between here and there


The Distance Between



I live in one of the wildest places that remain in North America. I did not say THE wildest, mind you. Its not Alaska, or the Yaak, or parts of Canada. But this place is Montana. Specifically up a canyon drainage and surrounded by Public Land, not far outside of Bozeman. I have had bears and mountain lion on the roof of my house. So of course they are walking the land around my house. But that does not mean I find their visits common. Nor am I so naive to believe that my 70 pound German Shepherd would be any match for one of these large creatures which is why she is not let out at night alone.

Tonight, just a few minutes before the curtain of night extinguished the remaining bit of light we took a walk around the house. Spring has arrived. Even early this year. But last night about two inches of snow fell on the ground. Nothing dramatic. But this is where it gets good, and where, no matter how many times I see the footprints in the snow around the house that are not hers, I am still impressed. Because the snow is new the tracks in the snow were distinguishable tonight, not the cacophony of prints that criss-crossed the land as the winter snow melted into the ground last week. As Noel followed whatever smells and tracks interested her I looked down to see some large melted spots not far from the entry of the house. The shape of the melt was not exactly recognizable, but it was not shaped like an Elk or Moose. I looked for others that were more distinct. And that is when I found them. There must have been a pair together in the early morning striding across the snow in front of the house. I checked the prints for size compared to Noel’s. My fist fits just nicely inside of hers. But these, these require two of my fists while the back pad of the foot that sits a bit up the leg was also impressed in the snow a good 4-5 inches behind the primary paw print. But the most amazing condition of the set of tracks was that there were four paw prints in a line very close to one another with a space of about four feet between each set of four. Each set of four taking about four feet, too.

If you cannot imagine this in your head, get out your sketch book and draw it. Two animals walking in-line, with one filling the gap between the first set of prints filling in the stride of the first animal for every other stride. The distance between a single stride being four feet, a large jump for me. I looked across the slope of the land where the prints emerged and then the other direction where they walked into Noel’s favorite place to visit when she was outside. Either a pack came across the land at one time, or this pair silently circumnavigated the land around the house making multiple passes and patterns. I will never know, but can only wonder and imagine.

Its dark now. Black outside, and we are inside. Until tomorrow. In the early morning we will again go check what remains of the snow for new stories, new reminders of the wildness I am lucky enough to live with.


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snow and fire

picstitch-1How do we come to know a place? Exploration, play, living.  I spent some time in the dwindling winter snow today, appreciating what remains. Hoping for more. And worrying about fire season this summer if more of the great white stuff doesn’t fall from the sky soon.

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bootie boycott

photo 1-2

I know, I know. I have seen those videos on Facebook, too. But I promise you don’t look like them with the booties on. And you even wore them once before when you were much younger and it was super cold outside, like today. You want to go skiing, right? OK! Lets go….

photo 2-2

“Really?” she says, “these don’t fit so well. And the snow is collecting around the ankle. And they kinda’ hurt…..How about if I just lay here in the snow and wait for you to come back this way?”

photo 3-2Lesson Learned: Give up those boots. Run wild in the snow. If its too cold outside wait for it to warm up first.

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quick, she says

oil pastel on paper

oil pastel on paper


“Quick”, she growls quietly. “what’s that?!” I walk to the window with her and we in the quiet light of dawn  watch a bushy tailed fox dance a loop in the snow in front of us. Noel, my dog, has never seen a fox before. A beautiful moment to watch. And then as quick as she came she runs across the bridge and up the trail in front of us. Good morning!

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The Sound of Avalanches



Next morning. No internet. No water. No heat. No phone. The culprit is electricity . No power at my place means that the link I have to most modern conveniences are gone. At least temporarily.

The exchange for this temporary loss is the magnificent and powerful experience of the forest that surrounds me. Last night we had a huge wet snowfall. It came so fast in fact, landing on what remained of winter’s crunchy snow that the build up caused avalanches in the mountains behind my house. I have seen large avalanches in the mountains. But to hear them from your own house while you lay in the dark is a bit un-nerving. Loud whamps, growling swooshes, and then the pressure build up hits the face of the building. Like I said, un-nerving.

We survived the night. No trees down on the house or wall of snow. Instead beautiful, deep snow surrounded the house . What was slushy winter on its way out was replaced with heavy white spring snow covering all things.

Unlike a satellite dish that simply can be swept off to regain communication with the rest of the world, nothing can be done but wait for the power lines to be repaired. Which is not such a bad thing when you have 12″ of new snow right outside your door….but before that I need a cup of tea.

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How’s your internet working ? Ok? Speed fast enough? Reliable? Ever quit working on you when you need it? And when it stops working you make that call to your “provider” and wait. Wait. Wait and listen to whatever recording they have decided is going to assist your patience. You wait longer. I know this drill, too.

But where I live, not in an apartment, not in a city. Not in that place where your only option for getting your internet back on line is to call the one eight hundred number. I live in that place where getting your internet back online involves a broom, winter coat and boots, and a tall ladder. Grasping broom in hand I climb the ladder to the top and sweep off the snow that covers the satellite dish , and then wipe the snow off the little reflector for the dish. Reset! Ta-da ! Back down the ladder and inside to stream more music and watch the fire dancing around inside the firebox. Big, big snow falling from the sky . Night coming. Color from pink to blue to white. Witnessing what is most likely the last big collection of snow for the year.

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Yesterday was a cold day. We have them from time to time. The days we measure below zero. Twenty-five below zero, for instance. But yesterday the cold was different because the wind was ruling. Whipping across the open fields and funneling down Main Street. A day that makes you realize how small, vulnerable, un-furry we humans are. And maybe for some, that is me, acting with disregard toward the reality of blowing cold wind and snow.

But you see, I got the wrong bird seed the day before. And with all the trees without leaves , and snow covering all the earth around me, I’m sympathizing with the little birds who are also experiencing the bitter cold and wind. I’ve seen them before on the trails in the forest. Dead from the quick cold.

I’m not a bird expert. But I know they are here with me in the woods. The first seed I brought was for finch. Evidently there are no Finch in the forest around me right now. Back to the hardware store for more seed I chose the custom “mountain mix” thinking, that’s where I live. The mountains.

Back home. Changed out the seed. Rehang the feeders. It’s negative ten with wind blowing. But no birds came. I was not surprised . I went to sleep last night wondering what change in weather would bring the birds off their branches to the feeder.

This morning was warmer. By 7 am it was negative two and the sun could be sensed through the low cloud cover. One brave little bird flies across the open yard from woods to seed. Wings warm enough to fly. Then a few more . They are Chickadees. A little sunshine and they sing, they come. Many now. Back and forth with little seeds in their mouths from perch to branch. They land on my window sill. They are calling me to come outside.