• MT sunset

    A poem for the Big Sky State

    Submitted by John Hartlieb, Whitefish

    Photo by John Harwood Photography

    VAH -YAY


    Always dreaming of a better life,

    one lifted by the soaring mountains

    capped eternally with snow in

    time and photos, I had to go.

    I believed those that came before me,

    drawn down the long road to the west.

    Fool I was, thinking I would find peace

    everlasting in the Montana.


    Who also the fool, bequeathing

    the word on unsuspecting souls.

    Was it meant to draw me in,

    the very word rising above all else,

    lifting my spirits with visions

    of pinnacles reaching ever upward.

    Heaven is promised for all souls.

    If only I could turn back time

    and get it right.


    Observe, the beauty is not from above.

    It lies within the life giving fields of green,

    grains of gold or seasonal colors ever changing.

    The waters, cool and clear, turning,

    twisting ever slowly, allow the soul

    the time to accept life everlasting. . .

    falsely promised by the higher appointed one.

    It is from here, the gentle rolling terrain,

    the real state of mine should arise,

    the Flathead, Bitterroot, Big Hole,

    the Gallatin and Paradise, all ignored and

    overlooked by those that decreed before.


    My promised land is not the Spanish word for mountain,

    I would grant it forever the Spanish word. . . Valle,

    for I now believe Montana is most beautiful in its valleys.


  • Memories of Moore

    Submitted by Jo Anne Russell Pauling


    Dear 1930s Moore Montana,

    Lately, I’ve been dropping off to sleep, thinking of you.

    There couldn’t have been a better place for  little kids to grow up, a place where they knew all the adults in town by name, where they lived, where they worked, … knew all the kids, their ages and names,  had the run of the town, just as long as they  got back in time for meals.

    As far as I know, you had the only school playground with giant-strides. I spent many

    happy hours alone, running and coasting  on them.

    Just wanted you to know, I haven’t forgotten you.

    Thanks for the memories,

    Jo Anne Russell Pauling


     Jo Anne Russell was born in Great Falls in 1932 and raised in Moore and Helena. She graduated from Helena High School in 1950, and went to the University of Montana where she met and married a wonderful Canadian, George Pauling.

  • hidden gem

    Treasure State Hidden Gem: Monture Cabin

    Story and photos by BILL CUNNINGHAM

    Murphy’s Law had suddenly kicked into overdrive.

    My old friend, Al Luebeck, and I were cross country skiing north of the picturesque Monture Guard Station cabin – a beautifully restored vintage 1920s ranger station in the Blackfoot Valley that we rent from the U.S. Forest Service – when the baskets on my new ski poles continuously kept popping off, making the trek through the deep snow maddening.

    Then, the fingers in my new gloves began balling up.

    Earlier that day, I had removed my watch to get an accurate temperature reading only to drop it in our warming fire, baking it beyond repair.

    My ski jacket was too small for my post-holiday belly.

    During all this, my new heat-molded ski boots were waging war on my feet.

    All of these minor irritants vanished when the left binding ripped out of my old battle-scarred ski.

    We were returning from a lengthy ski up Monture Creek, past long level stretches to where the valley closes in. Just before my binding broke on our return leg, we met the 2.7-mile Monture trail, an ungroomed but easy loop with only one tricky creek crossing.

    Postholing for miles in deep snow while carrying defunct skis isn’t anyone’s idea of fun, but finally something went right. I happened to have with me a pair of small snowshoes for steeper terrain. They got me back to our cozy Monture Cabin, complete with propane furnace, electricity, water from an outside faucet, and all the comforts of home. It even has an outhouse within 75 yards.

    For the bulk of the year, Monture is a working station but the public gets to play there all winter, making it the most popular cabin rental on the Lolo National Forest.

    I don’t miss the chance to rent the cabin for a few days each winter.


    Monture Cabin Tip Sheet

    Where to go

    The dog-friendly, open-only-in-the-winter Monture Cabin is located about 8 miles north of Ovando at the end of a side road just west of Monture Creek. A U.S. Forest Service sign marks the turnoff to the vintage cabin. Guests must hike, snowmobile or ski about a mile to the cabin from a small parking area.

    Who to know

    There is a colorful history attached to Monture country.

    George Monture, an early settler from Ovando, was killed in 1877 on the North Fork of the Blackfoot in a “whiskey row with two Indians,” according to a Deer Lodge New Northwest News article from October 1877.

    The story claimed that “the death of Monture is not a matter of regret. Much of the apprehension on that frontier was in consequence of his supplying the Indians with whiskey and ammunition, and it is hoped that he died without a successor.”

    But the passage of time softened local sentiment. During the 1920s, an Ovando banker erected a monument near the place of Monture’s demise.

    The monument’s inscription reads: “In Memory of George Monture, A half-breed scout and interpreter, Friend of the early settlers of Nevada Valley.”

    When you’re there…

    Today, if you find yourself lucky enough to snag the cabin for a couple of winter nights when the snow is good, there is plenty of opportunity to explore the surrounding wilderness.

    Be sure to bring your cross country skis and snowshoes, like Cunngingham did.

    During his problem-filled trip last winter, Cunningham was grateful he’d packed his snowshoes so he could enjoy a second day of outdoor recreating after his skis broke.

    “I snowshoed through a mixed forest dominated by majestic old-growth larch, I reached Falls Creek. A shaft of light from parting clouds made newly fallen snow glisten on tree branches, beckoning me up the steep Falls Creek trail. Up I went, determined to get as far as daylight and energy would permit.

    I slogged on, crossing small openings interspersed with dense forest, as the untracked snow deepened. I debated the wisdom of traversing a second steep side slope when the familiar ‘whomp’ of unstable snow made the decision for me.I quickly retraced my route to the first side hill.

    Upon reaching a swale at the bottom of the switchbacks I saw where a mountain lion had just crossed my tracks. Thus far, I’d seen only ermine, snowshoe rabbit and squirrel prints so I wondered what the cougar was hunting. Surely not me, I’m way too old and tough. Nevertheless, I made a beeline for the cabin, not wanting to tempt the big cat after dark.

    I reached the cabin at dusk. Al had it warm and we enjoyed settling in and reminiscing.”

    Why it’s worth a visit

    Seeley Lake District Ranger Tim Love sees the Monture Guard Station as historically authentic, dating back to a time when the station was crucial for communication in the Blackfoot Valley. The stewardship in and around the Bitterroot southern buttress of the Bob is consistent with a broader vision of strong rural values for the entire Blackfoot watershed. This stewardship is advanced by the Blackfoot Challenge, a community-based alliance of public and private land stewards. A 5,600-acre community forest of former private timberland just east of the Monture Road is a prime example of the many conservation accomplishments of the Challenge during its 20-year history.

    Folks that take good care of the cabin and the wild country surrounding it make Ranger Love proud. Visitors to Monture Cabin, Love said, “have been very conscientious. It just buys goodwill and a unique experience.”


    Bill Cunningham is a longtime contributor to Montana Magazine. He writes from Choteau.

  • anitque beacons

    Antique beacons remain lit across Montana’s skies

    By Jon Axline

    Sometimes we take the history surrounding us for granted, not realizing its significance.  For me, it was (and still is) comforting to see the red and white beacon lights flashing on the mountains surrounding my hometown of Helena.

    I had no idea why they were there until later in life when I discovered that the beacons have a strong tie to America’s aviation history.

    The lights are remnants of a continental system that guided airplane pilots across the United States at night during a time when aviation technology was far less advanced.

    An example is the MacDonald Pass beacon, which for 80 years, during summer heat and winter blizzards, has guided pilots across the Continental Divide.

    The beacon is a remnant of the Northern Transcontinental Airway Route that at one time stretched between New York and Seattle.

    In September 1934, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced plans to construct 125 beacon lights and intermediate emergency landing fields on the route between Minneapolis and Seattle all in an effort to guide pilots safely across the country at night.

    The beacons, which sit on steel towers high atop mountains, were spaced about 20 miles apart. A pilot reaching one beacon could see the next beacon in the series and follow them to their destination.


    To read the entire Antique Beacons story, find this issue on newsstands now. To read more about Montana all year, subscribe now.

  • A Yurtski yurt in the Swan Mountains. Courtesy of Yurtski

    Riding the white Swan: Yurts providing skiers new places to stay

    Story and photos by Aaron Theisen

    Every December, Missoula’s Carl Sievers and Adam Simon coordinate a barn-raising of sorts. Except that the buildings perch at nearly 7,000 feet on a steep, snow-clad peak in the Swan Mountain Range.

    And the structures will house skiers, not swine.

    For four wintery months, Sievers’ and Simons’ yurts will host skiers and snowboarders searching for the Holy Grail of winter sports: a mountain to themselves.

    “We receive a good shake of snow in the Swans,” said Sievers, one of the co-owners, with Simon, of Missoula-based Yurtski, which rents two alpine yurts near the southern tip of Seeley Lake. “It has its own mini-vortex of weather; it tends to be colder and get more snow even than its neighbors. In the winter people will be complaining about the lack of snow in Missoula and you can drive your snowmobile to the gas station in Seeley Lake” on the edge of the Swans.

    Snowmobiles are also a necessity for covering the eight to 10 miles of winding forest roads separating Seeley and Swan Lakes from the peaks above. Long approaches keep the ski traffic down.

    Sievers says he’s seen only a handful of skiers in the Swans in nearly a decade of skiing there.

    That means if you stay in one of Yurtski’s backcountry digs you’ll likely have the powder all to yourself.


    To read the entire Yurtski story, find this issue on newsstands now. To read more about Montana all year, subscribe now.

  • Missoula Symphony music director Darko Butorac. Photo by Jessica Lowry

    Community devotion to Missoula’s symphony remains strong

    Story and photos by Jessica Lowry

    Virginia Vinal carries her violin to her seat as a set of dissonant notes made by musicians warming up their instruments echo to the balcony and back on the small stage inside the University of Montana School of Music auditorium.

    The shuffle of feet and moving of chairs provide a tempo as the musicians begin to take their seats onstage. A small audience fills the auditorium before the room goes silent.  Conductor Eugene Andrie raises his hands and the orchestra begins a program that opens with Bach’s Choral Prelude “Sheep May Safely Graze” and ends with Velska’s “Roumanian Fantasy.”

    The year is 1955.

    What started with an informal meeting in the early 1950s in founding conductor Andrie’s living room has evolved into an organization that presents sold-out concerts that bring Missoulians in droves to spend an evening with Copland, Beethoven or Wager.

    Today’s Missoula Symphony concerts continue to embrace what was felt at the very first performance when a selfless devotion to music by the conductor and players was at the heart of the evening.

    “He was always very careful that he wanted to have everyone play,” said Virgina Vinal, now 87, of Andrie’s musical selections.

    The symphony and its audiences have grown steadily in the 60 years since it was founded.


    To read the entire Missoula Symphony story, find this issue on newsstands now. To read more about Montana all year, subscribe now.

  • Ed Osse works in his shop in Ryegate. Photo by Kelsey Dayton

    Woodpecker Men keep unique tradition alive in Ryegate

    U.S. Highway 12 unfurls to the horizon of central Montana, an endless strip of gray lined by occasional clumps of cottonwood trees standing stark much of the year. This is not the Montana with massive peaks and a landscape that warrants pull-outs and a drive for the sake of driving.

    This is the Montana where long stretches of nothing are broken only by the occasional blip of a town so small you might miss it if adjusting the radio dial, or checking to see if you have cell service – you probably don’t.

    This is a road where it’s easy for your mind to wander, your neck to knot and boredom to set in.

    But if you pay attention along the 30-mile stretch between Harlowton and Ryegate, you might notice something in the trees: Woodpeckers.

    Every few miles, wooden cutouts with bright red heads and spotted bodies line this stretch of highway, as they have for more than 30 years.

    They are the work of Ed Osse, 68, of Ryegate, who took over creating and hanging the woodpeckers along the highway from his dad, Earl Osse, and friend, Jerry Gantz.


    Earl Osse grew up in Cushman, a small town between Ryegate and Lavina. He was 21 when he lost use of his arm in a coal mining accident in Roundup. But the accident never slowed him down. He served as Ryegate’s mayor for 30 years, worked as a mail carrier and built houses, including his own.

    “He was quite the handy man,” Osse said of his father.

    Gantz, originally from Cleveland, Ohio, came to Montana on a trip across the country in a Model A Ford, his daughter Eva Heminger said. He stayed when he met his wife, Norma. They moved to Ryegate where she ran the town café and he worked as a janitor in the school for more than 25 years.

    Her father loved people and the Gantz house became a gathering place for Heminger’s classmates and much of the town.

    “Everyone knew you could always go to Jerry’s house,” Heminger said.

    Earl Osse and Gantz lived near each other and spent hours tinkering in Osse’s garage. They made the first woodpeckers sometime in the late 1970s, or early 1980s.

    Retired and searching for a project to keep them busy, they decided to hang something along the highway for kids to count as they traveled between Harlowton and Ryegate.

    It was a way to fight boredom in the days before handheld video games and tablets.

    The pair originally thought of crafting a pterodactyl or perhaps a buzzard, but they couldn’t find anyone to draw those patterns. No one remembers who volunteered the woodpecker design, but it’s been the pattern used ever since, Osse said.

    They put up 30 woodpeckers that first year, one for each mile between the two towns.

    Soon, people were asking where they could buy a bird, and they were making a few hundred each year.

    Osse, who worked in fiber optics and telecommunications across the country, had no idea about his dad’s new hobby until he arrived home for a visit to a garage full of woodpeckers.

    Osse returned home for good in 2003 when his mother died. By then Gantz had stepped away from making woodpeckers. Osse started helping his dad in the garage, following the same simple process he uses today: Tracing the birds, cutting the plywood, sanding it smooth, priming it and then adding the paint: A red head, white spotted body and black tail.

    Other than the time it takes for the paint to dry, each bird takes only a few minutes.

    Last year Osse raised the price for the first time from $10 to $15 to help cover his supply costs and the propane he uses to heat the garage in the winter.

    Osse hadn’t planned on taking over as the “Woodpecker Man,” but before his father died in 2011 at age 85, he told his son “You will continue this.”

    And so he did.


    Osse makes the birds sporadically throughout the year, so when spring comes he has enough to replace the birds that fall from the cottonwood trees or that have become too weathered to see along the highway.

    He tries to keep each woodpeckers in the same place, but sometimes he’ll notice a bare spot and add an extra. He no longer knows exactly how many line the road.

    Osse also keeps enough to replace the stock at the Stage Stop in Shawmut which sells the woodpeckers.

    Travelers come to the restaurant specifically looking for the birds, said Emilie Whitcomb, who leases the Stage Stop. People see them on the trees and boast how many they’ve counted.

    “And I always say ‘Well then you haven’t seen them all,’” she said.

    Between Osse, his father and Gantz they’ve made more than 12,000 birds.

    Letters come in from around the world telling of where woodpeckers have been placed. One of Osse’s  favorites is an unsigned postcard showing a woodpecker attached to a cactus in Arizona.

    Osse knows at least one ended up in Russia, a few in Africa and more than he can count in Europe. They are also scattered across Montana and the rest of the United States.

    The only time Osse’s seen one somewhere that surprised him was when watching a movie – he can’t remember the title – set in Montana, and there, at the door of a house, was a woodpecker.

    Osse doesn’t hear about local kids counting the birds anymore. Like many small Montana towns Ryegate’s lost many of its young people and its population of less than 250 people is dwindling each year, Osse said. His own son and grandchildren live in North Dakota.

    Yet one or two times a month Osse hears a car slow near his driveway. It’s full of travelers that spy the birds along the stretch of highway and turn at the sign on the edge of Ryegate directing “Woodpeckers for Sale” with an arrow reading “3 blocks.” Osse always keeps a few birds at home to sell.

    Every now and then, Osse gets a letter from someone worried he’s stopped hanging the woodpeckers. They drove the highway and couldn’t find them. It still surprises Osse how much people care about the birds.

    He assures the worriers that the birds are there and if some have fallen down, he’ll make replacements.

    “I’ll do them,” he said, “until I’m too damn shaky.”


    Kelsey Dayton is a freelance writer and photographer based in Missoula.

  • Downtown living is a growing trend across Montana

    By Carol Bradley


    When Mike Duffy walks through the lobby of the old Metals Bank Building in Butte, he feels like a bit player in an old Sam Spade movie – surrounded by all that bubble glass in the windows and those mosaic tile floors.

    But there’s nothing old-fashioned about the fact that Duffy and his wife, Jane, now reside on the building’s fifth floor. They’re at the cutting edge of Montana’s fastest growing trend: living right smack downtown – or uptown, in the case of Butte.

    “We’re seeing a huge demographic shift in what people want,” said developer Nick Kujawa, who has developed two old Butte buildings so far. “Instead of extending the boundaries of a city farther and farther out, there’s now a focus on revitalizing downtown …. We basically just turned the lights back on Uptown.”

    Giving up a patch of grass might seem counter-intuitive in a place as sprawling as Montana. But in Billings, Missoula, Great Falls and elsewhere across the state, downtown spaces that had long sat empty, or didn’t even exist a decade ago, are filling up with urbanites in search of a vibrancy they can’t find in the suburbs or out on the ranch.


    To read the entire Downtown Living story, find this issue on newsstands now. To read more about Montana all year, subscribe now.

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