Posts Tagged ‘Montana’

William gets a leaner for two points

Two circles of orange lantern light on a backwoods road in Montana, with some 30 feet of utter darkness in between. We stand at one end helping to light a dull gray stake slanting up from the dirt and grass. Our partners take aim.

An arm goes swinging back once and then forward in a smooth arc, releasing a spinning red horseshoe. It might land next to the stake for a point, or even grab it for a ringer. Or it might just clock me in the shin. For an uncomfortable moment the horseshoe is hurtling invisibly toward us, trajectory unknown. By the time it emerges into our circle of light, it is too late to dodge out of the way. And that was the easy one. The next horseshoe is black.

Someone grumbles about the rules which we are not following. The stars wheel overhead past a narrow opening framed in tamarack and pine. And I am thinking about the grizzly watching us from a black forest; a giant who left her scat farther down this same road the day before. And there are cougars watching us because they are curious as well as hungry. And I am thinking about how this game must be even more difficult in the Shetland Islands, where it’s so terribly foggy and they have to make the best of it with those really tiny shoes.

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A lot of people display the trappings of frontier life in Montana’s Swan Valley. Bud Moore has the actual traps. When his daughter Vicki has a chance to talk about them, and about the winter she spent trapping with her father a few years back, her eyes light up.

But many people in the valley are suspicious of Vicki. She talks to them about managing their land to preserve the environment. She looks a little like a hippy. And most dangerous of all, she has lived most of her adult life in Paris. So when she asks the ranchers and the summer cabin owners to consider committing to a land management plan that will last for generations, naturally they are wary.

At her father’s mill last week, we came across a long wall of traps and got Vicki talking about how they worked. She could catch mink, beaver, even the reclusive wolverine. But of all the traps, the most fascinating was the one they had for coyotes.

“You see this big hook on the end of the chain,” she began. “You need it because you trap coyotes along the side of the road where they hunt for mice. If someone drives down the road and sees your coyote, they’ll just take if for themselves. So instead of staking the trap to the ground, you leave a loose hook. The coyote gets caught and then runs off to into the forest dragging the hook behind him until it snags on something. And then you really have him.”

Land owners in the Swan Valley have a lot to worry about these days. With dramatic mountain ranges on each side and plenty of mountain lakes for fishing and swimming and boating, it’s little wonder that the property around them is no longer affordable for the average resident. Add in the invading noxious weeds, the bad economy, and the uncertainties of life, and the wisdom of developing and committing to a land management plan becomes pretty clear.

But then there’s that hook.

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Montana Standoff

How’s this for frontier life? Just east of Missoula on Sunday, we saw 22 bighorn sheep blocking the entrance to a post office. There were other out-of-staters like me stopping to gawk, but then a woman from Montana drove up and nudged her car forward until 21 of them had scattered and one lone ram remained. The rest of us watched, holding camera phones in the air from a distance, as the woman drove around the ram, mailed her letter, and then drove back around him and headed straight off to her next errand. And I thought, is it more quintessential Montana to see 22 bighorn sheep standing around the post office, or to see a woman who treats them as a mundane nuisance?

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