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!





Sunday, December 13, 2015

No Place Like Home... Reflections


                                                 Hair, Hippies, and Here







I remember doing the radio show in the nineties.  The Hi Line Sportsman it was called.  I did an anti-environmental commentary for five to ten minutes a couple times a week.  Back in those days I was a pissed off permittee of the Unites States Forest Cervix, and pissed off and pissed on I was.  Truth be known, I did most of the pissing and in fairness to the whole deal I was, how should I put this, given a whole lot of latitude.  But that was then and this is now although I do recall taking lots of shots at the University of Montana or as I not very fondly referred to it as "the school of nuts and raisins." Between the professional apparatus at the U pumping out up and coming bureaucrats into the system and my inability to survive as a servant of that mentally vacuous machine I lost the war.  I still get pissed off thinking about that but time does have a way of softening past blows and things change. 
Like, here I am, in Missoula, Montana, a bunch of years later (doing graduate work) and it ain't as bad as I thought it might be.  Granted, I'm not ensconced in the bowels of the school of natural resources every day listening to the drivel of the environmental aristocracy lecturing to their worshiping, brainwashed pupils.  Thank God.  Truth be known, I do have relapses of PTSD as I work my through the smattering of mare hippies waiting for their sushi and latte in the UC cafeteria.  I can smell 'em a mile away.  That said, I've mellowed,  I can live with 'em, at a distance!  I shudder to think they'll be part of that corporate natural resource intelligentsia, that part of which is still so foreign, and yes, repulsive to me.  But, I've mellowed, changed.  Nevertheless, the following are some thoughts on the whole matter and more.

I'm still a huge fan of "Range" magazine, the bible of the American  West.  There isn't a day that goes by when an issue of some critical nature, whether it be wolves, climate change, private property rights, endangered species, etc. and although I may listen to any number of opinions myself, and even have a few, I ultimately lean back on the words of wisdom of "Range."  "Range is an award winning quarterly devoted to the issues that threaten the American West, its people, lifestyles, lands, and wildlife.  Range is a leading forum for opposing viewpoints in the search for solutions that will halt the depletion of a national resource- the American cowboy." Range is where I go to when I'm confused, angry, or even bitter.  I can't look to books, lectures, and the pontification
of professional intellectuals for wisdom.  I look to the working men and women on the ground on the front lines. The search for true wisdom comes from the men or women who've battled in the trenches of real life on farms and ranches from coast to coast.  Their stories are written on the pages of "Range" magazine every other month.  I urge you to google them up and see for yourself.

The wolf issue in the American West has died down quite a bit.  I can recall the subject first getting broached with me at a meeting some Forest Service officials in the backcountry in the late 1980's.  I think they thought I was of a new breed of cat, forward thinking, and probably amenable to the new world order of wolf reintroduction and recovery in the American West.  That evening may have been the beginning of my undoing as a new, fresh faced permittee of the corporation.  I'd only seen a few wolves up to that point in my entire life and it wasn't the wolf itself that initially ran shivers down my spine, it was the attendant flood of bureaucracy that I knew would follow.  The wolf issue has always been as much about the role of an alien societal presence and role of government in our lives as it has been about just the presence of the wolf itself.  That conflict still rages, even when it isn't making headlines.  That's further reason why you should always go to bed with the "bible" of the American West on your nightstand.  

And back to the county and town of Missoula, Montana.  Prior to my first school year in town I did have some apprehension about the liberal bias and makeup of the community, and certainly the university.  My nervousness hasn't been justified by the experience I've had in "Zootown."  With only some to be expected exceptions, living in and going to school in Missoula has been a pleasure.  I've found the town to be a hardworking, middle class enclave surrounding a university that hasn't lived up to the wacky reputation I gave it.  I'm all for good discussion and intelligent discourse on almost any issue and a university atmosphere is the perfect place for that.  I've met quite a few students and professionals from every discipline the college has to offer and have yet to have a heated, unreasonable discussion with anyone.  Missoula is growing at a reasonable rate, real estate prices seem to be in the norm, and trophy homes and gated communities haven't yet found fertile ground for germination.  Yeah, there's always a rub.  That lack of uber-wealth in Missoula and the surrounding area is a good thing.  Take a look at Gallatin County and the town of Bozeman and you're staring at a phenomenon that is as much a threat to the quality of life in the American West as the advent of wolf generation was twenty years ago.

It wasn't too many years ago and a ranch was worth what a ranch was worth.  That is, it was worth the price of the buildings, the number of cows, and the amount of land.  Oh to be sure, there were other items of value like water rights, hay meadows, road access, and the like.  That's changed.  Have you taken a look at the value of working ranches now, in 2015?   Well, once they're sold, the majority of them won't be working ranches anymore.  The working ranch and the families that have operated them for more than two centuries are slowly but surely disappearing, the casualties of  the erosion of the family farm and ranch to the mega wealth of American society.  I know that's a tough one to get your head wrapped around.  Success has always been wrapped up in the American dream, work hard and get rich.  I see that but I don't get it.  The plain fact of the matter is that large farms and ranches are being bought up, fenced off, and taken out of production, In many cases, the owners become absentee landlords, hire a caretaker, and visit when the weather is good, the trout fishing is at it's peak, and the skiing is at its best.  Now how in the hell does that square up with the very wisdom we were looking at when I started this rant?  It doesn't.  And all I can hope is that you get yourself a copy of Range magazine right now.  Then get a subscription, and get a real job.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Keystone Pipeline Beer


North to Polar Bears, South to Old Mexico

It's about time.  A gallon of gas in Montana can be had for a buck 98 now.  That's a helluva deal.  Diana just got home from her annual winter trip to Aruba and filled up the Mercedes for less than a hundred bucks. That's about half of what we were paying for a tank of gas just this past summer.  The price of gas is making everyone feel pretty good.  More money to buy beer.  When you think about it, a six pack of cheap beer, say Keystone for example, is about twice as expensive as a gallon of gas.  That's cool.  I always know there was a correlation between beer and gasoline.  Makes perfect sense doesn't it?  I doubt you're following my train of thought on the subject and you're probably wondering what the hell I'm talking about.  Well, I'm not too sure myself but I'll give it a better go.  Ready?

Alright, so we're getting gasoline at the pump at prices we haven't seen since the last century.  And we are feeling pretty good about that.  We've got a few extra bucks lying around and the economy is picking up even more steam as we slowly but surely emerge from the recent economic slump.  The price of oil has a lot of influence on the overall economic health of not only our economy and well being but as well on the international economic picture.  Let's face it, on those levels, oil is the world's drug of choice.  We get high when there's lots of it and go into withdrawal when it's scarce.  For the time being, however, let's just assume that we're on a good roll that may last a while.  Life is good at the pump.  Keep on pumping.

I know what happens when gas is cheap.  Guess. We consume a hell of a lot more of it than we do when it's above three dollars a gallon. I've gone months without filling up my truck and forking over a hundred and fifty bucks at $3.89 s gallon. That's a chunk of change I don't always have handy.  Now, hell, I won't think twice about filling up and heading down the highway for business or pleasure.  I've got people and places I want to go see now that I can afford to.  (And by the way, I was just pulling your drawers about Diana going to Aruba on holiday.  She went to East Glacier to get the mail).

The problem with that nifty scenario is that when gas is cheap and life is good we do act like a society of junkies.  And you know what Neil Young said about that don't 'ya?  "Every junkie's like a setting sun, (Needle and the Damage Done, 1970)."  I may be acting a bit melodramatic at this point but I can't help but be thinking about Keystone Beer and Keystone Oil.  Shouldn't the oil cost more than the beer?  If we're tallkin' Michelob Ultra, or better yet, Moose Drool, our local favorite,  I'd be drinking oil.  There's the rub. We'll be consuming oil like it's a premier beer unless and until the price of oil goes back up to where it should be.

I know, you're ready to kick my ass.  Why in the hell do I want to see the price of oil to get high and stay high?  Well, it's because many years ago I did one of the greatest hunts of my lifetime in the far northeast corner of Alberta, hard up against the Northwest Territories border and not far from Saskatchewan.  That trip to the bush of Alberta was one of the highlights of my life.  We hunted out of a small cabin on a remote lake, only reachable by float plane.  And we were in the bush, as they say.  There wasn't much in the way of civilization in front of us, in back, or to the side of us for hundreds of miles.  I think Great Slave Lake was somewhere between us and the Arctic Circle.  And when I sauntered off for a morning hunt I was pretty darned careful about checking my back track, not wanting to to be spending the winter holed up in a polar bear den.  I hunted some of the most beautiful, primitive country I'd ever been in up to that point in my life. And to top that off, I killed a big bull moose that to this day hangs on the wall of our ranch house in Montana.  The kicker to that story is that where I hunted that weekend in Alberta more than twenty years ago is where the oil for the Keystone Oil Pipeline is coming from.  I'ts coming from the Alberta Tar Sands.

I've thought on many occasions what that country might look like now and I don't want to imagine too hard.  I'd imagine it doesn't look too much like it did back then.  I've heard stories.  I've not heard good stories about the exploration and extraction of the tar sands from that once pristine region up north.  It breaks my heart.  So how in the hell can I think good things about the most likely forthcoming construction of a pipeline from there to the Gulf Coast of Texas, carrying the oily residue of a scorched earth policy of strip mining the very country I walked on when I was young?  I can't do it.

From this point on in this writing I have a bad feeling that the more I write the more I'll be getting in over my head.  The subject matter gets pretty complex from here on out so I'll keep it simple and have it said.  Hey, I know we need oil, for our cars, trucks, industry, military, the whole enchilada.  I know that.  I also know, and so do you, that we need lots of big tracts of unspoiled country with lots of fresh air and water.  We don't just want it, we need it (Jagger, Richards, 1975).  We're beginning to experience a "going, going, gone kind of mentality that should be suited to a more primitive culture than what I'd like to believe we could be.  I only have to think ahead a decade or two and don't like what I fear we might all see on this abused planet of ours. I don't want to pay three or four dollars a gallon for gas any more than you do.  I also don't want to see that precious country that I hunted when I was young treated like a whore in old Mexico a century ago.

Jobs.  Oh yeah, that's the conundrum.  They say there's thousands of jobs waiting for you, both in northern Alberta, and along the path the Keystone pipeline will traverse.  Maybe and maybe not.  I've heard both sides of that coin and for the record, low gas prices have already, right now and as we speak, slowed things down in the oil patch.  So hold onto to that thought for a bit and in the meantime, if jobs or the lack thereof, are the thorn in the side of the most ardent supporters of Keystone XL Pipeline, why not get a little forward thinking and encourage an onslaught of research and development in massive wind and solar technology. Instead of "drill baby drill, (S. Palin)" we go to "build baby build, (W. Beck, 2021))."  They both employ lots of labor and the money is good.  Neither scenario is perfect and not without it's own respective good and poor points.  But I'll bet you a case of Moose Drool beer that the environmental impact on this good earth of ours will be substantially improved if we can graduate to a more pragmatic way to move forward.

I think the whole deal is a whole lot less complex than any of us want to recognize.  I know, in my case, it doesn't take a whole lot of imagining of the landscape in the tar sands country then, when it was primitive, and in it's prime, and now, chewed up, and spit out, to know which way I want to see us go.  So I've to to take it back to Neil, "I've seen the needle and damage done, a little part of it in everyone, but every junkie's like the setting sun, (N.Young, Needle and the Damage Done, 1970)."

Here's to Keystone Beer, Here's to Keystone Oil, For what it's worth,
" Let's drink to the Salt of the Earth, (Jagger, Richards, 1977)"

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Big Muscanetcong River

"The average American child can recognize 1,000 corporate logos but can't identify 10 plants or animals native to his or her own region." Quite frankly, I can't figure out who is responsible for that quote.  It may have been my facebook friend Oscar Williams 1V.  It have been any man on the street.  It darned sure could have been anybody, period.  I've been struggling with the entire concept of the world of technology slowly but surely (and not very slowly) taking over the lives of our children, and our own lives, to be sure.  More so than ever, it's become more and more obvious that the attachment our younger generation has with technology has begun to wash away the sense and sensibility that it once had.  I didn't have to stare bug eyed at the quote beginning this writing to know that the world of cell phones, i-phones, i-pads, laptops, desktops, kindles, etc. has replaced the natural world of spiders, snakes, tadpoles, salamanders, fish, deer, rhinos, and elephants.  The world that is inside a classroom, an office, an internet cafe, a library, and even your living room, is not the living, breathing world under the blue sky and sun that started it all but appears to be fading into the past like a sunset on a bad day.

My life has changed significantly this past year.  I've begun a two year odyssey of learning at a university in Montana.  It's been forty years since I graduated from college but it seems like four hundred, particularly in the world of internet technology.  I've been operating from behind the eight ball for several months trying to catch up with the new way of doing business.  I did buy a computer in 1987 and got half savvy with it but clearly, didn't take my computer education very far.  Hell, I was busy fishing, hunting, roping, riding good horses, and thoroughly enjoying everything I could under the sun, literally.  Now I'm paying for it.  I watch my classmates barely listen to a lecture while typing their notes on computer generated power points on their Apple laptops with their facebook or hotmail app available with a quick click.  Following a class, those i-phones are out before they are out of their chairs, their fingers working so smoothly on those ridiculously small keys.  They make it look easy.  If I used a laptop in class it would be a disaster.  My fingers would fumble through those keys. I'd be missing keys and opening new programs, shutting down and starting up, cursing through my clenched jaws, and defeating the whole purpose of being in class.

But I'd rather be me than them.  To be sure, I'm surrounded by a whole bunch of good people.  Smart, savvy students who kick my ass every day in class and on exams and papers.  I'm struggling with my lack of electronic savvy.  I spent two worrisome weeks not long ago wondering how I could record an interview without a tape recorder for  a major mid-term project.  The solution was ridiculously easy.  Use a cell phone.  I did.  But I had no clue, until I asked a fellow student and lamely admitted my total ignorance of the whole process.

My whole point regarding the schism between my own lack of IT knowledge and the vast breadth of ability the vast majority of the learned populace does have is the length and depth they have had to go to acquire that knowledge they have, and at what cost.  The learning our world is doing is in fromt of a set of keys, electronically connected to the cyber world and it's particular and peculiar keyboard. I see it every hour of every day on campus.  I d
o see a Montana Sky, big tall trees, squirrels in them, deer hiding behind them.  I see the sun, when it's out, and the stars, when they are.  And I can feel the wind blow in my face on long walks, and I can hear the river flowing under the bridges I cross.  But I also see students staring intently into their cellphones, unaware of me passing by, heads down.  Many of them have earphones plugged in.  They are almost totally lost in cyber space.  Hell, they don't see me, certainly don't hear me, and wouldn't know their ass from a hole in the ground if they were gonna' get their ass kicked by a gut shot grizzly bear that came from around the corner.  They are fucking oblivious.

I was relaying a story to classmates about a particular grizzly bear that I followed one evening in hunting camp many years ago at a distance of just a few yards, as I attempted to blast a full lungful of bear spray at the renegade griz. Most of those listening had expressions of non belief on their faces.  I simply wasn't making any sense to most of them.  The story wasn't registering.  I suspect, however, that if they'd heard the same event on Animal Planet or seen it on Yahoo News it might have rung a few more brain cells.

I know we're a highly educated nation.  I know my grandson is getting a good education at a top notch public school.  He already runs the keyboard on his electronic toys more nimbly than I can only dream of doing.  I'm sixty three and he's four.  But I want Elias to know a white oak tree when he sees one.  I want him to know a gray squirrel when he's on a walk.  Or better yet, the difference between a non venomous black snake and a cottonmouth moccasin..  How about the difference between a white tailed deer and an elk he may very well see this coming summer on his visit to our ranch on the edge of Glacier National Park.

He won't know how to bait a hook, cast it into Bear Creek, and understand where the trout might be lying on that particular piece of fresh water.  Is that a brookie or a cutthroat he just caught?  "What do I do now Grandpa?  Can we eat it?"  I'll help him catch that fish and I'll show him how to clean it and get it ready for the frying pan.  But I'll only do that once.  Then he's on his own.  I'll also try to get Elias to keep his eyes open, not just to be aware of what's around him but also to keep his eyes open to the sun and the sky, to the creek and to the pasture, to the horses and to the herd of elk, to the still air and the gentle summer breezes.  He can't that get that stuff back East.  He won't get it in a classroom.  It won't happen in front of a computer screen, except in virtual reality and that doesn't really count does it?  Elias does have a real advantage however, and I am aware of that.  His Mom and Dad are pretty keen to the outdoors and they'll bring him a long way in that part of  his life  But many kids won't have that chance.  They'll get smart in school.  They may become good lawyers, builders, or teachers.  But they won't know the difference between an oak and a maple, or a black from a grizzly bear.  Or the beauty of a black night in Montana lit up by the northern lights.

I caught my first trout when I was 12 years old on a creek in New Jersey.  That was one of the highlights of my life up to that point.  I was on my own, had found the stretch of creek I wanted to fish, baited my own hook, and caught my first brookie.  I screamed with Joy.  That creek was cold and clear and far enough away from the madding crowd that the whole beautiful experience is one I remember to this day.  God I hope it isn't too late.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

No Direction Home



Major Yellowstone elk herd continues steep decline

March 08, 2013 10:13 am
BILLINGS — A major elk herd that migrates between Yellowstone National Park and Montana continues to decline in size, with scientists reporting it now has fewer than 4,000 animals.
Scientists from the park and the Montana Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks said the Northern Yellowstone elk herd is down 6 percent this winter, to 3,915 animals.
The herd peaked at about 20,000 animals in 1992. That was just a few years before gray wolves were reintroduced to the Yellowstone area from Canada after being absent from the region for decades.
Also taking a toll on the herd have been hunters, other predators including mountain lions and bears, and harsh winters.

Part 1

Ahhhh.  Finally, as they say, "the cold hard facts."  There's no ambiguity, no distortion, no justification, just the cold hard facts baby.  And don't they just slap you in the face like a glass of cold water on an even colder day.  And I underscore the previous paragraphs' numbers as in a ball game where there is no room to wiggle.  The numbers are what they are.  I repeat, those numbers don't lie.  They are 20,000 to 3900 from 1992 to 2013.  As in the numbers of elk that have decreased in the Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd the past twenty years.  Suck on that one for a while.

And in the meantime ask yourself that cold hard question;  "how did it get this far?"  And as Don Corleone replied to his own rhetorical question of the same five words regarding the war his family was in with the other families he answered philosophically but sadly "I don't know."

Unlike the Don's answer however, we do know how we got this far as that pertains to the crushing loss of one of this nations' greatest national resources, the Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd.  And before I proceed with my personal thoughts and opinions on the matter I also want to share with you, the reader, that I do recognize the wolf reintroduction and recovery issue is an emotional, volatile, and very divisive one that not many of us will agree upon, to say the very least.  Frankly, that statement may be considered one of the great understatements of the century!  That being said, I feel that I must set my record straight on the matter and win, lose, or draw, stand up and be counted.  I have to.  I owe it to myself and anyone who is interested in listening.

It's been years since I've thought as hard and I hope sincerely, about an issue as I have about the one at hand.  And for the record, as a bit of backdrop for you and to get the following out of the way I have no professional axe to grind.  I don't hunt or outfit hunters anymore.  Those days are gone.  I don't know why they're gone but they are.  I don't even kill fish.  Believe it or not, I have no desire to kill a wolf.  None.  If someone else wants of hunt or trap wolves, for whatever reason, have at it.  Be my guest.  Yes, we do run livestcock at our place here, horses for the most part, and yes again, there is that possibility that we could run into problems with wolves in the future.  But so far, so good.  Let's leave it at that.

I'd like to come at the matter from several perspectives that in my opinion, have not been given enough attention and credence these past years.  Perhaps first and foremost, the Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd is (was) a national resource, one of the continents true national treasures.  To the national public and certainly the montana populace, the herd has given this country some of its' greatest natural experience and exposure as in the many decades long exposure in the park itself signified by hundreds of thousands of pictures of elk in the park disseminated in so many venues and becoming burned into the collective memories of so many Americans.  And on a lesser but just as critical level to the overwhelming majority of Montana citizens those elk represent a state national treasure because they are just that.  Yes, the joy that Montanans have exhibited because of the herd both as a source of pride due to its' size but also because of that presence the same joy and smile on the faces of Montana hunters in the fall.  Say what you will about hunting in Montana but say it out of the hearing of Montanans and quite frankly mind your own business.  Yes, hunting is a sacred rite of passage in the fall of each year.  And by God, I hope it remains so in the years ahead. 

Hunting is a Montana tradition participated in and enjoyed by Montanans.  Elk hunting in the Northern Yellowstone country north of the park has been part of the states' DNA for most of the states' history.  Following the North American model of modern game management the elk herd in and north of the park had grown for years in spite of the yearly hunting season.  The late season hunts that were designed to manage those elk migrating out of the park into southern Montana not only were a successful management tool but also brought much needed revenue into the state coffers and local business but more importantly, great joy to the Montana hunting public.  Those late season hunts are no more and quite clearly, the void that has been left in its place is a sad reminder of things so good that turned so bad.

I suspect that you've heard the argument I've just made in defence of elk, hunting, and tradition.  Those thoughts need to be elucidated but they are only the thin crust of the greater discussion.  There is so much more beneath the surface, beneath the crust of the debate that bores into the heart of the matter, deep into the soul of Montana and the most sacred western way of life.  The heart of that matter is that Montana, in this case, stands on its' own two feet and in its' own identity.  We can apply that axiom to any of the fifty states that pertains to their own specific and particular unique qualities that make them what they all are, separate and distinct entities.  The unique qualities that make Montana what it is should not be abridged or "tread upon" by outside forces that can in fact slowly but surely erode the qualities that have made the state and its' citizenry so attractive throughout its' history.

Well, that last paragraph may sound a bit fancy so I'll try to get to the "heart of the matter" in a less sophisticated manner if I may.  It's this; Montana is what it is because it is what it is!  How's that?  Montana, and the West, for that matter, separate themselves as a state, a region, and a way of life.  As we're supposed to.  Montana became the "last best place" because of what we've been and what we are.  Not because of our affinity or similarity to New Jersey, New York, or North Dakota.  And thank God for that!  Montana is special and unique, for right or wrong, because we are what we are.

As those last two paragraphs pertain to the modern inclusion of wolves into the web of animal and human life in Montana one must always keep in mind that the people of Montana may not always adhere to and do what you think is ethically, morally, or politically correct.  Why?  Well, to cut to the chase the answser is the following; you don't live here.  The wolf issue is not necesarily one that can be clearly debated as to its' right or wrong merits.  It only matters that Montanans recognize what they feel is right or wrong as it applies to themselves.  That is as it should be.

The future of the Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd lies "in the balance" so to speak.  The last word hasn't been spoken quite yet.  There's still time to save a national and state resource but time is getting short.  As Bob Dylan also said in addition to the title of this piece, "it ain't dark but it's gettin' there."

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Horsemanship; An Unfinished Life



I spend more time than I'd like behind a desk, a computer and all the trappings of modern office work in front of me.  Winter's are the worst of all for long periods of confinement.  I'm at my desk right now and at the moment looking out the window to my left and the snow level past the half way point of the window height.  It's mid February and I've been dreaming of an early Spring.  After two feet of snow the night before last I'm not so sure!  We get blasted with winter weather up here at the ranch, which lies deep in the heart of the northern Rockies.  But ironically, within a half hours' drive east and out of the weather capturing mountains that surround us I can find bare ground and a shining sun, even during the coldest days of the winter.  I'll be heading that way tomorrow.  I've got several horses to put shoes on for a good friend and a herd of my own to check.  So I look forward to doing what I do best.

During the course of a winter at Bear Creek Ranch I do receive an enormous number of phone calls from folks interested in one of our many in- season events.  Normally, those inquiries are directed at one of our horse oriented special events that we put on about every other week during a very busy summer.  In many cases, as has been proven so many times over the years, that first call may very well lead to a booking, then a vacation and a friendship that may last a lifetime.  We do some pretty unique and adventurous trail rides, cattle drives on the Blackfeet Reservation, and even lessons and clinics in our round pen and sand arena at our ranch.  I've been at this business for a long time and if anything our existance here has always been a work in progress both from a business standpoint but also from a human service prespective.  Let me explain; 

One of the really fun and rewarding special events we offer is a week called "Pure Horsemanship." It's a week of intense and immense immersion into the world of horses.  We train, we teach, we ride, we eat well, and we visit like we're long lost cousins.   And we all have one helluva good time doing so.  Our common interest during the course of that week is the horse.  That's the thread that binds us and helps begin the relationship that will in many cases last a lifetime.  Over the course of many years of teaching and demonstrating horsemanship skills to the public I've never encountered any blatant disrespect or disregard for my equine knowledge or teaching skills.  I think one of the reasons I've managed to stay above the "fray", for lack of a better word, is because I'm pretty modest about the knowledge level I do have.   Horsemanship is one of those disciplines that never ceases to remind you that the more you learn the more you realize you don't know.  And furthermore, as I've said so many times, at about the time you begin to think you're pretty handy is about the time you end up on your back side!  So I try to remain humble and instill that same level of modesty in any guest that enters our little universe at the ranch.  That philosophy has worked pretty well over the years.


I did get a phone call a week ago from a lady interested in our week of "Pure Horsemanship."  She explained to me she was interested in doing alot of outside riding and not as keen on the teaching and training we do during our morning sessions.  After all, she was well beyond basic horsemanship and had been riding her entire adult life, or so she said.  I didn't say a whole lot back to her nor did I find myself with an opening to respond so I let it be.  I did very politely invite her to call back but rather doubt I will hear from her.  Well, that very short conversation stuck with me for days and quite frankly, troubled me.  I couldn't quite put my finger on exactly what troubled me but I think I do know now.

You see, the world of horses and the people who love them for nothing more than what they are sometimes allow things to get a little more complex than what they need to be.  In the equine world of today we've witnessed the introduction and immersion of television, video, hi profile personalities, and enormous marketing and advertising of those modern day entities into what should be a very simple, direct, and honest discipline.  Before I comment any further about that specific subject matter I want to emphasize that learning how to ride and then getting in the saddle and riding is the only way to learn how to ride.  You've got to give yourself, and give OF yourself the "want to" in the process of developing the mental and physical tools to get you started.  And when I say "start" I mean that.   I'm almost getting too complex at this moment and what I am wanting to tell you is that if you want to learn everything you can in the equine world the best way is to just plumb flat do it.  With or without help.

I want to repeat once again that the world of horses is a big one and given time will take you in any number of different directions.  You may start out trail riding in groups, then you'll begin to ride by yourself as your confidence builds.  I rode trails for years and years, by myself, in groups, leading groups on hunts and summer pack trips.  Developing that comfort level and confidence while
pounding out the miles in every type of terrain over days, months, and years isn't a bad way to get going.  In my case I can't help but feel that having that type of background both to harden up mentally and physicall didn't hurt a bit over the long haul.  When I started to rope, team pen, and even train my own and outside horses the time I'd put in and the experiences I'd had along the way, both good and bad, really cemented a foundation that I wouldn't have ever had otherwise.
Everyone takes a different path in their own equine education.  Many riders will make that turn to more sophisticated disciplines in the horse world much  quicker than I did.  Some folks will turn to rodeo, some to polo, others to eventing, polo, racing, and the list goes on.  But once again, the common thread that runs through every decent horse loving human being is their love for the horse itself and perhaps almost as critically, a respect for each others' humility in each particular field.  Those two elements are keys to the kingdom as it were and one without the other defines the title of this piece, "horsemanship; an unfinished life."

As I look ahead to the coming season we do have a week scheduled that we do call "Pure Horsemanship."  I'd imagine we'll bring together a group of perhaps a dozen guests.  During the course of the "Pure Horsemanship" week we'll ride, ride, and ride some more.  But we'll also spend time in the round pen and the arena both training young horses and then riding some of them in our large sand arena.  And we'll all do our fair share of visiting, and most certainly, once again, the biggest single topic will be exactly why we're all together, and that is to learn not just more about each other but about the horses we're riding.  I look forward to each week of Pure Hosemanship like a kid in a candy store.  We'll cover a whole lot of territory both on the ground and during our visits with each other and in small groups.  And one thing we'll emphasize right from day one will be the nature of the business and that is the humility and help we'll all show each other all day and every day.  In the horse world, as I've always said, no one is made to feel superior, inferior, or posterior!  We'll all make mistakes, look goofy from time to time, and even wish no one was watching, when in fact they were!  But that's how you get better and grow not just as a horseman, but as a human being.

I can recall doing a half day riding clinic in our arena not too many years back with about a dozen guests from all over the country.  About an hour into our morning event I began to recognize that the horse I was riding was acting a bit cold backed.  Well, I didn't pay enough attention to that condition at that time and while completely surrounded by novice riders while talking about correct riding posture and stirrup lengths I found myself airborn and quite quickly on my back looking up.  Was I embarrassed?  Hell yeah!  Talk about humility slapping you right in the face.  But you know what?  I brushed myself off, got off my rear end and mounted right back up.  A good lesson for me and a better lesson for my guests in the "what not to do category."

So back to the lady with the attitude;  I don't imagine she'd do real well here.  She'd be a pain in my rear end I think and even worse, she'd quite possibly be the rotten apple that no one would want to be around.  The flip side of that coin is she ain't gonna' be here and we'll all be the better off for it!