumulating the experience, the knowledge, and the wisdom to know that the whole deal, the whole debate, the grist of the entire issue, is not as complex or as difficult to solve as they would have you believe?  There will be several hundred attendees in Missoula on the 29th and several hundred opinions on how to proceed with the debate, "to list or not to list."

There's always going to be bears in this country, in the NCDE.  It's just a matter of how many we can live with, or perhaps how many can live with us.  Of little doubt to me however, is that the number we finally settle on has got to be finite.  In other words, there can't be an unlimited degree of population growth among the big bears.  There has been growth for decades and the results of that have been an increasing amount of man/bear conflict and a feeling among many folks that the biological and social carrying capacity of the NCDE has been reached.  And yes, I do recognize that thought is not likely to be received well among the crowd I expect to be attending!

If I were in a position to make an executive decision regarding the future management of the grizzly bear here's what would happen;  The grizzly bear would once again become the domain of the state of Montana;. the presence of the Federal Fish and Wildlife Service would be relegated back to the east side of the Mississippi River, never to be present in this state again, ever;  the population of the grizzly would be capped at its' present number;  legal hunting of the grizzly would be initiated and become a viable management tool in man/bear conflict;  For starters, 50 grizzlies, two third males, and one third females, would be legally harvested each year:  in the NCDE grizzlies will not be present east of Highway 89 from the Canadian border south to Interstate 90.

I've had a richer life having lived with grizzlies and in grizzly country for as long as I have.  I also understand that the grizzly is an animal that needs lots of room to live, a whole lot more than you and I need.  I'd rather see the grizzly in his world than ours.  We don't do well together and one of us always loses when there's conflict.  The bear dies or we get hurt and die as well.  Neither of us wins.  Leave the bear alone in northwest Montana, west of Highway 89.  We'll all be happy.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

That griz and me

                                                   That Bear and Me    

I've always loved those later fall days at the ranch.  The days are getting shorter, and I know what's to come.  There will be snow, lots of it, cold temperatures, and by December, most likely temps well below zero.  It wasn't but just a few years ago, I think in December of 2013, and maybe that was December 7th, the thermometer outside our kitchen window showed -41below.  Well, that was then, and on this early October Saturday afternoon, it is plumb flat gorgeous.  It must be in the low 70's, the sun is out, and even though the sun is considerably lower in the sky than it is in July, that round ball of yellow fire is still warming our part of the country.  I feel good and it's time to do some work. In this case, begin to winterize the cabins, turn the water off to them, the barn, the automatic waterers, and then pump the water out of each one individually.  I start the process at the cabin closest to the barn, the Lewis and Clark cottage, probably twenty five to thirty yards from the barn.  And at this point in time I'm not thinking about bears, in case you're wondering.  We haven't seen a bear on the property the entire year.  It ain't like the old days back in the eighties and nineties, bears, grizzlies everywhere, I kid you not. 

                                          Sow griz with three cubs (two out of sight)

So there I am, moving in and out of the Lewis and Clark cabin, turning valves off, pumping air into the system, blowing water out, stepping back out to get tools.  And then halfway through that process, I happen to look inside the entrance to the barn and there's our large grain bin, laying on its side, hard against the rear gate directly adjacent to the corral.  It isn't supposed to be there.  I know right away it's a bear, been there many times.  I wander back to the barn entrance and swing the gate open.  There's a bit more mess close by.  The 55 gallon steel garbage can has been turned over, there's paper garbage and empty grain bags on the dirt floor but not much more of a mess.  No worries mate.  Hell, I wasn't even thinking worry, much less thinking bear.  I've seen nothing to sound off any alarm bells and my God, it's the middle of a very sunny day.  I move through the barn, picking up what's been scattered. 

About halfway into the large barn, there's a corner past the tack room and a large open space off to the right.  I reach that corner and naturally, look to the right, and there he is, looking at me.  Holy shit, we're about twenty feet apart. It's a grizzly, and he's half standing, hard up against the wall, and undoubtedly, waiting and wondering what in the hell he's got coming at him.  I see him and he's seeing me.  I make the bear, he's making me, and I swear it may have only been two seconds, and although I'd like to tell you that a whole lot went through my mind real quickly, that wasn't the case.  I do remember recognizing it was a grizzly, immediately, and I do recall seeing long, white claws on what must have been a front foot raised above his body and I believe up against the wall.  Beyond those thoughts however, there weren't any.  And after what must have been just two seconds, perhaps three, but it wasn't any more than that, that son of a bitch made a move, a lunge toward me, hard and fast.

I didn't think, didn't have enough time to think, but perhaps whatever thought process I did have at exactly that moment of truth, passed that message to my body and I moved, and I mean with lightning speed.  I spun on my left leg and ran, sprinted, harder than I have since my college days, towards light, the barn gate, and out.  Believe it or not, and I can actually remember the fleeting thought I had during that flight.  "Man, I feel good, I feel fast, I feel light on my feet."  I had more than a little fear and adrenaline running through my veins and that must have helped.  No pulled hamstrings, no bad knee, and no physical handicap holding me up.  I made it out of the barn.

Daylight, temporary freedom.  My sprint gets me fifteen, twenty yards beyond the barn gate and I am beginning to use some cognition (a fancy word for thought, my counseling education education!).  I've got to look around and see where that bear is 'cause if he's on my ass I'm gonna' have to change my plan.  I haven't thought beyond that but I do slow down and crane my neck around and look back. He's not on my butt, thank God, and so I look harder in the direction of the back barn gate and the corral, and there he is.  He's hit a lope as well, a grand four hundred pound grayish colored griz, probably a male, and he's hauling the mail, wanting no part of me, and I, no part of him.

Remember, I opened this writing feeling pretty good about the day, the time of year, and the beauty of this particularly fine fall day.  Well, I'm here to tell you that I'm feeling even better, as I continue on up toward the lodge, safety, and my beautiful wife.  Life feels real good at the moment.  Hell, I just dodged another bullet.  Oh yeah, I have more than a good idea how that afternoon event could have ended.  That image I have of those long, white claws, classic grizzly features, are still with me.  I know that had that bear been a sow with cubs, or perhaps a grizzly with less shy behavior, or simply a bear that had been even more suddenly confronted, I might have felt those long claws across my back.  I don't think much beyond that scenario.  Ain't worth it.  And besides, I did dodge another bullet.  That's three of them this season. Been cow kicked in the head by a good horse, knocked me down, a first after having shod a couple thousand head of horses in my life.  Got bucked off hard, my head finding the only large rock in an area of soft grass and dirt, and then of course, the bear.  And I'm still hear to tell you about it.  

Vaya con Dios! 

Monday, January 25, 2016

"It's been quite the party."

Wow, in my last writing I wrote about the young lady I had developed a professional relationship with in a therapeutic setting.  I still think about her from time to time and hope she is overcoming some of the social barriers that have inhibited her from being all she wants to be.  Just recently, I've received news of good friends, some temporarily sick, a few terminally ill.  That ain't good.  I mean, these are folks that I've known a long time, through the good times and the not good times.  Good friends stand the test of time, they don't come and go, even when the chips are down.  I talked to a good ole cowboy bud of mine just a while ago.  Me and Harry don't see each other much, maybe once or twice a year.  But when we do, it's a good thing.  I think my world wouldn't be as full if Harry weren't around.  And for the record, he will be.  His go round in the hospital is about over and in any case, he's a stubborn son of a bitch and on the mend.  But I must be thinking about mortality a bit more than normal cause here I am writing about it.

So here I go again, writing about relationships, ones I've known, ones I've lost, and maybe those that are yet to come.  I just got off the message system with an old high school mate, hadn't communicated with him for more than forty some years.  I remember Doug pretty well.  We played football together and I recall him being pretty damned smart.  I think he went to one of them Ivy League colleges and became a physicist.  He  was asking for my comments on the Malheur Wildlife Refuge comedy and we exchanged a few thoughts on the matter.  I gave him my take on the deal and he referred me to a couple pieces that he thought were worth reading.  Now, here I am corresponding with one intelligent fellow and he's asking me stuff?  I told him he'd always had me "out brained" by a large margin.  And you know what?  He told me he'd always enjoyed my writing, my style, and my normally thoughtful prose.  Holy shit!  I kid you not, I was speechless, and flattered.  And most of all, he made my day.  And so, here I am, inspired, writing, on a Saturday afternoon. I think, which is what I'm getting at here is, is that it doesn't take a whole lot to get us going.  We need just a little help, just a little nudge, just a little encouragement, just a little kindness directed our way, to make our day.   I doubt if I'm speaking solely for myself.  We're all pretty similar when you get right down to it.

It's been thirty five years now since we opened the doors at Bear Creek Ranch.  Talk about a journey. My life has been a journey, particularly when it comes to that little ranch and the way it's intersected with me at every curve, corner, and traffic light along the way.  Marriages, children, life, and death, good times, not so good times, but through it all, the one constant, the relationships that I've known and the ones that I haven't but are still to come.  We don't raise cattle at our place, we have raised more than a few horses, but really, what we've raised the most, are relationships with our guests, those that were, those that are, and those that are yet to come.  I've thought on occasion that it would be nice to raise cattle.  Hell, cattle don't talk back, don't take up your time when you've got something else on your mind, a project to complete, an errand to run.  But you know what, I think I've come out on the right end on that one.  I've had a fascination with people, and as I call it, the human condition, for as long as I can remember,  And I still do!

It's been an interesting Saturday morning.  I just got an e-mail from a fellow that worked at the ranch thirty years ago.  Now where the hell did that come from, after all these years.  I'd thought of Mike from time to time, not with total fondness and not without some as well.  I suspect if we'd been the best of friends we'd have never lost track of each other.  But there it is.  I'll be seeing Mike this summer.  He'll be a paying guest, which is one good thing, and we'll undoubtedly share some life, me and him.  And that will pretty interesting.  Did he ever marry the girl he loved so much back in 1988? Did he know of the girl I loved in 1988 and married in 1989?  Does he have children?  Does he know I have children?  Oh boy, and there's more of course.

I've got to fill you in on another fellow, Frankie,  who's been a guest at our ranch for three decades. He's been on hunts, pack trips, cattle drives, and ranch vacations with us.  This past summer, he was here at the ranch twice, once with his wife and grandson, and later on in the fall, with his wife and another neat couple.  Frankie worked for a big outfit in the Midwest for years and not months after retiring after forty years of hard work, was diagnosed with a rather serious form of cancer.  He was sick during his vacation here in July and appeared stronger in the fall.  This winter hasn't been kind to him and I find myself thinking about the fickle and often unfair nature of life.

Changing gears, there's the real good stuff out there as well.  We've had three marriages at the ranch the past couple years and they've all been good stuff.  I mean really good people getting married on just the perfect day, and a helluva good party afterword.  I have a strong feeling that those marriages are all gonna' work.  Hell, one of 'em was mine so there you go.  I think the ranch, at times, has an almost mystic feel to it.  Those weddings had it.  "Into the Mystic."

There's so much more but before I wrap this up I want to tell you about Pat.  Hell, most of you know him.  Pat worked at the place more than thirty years ago, fresh out of high school somewhere on the East Coast.  I'm not sure Pat had even graduated, not that it mattered.  He was young then, just beginning, and stayed with us for a couple years.  But there was something about Pat, even then.  He had a quiet kind of ambition. And when he told me he was going to be building a Mexican Restaurant in his sister's older log home in East Glacier, I thought well, he's in for a rude awakening.  Now remember, that's going back more than a few years.  What the hell did I know?  What the hell did Pat know?  Well, he knew a helluva' bunch more than me!  It wasn't long before he and his wife Renee had that old log building tore down and built up.  And you know the rest of this story.  Serrano's Mexican Restaurant is one of the most successful business's west of the Mississippi River.  Those strawberry daiquiris and blended margaritas go down like none other.  Pat toasted me with his personal stash of fine Tequila on my 60th birthday.  As Augustus McRae, Texas Ranger, said, "it's been quite the party."  And it all started at Bear Creek Ranch.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Me and Cliven Bundy

I was with a student this past fall, in a practicum setting, in an office, at the University of Montana. She was a foreign student, a long way from home in Asia, with a rudimentary knowledge of the English language, very soft spoken, and beyond quiet, both in her spoken word and physical presence.  I spent an hour each week for two months in a therapeutic setting as we attempted to make sense of her loneliness and isolation in a foreign country and culture.  On more than one occasion I saw tears slowly drip down her cheeks, the result of too little communication with the world around her, and an inability to develop new relationships in a strange new world.   I happened to be eating lunch one day in the University Center, having grabbed a chair off by itself, or so I thought, and after having a few words with a colleague, turned my head and not three feet from me, alone as well, was the young lady I just described in the words above.  I'd been sitting there for at least ten minutes and I hadn't seen her specifically nor had I been aware of anyone even in the vicinity.  All that time, and that close proximity, and I hadn't said Hi, nor had she.

After a mildly awkward "Hi, how are you?" I went about my business, continued reading, and wondered how I would make my exit without engaging in conversation, an action that is not recommended in the world of therapeutic counseling.  The rule of thumb is that counselors don't acknowledge clients in the "outside" world, but do so if addressed first.  And regardless, we keep it short and sweet.  After ten minutes or so I made my farewell, quietly, and without what would be for me in other circumstances, a hearty and heartfelt farewell.  I just left.

I just got up and left that poor, lonely, and socially isolated girl, in her chair, with no one else around, and I hadn't said a word to her upon leaving.  I was stuck, just plain stuck, caught between a rock and hard place, stuck between the ethics of the therapeutic environment I have pledged an oath to and my own personal creed of human relationship and kindness.  But I blew it.  I walked out without one word and I left.

There was a next session and  I made it a point, right at the get go, to explain my lack of courtesy to her, and to give to her my sincerest apology.  I should have acknowledged her as I left the lunch room, even if with just a few words.  My actions that previous week should have been exactly what I've always felt a kinship to, and that is acknowledging, developing and maintaining relationships with the people around me.  I haven't always been successful but the effort is important, even if it's awkward, out of place, and in the end, doesn't work. The plain fact of the matter is that the odds are in one's favor with even less than one's best effort.

I've been in the guest ranch business for more than forty years and for the greatest part of that time at Bear Creek Ranch in northern Montana.  One could make the case for the importance of developing close relationships in the very specific guest business I'm in.  That makes alot of sense.  The plain fact of the matter is however, that the development and maintenance of personal relationships is a critical component of almost any association, business, team, or gathering of human beings anywhere.  The nature of the interpersonal relationships of people in any form can be the defining quality that separates failure from success and from misery to happiness.  I've seen it in the flesh on too many occasions as I'm sure you have as well, and I suspect, if the truth were known, we've all been party to the bad end of relationships that with some thought and effort could have been avoided.

That being said, a huge part of the success that I've had at Bear Creek Ranch has been through the growth and maintenance of the relationships that I have been able to nurture over the course of three and a half decades.  I couldn't have made it all these years without many very key friendships that have stood the test of time.   Some come and sadly, some go, but the ones that remain are like battle hardened old war horses.  I am and always will be eternally grateful for those that are.

Ya' know, it's pretty hard to operate in this world, under any circumstances, without some sort of a network of family or friends.  I've seen that better than ever the past few years and I've begun to see the scars that begin to emerge of the psyche of the human soul when one does attempt to navigate the world of the social animal alone, solo.  It rarely works.  I'm grateful for even the modest success I've had and rueful that I've left a few in the dust.  I guess if one is beyond the middle zone on the graph of human sociability then you're rolling ahead of the curve.

So here's to all of you, family and friends, here's to all of us.  Let our days ahead be full of joy and spirit, dignity and faith, and to everyone, the best New Year ever!

Oh yeah, Cliven Bundy fits in somewhere.  I just don't know where!