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    Festival has turned Bigfork into guitar Heaven

    Story and photos by JESSICA LOWRY

    The expansive, crystal blue waters of Flathead Lake span over 27 miles in northwest Montana.  Just outside the tiny town of Bigfork on the north end of that 27 miles, you will find Flathead Lake Lodge.

    Long a destination for celebrities, visiting dignitaries and family vacations, its rustic lodge and waterfront views are a perfect place to relax. Or – as the organizers of what is becoming a nationally-renowned guitar festival that calls the lodge home  have found – a perfect spot to practice Jimi Hendrix licks until your fingers bleed.

    For the last five years David Feffer, 65, has organized and overseen The Crown of the Continent Guitar Workshop and Festival at the lodge.

    Instead of spending his retirement gardening or puttering around the house, Feffer has spearheaded this growing event that fills the area with music the week before Labor Day each year.

    “I was a jazz sax and clarinet player. After college I started playing guitar,” said

    Feffer of his lifelong love of music.
    He didn’t start playing guitar seriously until he was 55, when he quickly dedicated himself to practice and spending his golden years studying and playing music.

    Feffer’s love and newfound commitment to guitar led to frequent family music gatherings in his Bigfork home.

    In 2008, he traveled to the National Guitar Workshop to enhance his classical guitar skills. The next summer he invited several instructors out to Montana to continue his lessons and play a fundraising event at Flathead Lake Lodge.

    The event sparked an idea.

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    To read the entire story on the Crown of the Continent festival,  find this issue on newsstands now. To read more about Montana all year, subscribe now.

  • home place

    Montana Book Reviews: Novels and nonfiction

    By Doug Mitchell

    A complex novel that introduces readers to an interesting set of characters trying to solve the mystery surrounding the death of their family member and a tech-focused book that aims to predict the influence gadgets will have on our lives in the future. Montana Magazine contributor Doug Mitchell reviews a debut novel by a Billings author and a best seller by a very approachable professor.

     

    The Home Place

    Carrie La Seur

    William Morrow, New York – 2014

    There’s nothing timid or uncertain about Billings author Carrie La Seur’s exceptional debut novel The Home Place. From the first pages, La Seur takes readers on a journey that covers a lot of ground.

    On the surface, one could describe this book as being about two sisters from Montana who took different paths that converge with the mysterious death of younger sister, Vicky.

    That description, while accurate, does a disservice to what is a much bigger, more complex tale.

    The Home Place deals with complicated issues, raises interesting social dilemmas and presents personal struggles in a way that adds to the baseline story about what happened to Vicky Terrebonne.

    The setting for the crime is Billings – where the Terrebonne sisters and their brother Pete were raised – but the heart of the story is found where this book got its name, at the home place.

    The rural ranch outside Billings is the place where Vicky’s city slicker sister, Alma, retreats to find clues about her sister’s death. As you might expect, in doing so she finds more than she plans on and these discoveries are both heartbreaking and motivational.

    As the book begins, Alma appears to be the star of the show. A successful Seattle lawyer who left her family to escape to a better life, Alma is in the middle of closing a big deal when she gets the call she had been dreading. The sister she left behind and who had been struggling with addiction is dead. She hastily makes arrangements to attend the funeral and get back to her work and life in the fast lane.

    Were this just a mass media paperback, that story would play itself out in a linear fashion and the book wouldn’t be worth a second thought.

    But in La Seur’s very capable hands, The Home Place hits its stride at the point when many other novels might call it a day.

    The depth of the characters La Seur introduces us to require a deft hand so as to enrich the story without confusing it. Enrich it she does with an entire cast of characters, the star of which emerges as the resilient Brittany, her late sister’s young daughter who becomes the anchor of the story and the Terrebonne family’s future.

    You’ll be confronted with issues that range from natural resource extraction, child abuse and drug addiction to same sex relationships, economic struggle and true love. It’s quite a list, but The Home Place is quite a book.

     

    Click here to read Doug’s author interview with La Seur:

     

     

    I had a chance to catch-up with La Seur, a Rhodes scholar who holds a bachelor’s degree from Bryn Mawr College, a law degree from Yale and a doctorate in modern languages from Oxford University, at  home in Billings recently and had a unique chance to ask her about her book, herself and her future.

     

    Montana Magazine: You cover a lot of issues in The Home Place – environmental and gender politics, preconceptions about rural and urban lifestyles and domestic violence just to name a few. And yet you still tell a very compelling story. How did you manage that?

    Carrie La Seur: This book took me a long time to write – most of a decade – and for about half that time I was living other places, including another country. The Home Place grew out of a lot of stories I told myself about people I remembered, people I missed – or didn’t. One common response to the book is a desire to know more about this or that character. I feel the same way. I want to know more about them too. But sometimes in life you only get a flash of a person, less of them than you’d like to have. Because The Home Place is written almost entirely from Alma Terrebonne’s perspective, there are people who pass too quickly across her radar and leave us wanting more.

    MM: When I closed the book I wanted to build an imaginary future for Brittany – what is a 25 year-old Brittany up to in your imagination?

    CLS: Exactly! What happens to Brittany? She features prominently in a sequel I’m working on now, so I can’t say much about what happens to her without spoiling some plot twists. I can say that Brittany is a complicated kid who has more to tell us.

    MM: Your descriptions of the Terrebonne home place are so rich and personal – is there a home place for you that acted as your inspiration?

    CLS: There are lots of home places, mine and other people’s, that got pasted together in my mind as I imagined this particular home place into being. It’s a real place in the book, but it’s also an expression of loss – the place we’d like to go back to but no longer possess.

    MM: You’ve got a lot going on – how do you fit in the writing?

    CLS: It’s more how I fit in other things. The writing comes easily. I’ve been participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) with my son. We’re pushing out a narrative version of a young adult novel we’ve been outlining for months. I have to force myself to stop and give him a turn. When I sit down to write a story that interests me, it’s like entering a fugue state. I have no idea how much time has passed when I look up, but it’s usually hours.

    MM: If I got a sneak-peak at the stack of “to read” books in your house, what would I find?

    QLS: I’m going to be on a panel with Margaret Coel and Craig Johnson soon, so I’ve been reading her Buffalo Bill’s Dead Now, which is great. I’m also partway through Fobbit by David Abrams. It’s very intense. I have to read it in measured doses. I have several Neal Stephenson books I’ve been saving for the holidays, because I have a hard time getting anything else done when I’m reading Stephenson. I also have an old Montana book called On Sarpy Creek, this beautiful little book by Ira Nelson, who never published anything else. Sarpy Creek Road is where my great-grandma’s family settled in Big Horn County and part of the inspiration for The Home Place, so I’ve been treasuring the book and reading it as slowly as I can. I’m usually reading three or four books at once, because my mood changes, or one book moves faster than another for me and I like different paces.

    MM: 2015 is here – any New Year’s resolutions?

    CLS: My resolution for so long was to make progress on my book, or finish my book, or publish my book, that I hardly know what to do with myself now. I tend to be a little too driven, so it might be better to have an anti-resolution, to lighten up and enjoy what’s right in front of me.

     

    Enchanted Objects

    David Rose

    Scribner, New York – 2014

    I learned about MIT instructor and serial entrepreneur David Rose’s book Enchanted Objects when I saw the author interviewed by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show last fall. Charismatic, scary smart and clearly enthusiastic about his subject, Rose presented a compelling case for a future where the Internet of Things is delivered on more media than just the growingly ubiquitous individual handheld device.

    I ordered a copy of the book without delay the old fashioned way – through my local bookstore, but it sat on my “to read” pile for far too long.

    I was a bit intimidated by the subject. You see, I am not known as an early adopter of technology. My adult children are openly embarrassed when I break out my flip phone in their presence and my co-workers would almost certainly put me near the bottom of the list when it comes to technological competence.

    Still, I was inspired by Rose’s enthusiasm and interested in the subject.

    So I parked my insecurity, cracked open the book and hoped for the best. I am sure glad I did.

    Rose is as compelling a writer as he was in his interview with Stewart. From the opening pages, Rose delivers a fascinating vision of a future filled with what he calls Enchanted Objects.

    Rose manages to express in a cohesive way, for me, the concern that many of us share as we walk down the street, sit in a meeting or at a restaurant and watch what seems like too many people leaving a shared experience to have an individual experience with a handheld device. To Rose’s credit, he does not bemoan the technology that makes that kind of interactional change possible, but suggests a redirection of technological implementation in a way that encourages shared experiences and uses technology to enhance our sense of community.

    And he’s put his money where his mouth is. The Enchanted Objects Rose describes in his book are not dreams of innovations that might someday be possible, but in most cases are items Rose and others have actually developed.

    One of my favorites is the enchanted orb. Think lava lamp, but much cooler. The orb is actually quite artistic and glows in a range of colors depending on the information you program the orb to show you.  If like our family, you suffer from allergies, you might have the orb connect to pollen counts and glow a certain color on low pollen days and another on high pollen days.

    One quick glance while grabbing a cup of coffee and I’ll know if I need my eye drops. More importantly, everyone in the family can share the experience and the information.

    Allergies not a problem? Just choose stock indexes, weather, baseball standings, literally whatever you want to track, and the orb will bring that information into your world without you having to search a device or get a new app.

    I think you can tell that I loved this book. It’s the perfect book to start the new year, and in my view is a must-read for anyone interested in technology.

    Rose closes his book interestingly by signing off “Be in touch, David,” then provides his email address.

    “What the heck?” I said to myself, as I typed out an email at 4:14 p.m. asking if the best-selling author featured on the Daily Show might do an interview for Montana Magazine.

    I expected no reply – or at best perhaps a response from a public relations staffer from a publishing house. But as I prepared to close my laptop, at 4:18 p.m., I got the following email “Sounds great, Doug.  Look forward to seeing your questions,  David.”  Those questions and Rose’s thoughtful responses are below. Count me officially “enchanted.”

    Click here to read Doug’s author interview with David Rose :

     

    I had a chance to catch-up with MIT instructor and serial entrepreneur David Rose to talk about his book Enchanted Objects. I got the chance to ask about his thoughts on the future of technology and what he loves about Montana.

     

    Montana Magazine: Do you see Enchanted Objects as a book that is revolutionary in terms of the challenge it presents to the current commercial path of more, bigger flat black slabs in every palm?

    David Rose: Most people assume the future will look like more smartphones and apps. I’m excited about how our interface with technology simplifies as apps become diffused and embedded into everything around us: lighting, tables, shoes and jewelry. Every traditional company will begin to animate their products with a cloud-connection. Products will become services, and this change will trigger a revolution in business models.

    MM: You make a good case that the economic benefits of current technology creates a positive feedback loop that begets more of the same. How do we turn the tide toward a more enchanted future?

    DR: The move to enchanted objects is already happening rapidly, driven by product companies that crave differentiation, and the behavioral change that results in lower health care costs for companies. The indigenous business model for first wave of the Internet turned out to be ads. Maybe the indigenous driver for the Internet of things will be a reduction in our nation’s $3.8 trillion health care bill?

    MM: Each of us will have our favorite enchanted object from your book – mine is the Livescribe pen – what is yours?

    DR: I’m working on commercializing the Conversational Balance Table which encourages a work-group (or family) to allow everyone to share air-time. I was inspired by the book Quiet which makes the important point that introverts have just as many good ideas as extroverts, but are often suppressed in organizations. This is ambient furniture that encourages better teamwork and will be rolled out by many organizations including SalesForce, Gensler Architecture, and Microsoft in Europe.

    MM: Living in a rural state where broadband resources can often be either expensive or not easily available, I am concerned about an enchanted future that leaves rural areas behind. Is that a fair concern?

    DR: Video wants broadband. Many of the enchanted objects I write about in the book are bit-trickling solutions that don’t require big pipes – their utility comes from putting information in the right place and time, calmly waiting for you to attend.

    MM: I so want to be a fly on the wall when you and your team come up with these amazing ideas. Is the process as fun and engaging as it seems?

    DR: Ideas are bursty and lossy. Meaning you often have many exciting concepts within 20 minutes, then nothing interesting for days. It’s important not to fall in love with new ideas, just make prototypes and show them to other people before you decide they are worth keeping. We make a LOT of prototypes that are discarded.

    MM: In the acknowledgements you recognize the contributions of art education and you talk a lot about music and even the impact on your experience of documentary filmmaking. How does that eclectic background come together in to inform your work?

    DR: Inspiration comes from mapping ideas and stories from one context to another. Kandinsky famously painted to music. And many composers are inspired by dance and film. I feel my design skills every day helping me solve business problems, and vice versa. As you read in the book, inventors should mine myths and fairy tales to understand what makes humans tick, and make products that succeed in the market today. Mining the past is a convenient short cut for today’s entrepreneurs.

    MM: When it comes to enchanted objects, we in the west think Yellowstone Parks Old Faithful might be the founding father – when are you going to come visit us in Montana?

    DR: I adore Montana and would love to return! One of my closest childhood friends lives in the area. When I visit I’m struck by the genuine generosity of people, the breathtaking natural beauty when we’re mountain biking or skiing, and the increasing entrepreneurial energy.

     

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      An Amaltheia Dairy goat. Photo by Lynn Donaldson

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      Piglets roam at the Amaltheia Diary. Photo by Lynn Donaldson

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      Pigs are fed whey from the cheesemaking process. Photo by Lynn Donaldson

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      Goat enjoy beautiful scenery around Amaltheia Dairy. Photo by Lynn Donaldson

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      Sue Brown tends to goats. Photo by Lynn Donaldson

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      Amaltheia uses goat milk to make a variety of organic cheeses. Photo by Lynn Donaldson

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      A worker plows dirt on the Amaltheia land. Photo by Lynn Donaldson

    • Amalthea Dairy

      Sue Brown holds a piglet. Photo by Lynn Donaldson

    • Amalthea Dairy

      Melvyn Brown milks goats. Photo by Lynn Donaldson

    • Amalthea Dairy

      Sue and Melvyn Brown started Amaltheia Dairy in 2000. Photo by Lynn Donaldson

    The Last Best Plates explores Amaltheia Organic Dairy

    By Corinne Garcia

    Photos by Lynn Donaldson

    This is the first piece in a six-part The Last Best Plates series about food and eating in Montana featuring the photography of Lynn Donaldson and writing of Corinne Garcia. For more, visit thelastbestplates.com.

    When Melvyn and Sue Brown settled on a 20-acre piece of land under the Bridger Mountains on the outskirts of Bozeman in 1996, their goal was to eventually work the fertile land. Back in Michigan, they had a hobby farm where they used organic practices to raise chickens, cows, goats, pigs and vegetables for themselves and neighbors.

    In addition, Melvyn grew up on a farm in England and went on to become a specialist in cattle embryo transplants, a skill that brought him to Montana to work on large cattle ranches. Together, they had dreams of having their own Montana ranch.

    But 20 acres just wasn’t enough land to graze cattle, and so instead the Browns opted for goats, a decision they will never regret.

    “They are easy to handle, and they can do well in any environment,” Melvyn said. “They also have a nice personality; they love butting heads and jumping around, whereas cattle have no personality at all.”

    In 2000, they started with 90 goats, and they called their farm Amaltheia, named after the goat that nursed Zeus in Greek mythology. Melvyn was the head milker, and they sold the milk to other gourmet cheese makers. After a couple of years, they opened their own cheese making facility, and by 2004 they won three awards from the American Cheese Society.

    In 2005, Amaltheia received organic status through Montana Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

    Because they firmly believed in and practiced organic techniques, getting certified wasn’t a far stretch.

    Amaltheia is now producing an average of 1,000 pounds of cheese per week.

    They have 17 varieties ranging from plain goat cheese and ricotta to flavor infused chevres, such as roasted garlic, sundried tomato and spiced pepper. Their products are distributed to grocery stores on both coasts, in places like Trader Joe’s and Wild Oats, and for sale through their website.

    “People say you can taste the mountains in our cheese,” Sue said. “It tastes fresh, creamy and clean, and it’s just one farms milk going into it which makes a difference.”

    And then came the pigs.

    “When you make cheese you end up with a great deal of whey, which is full of protein and minerals,” Melvyn said. “That’s when we decided to have whey-fed pigs; it’s like health food for them.”

    They now raise pastured organic hogs with a lot of personality and plenty of room to roam. They sell the meat to local restaurants, stores and individuals.

    Along with that, they have partnered with Montana State University in a grant to produce high quality compost made from the farm’s manure.

    “Part of our mission was to practice zero emissions,” Sue said.

    Their environmentally conscious efforts have been rewarded with EcoStar Awards for sustainability in 2008 and 2009.

    Today, Amaltheia Organic Dairy is a family business, with their son Nate and daughter Sarah helping to run the operations, and where there’s always a number of farming interns coming and going like part of the family. Under the gaze of the surrounding mountains, the animals and people, including occasional busloads of school children, mingle happily. Lambs snuggle with piglets, goats butt heads, chickens roam, and dogs nip at heels.

    “We are happy doing this,” Sue said. “It’s a lot of work, but we believe in this kind of farming.”

    Corinne Garcia is a frequent contributor to Montana Magazine. She writes from Bozeman.

     

    Smoked Chevre and Feta Cheese Balls with Herbs, Pecans and Bacon

    (makes 20-24)

    6 slices bacon, fried until crispy, then finely crumbled

    6 ounces Amaltheia Dairy Organic Feta

    8 ounces Amaltheia Dairy Organic Smoked Chevre

    3 tablespoons chopped parsley, basil, or other herbs

    Cracked black pepper

    1/4 cup pecans bits (or other nuts)

    Apple slices, to serve

    ln one small bowl, mix the cheeses, 1 tablespoon of the herbs, and pepper to taste.

    ln a second bowl, mix the crumbled bacon, 2 tablespoons of the herbs, and the nuts.

    With the cheese mixture, form small balls, about the size of the tip of your thumb. Put in the freezer for 20 minutes to firm up a little. (Don’t let them freeze all the way; just help them firm up.) Or you can put them in the refrigerator overnight.

    Roll the chilled cheese balls into the bacon/herb mixture, pressing it in with your fingers if it doesn’t immediately stick.

    Refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to serve. Serve with crusty bread or crackers. Great with sliced apples

  • portfolio

    Portfolio: The beauty below

    Photography of Larry Mayer, larrymayer.com

     

    After more than 40 years working as a photojournalist across the state, Larry Mayer has become well known for his work documenting Montana news and the lives of residents across the state.

    But a love of planes and a passion for photographing them in flight has earned Mayer an equally impressive reputation as a nationally-recognized aerial photographer.

    With the autopilot on and the window open, Mayer captures Montana from thousands of feet up in its big sky. Often, his images show airplanes in front of some of the state’s most scenic backdrops.

    “My whole deal is not to just shoot a picture of an airplane in flight,” Mayer said. “It’s a whole different thing. My whole thing is to photograph that airplane with a western backdrop. Not just a picture of the airplane, I’m really going for that kind of that dramatic backdrop.”

    For the past 37 years, Mayer has been a photographer at the Billings Gazette, where he is now chief photographer.

    That’s where he got his start in aviation photography.

    “I could see that everybody just spent so much time traveling,” Mayer said. “So I started flying as a means of transportation mostly.”

    A plane could get him places quickly and to a vantage point that no other photographer had – whether it was to photograph a massive flood or the Unabomber’s cabin.

    “It allows you to move around, where people on the ground get stuck,” Mayer said.

     

    To see the entire The Beauty Below Portfolio, find this issue on newsstands now. To read more about Montana all year, subscribe now.

  • big sky spotlight

    Big Sky Spotlight: Meet James Behring

    Story and photo by Chris La Tray

    It’s a late Saturday morning in August and already starting to swelter when James Behring meets me at the door of his shop around the back side of Missoula Winery on the city’s west side with a large cleaver in his hand.

    “Check this baby out,” he said with a grin. “This is the prototype. I just thought of it last night. It’s our first multi-tool.”

    The knife is called the Elk Cleaver, a custom blade Behring dreamed up to sell under the Behring Made brand that bears his name.

    It’s a heavy thing with a thick, convex, 7-inch blade of hand-forged high carbon spring steel.

    Its integral inverted gut hook can cut through sinew, the blade edge is sharp for skinning – Behring demonstrates this by slicing effortlessly through a thick piece of scrap leather – and the overall heft can be used to chop through thick hunks of meat.

    It’s just one of a multitude of custom knives that Behring and his three-man crew – Travis Williams, Dustin Millard and Grant Cunningham – have conceptualized themselves or manufactured to desires of discerning customers since Behring founded the business in 2011.

    Behring grew up in Michigan and went to school to pursue a teaching degree. After graduating, he decided the last place he wanted to be was in a classroom again.

    Behring preferred being out in the wilds hunting and fishing, pastimes he’d enjoyed his entire life.
    The knife trade appealed to him.

    His father, Jim Behring, started a knifemaking business in 1998 called Treeman Knives, and the junior Behring decided to learn the trade as well. It seemed a potential way to make a living tied to a lifestyle he enjoyed.

    On a road trip to Austin, Texas, he met a woman from Montana. They married and decided to relocate to Missoula. After a few months acclimating – and fly fishing – he moved into his current shop started Behring Made.

    “I started in September of 2011 and worked October, November, December,” Behring said. “Around the first of the year I met Travis (Williams) and I mentioned, ‘I’m thinking about hiring someone, it’s kinda lonely working here by myself.’ And he’s like, ‘I’ll work for you!’ ”

    Behring blades are made using old school, hand-forged knife-making techniques.

    The steel used is sourced either as a length of bar stock, or in sheets, and each knife begins as a piece cut to rough size. It is then worked over by forge, hammer and anvil until the desired shape is attained.

    From there, a Behring blade is tempered and heat-treated, worked (repeatedly) over a belt grinder, until a handle – usually made of antler – and hilt is affixed. The final step is grinding and polishing until the knife is finished and ready to sell or deliver.

    By the end of 2012 the shop had produced more than 900 knives and sold them all. Online business generated the bulk of the sales.

    Word of mouth generated the rest. Initially, that was about the only way to get a Behring Made knife.

    Since then, Behring has sought partnerships with other companies to reach a larger customer base. Among the most impressive partnerships to date is a five-year contract with Wisconsin-based Mathews Inc., the bow and archery accessories manufacturer, that will sell Behring Made knives co-branded under the Mathews logo.

    There are also pending projects with Cabot Gun, the Connecticut Shotgun Manufacturing Company and Pheasants Forever.

    Locally, Behring has built partnerships to make knives for Cooper Firearms of Stevensville, The Resort at Paws Up (including making kitchen knives for the “Montana Masters” grilling event held there), Rock Creek Cattle Company and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

    Behring isn’t shy about admitting that he’s learning as he goes, but he says that’s part of the fun. “We all work together on design concepts, construction, what’s the best product to use for this versus that,” Behring said. “I’m trying to create careers, not jobs. I would be so happy if this work could support 10 families in this community, [because] this is where we live. There’s so much fun stuff to do, you know. It’s about lifestyle.”

    A lifestyle built on making knives.

     

    What do you say when someone comes to you with a custom idea for a knife they think they might like you to make?

    We’re like, “Buddy, we can make whatever you want!” I don’t think people are used to hearing that these days. They’re more used to hearing, “No, no, we can’t do that.”

    What if you make a knife that isn’t quite perfect for their needs?

    We say, “Send it back. We’ll make you a brand new knife.”

    Whats the biggest difference in working with larger companies, like a Mathews, to working with smaller, local companies?

    The lead time. The time from concept to production is like six months on some of this stuff, to a year.

    Where in Montana do you go to relax?

    Butler Creek. Quiet mountain living with hiking, skiing and hunting a rocks throw away.

     What three words describe Montana?

    Challenging. Opportunity. Emptiness.

     

    Chris La Tray is freelance writer from Missoula. 

  • Queenie

    Queenie

    Written and submitted by Willena Burton

    Queenie had been gone for four days.

    I could hardly wait for four o’clock and dismissal from the small one-room school that I, my younger sister, Pug, and two older brothers, Abe and Doc, attended in the Bull Mountains of Montana. There was a place that we hadn’t searched yet, and when Doc finally joined me after school we struck out for a coulee by the river where we had so often hunted rabbits with Queenie, a small brown and white fox terrier.

    The snow, left by the first Chinook wind, was deep and heavy crusted with ice. Soon that snow would be icy rivulets racing into the coulees, filling the trails and falling over the cut banks in miniature waterfalls.

    Deep in thought, I followed Doc’s tracks in the drifted snow. I knew that Queenie, an inveterate hunter, often went into the hills by herself, returning late in the afternoon, exhausted, her wiry fur matted with the orange-brown pulp of old rotten logs.

    Queenie loved chasing rabbits. Although she never caught one, she never gave up trying, digging her way into the log where the rabbit was hiding.

    It was beginning to get dark when Doc and I reached the snow-choked coulee. Though we searched for any sign of life, the only tracks to be found were those of a pack of coyotes or wolves. We called hopefully, but only hollow echoes of our voices came back. Disappointed and tired we turned back, floundering through the snow crusts that sometimes gave way and plunged us waist deep into the drifted snow banks.

    “There’s one good thing about it anyway, Doc, Queenie is so light she can walk on top of the drifts,” I said hopefully. Doc looked skeptical but said nothing.

    We were nearly home when we heard the wolves. The high-pitched nearness of the howls, echoing in the cold, dry air sent a shiver up my spine. Wolves were common in the mountains around us but they had never been known to harm anyone, even the livestock. There was plenty of other small prey, such as mice and rabbits to satisfy them. I drew closer to my brother and fear gave wings to our feet as we hurried on to the welcoming lamplight ahead and Mom’s anxious face pressed against the kitchen window.

    With questioning looks in their eyes every head turned as we came stamping snow from our overshoes. I could feel them thinking,

    “How can she be so sure that Queenie will come back? Doesn’t she know that Queenie is probably already dead?”

    Everyone was quiet, knowing the search had been unsuccessful. Silently Mom filled our plates as we joined the rest of the family around the table.

    I knew that all of us believed that prayers were answered, especially Daddy. I also remembered that Daddy had told us that sometimes God said, “No.”

    I had already run this and a hundred other things through by mind, and after all had been duly considered, I knew that God would take care of Queenie and send her home to me.

    Daddy was always the last one to go to bed. I could hear him walking around as he banked the fire and turned down the kerosene lamp. Then, I could hear him scraping frost from the window and thought, “Daddy’s looking for Queenie, too.”

    I lay wide-eyed after saying my prayers and listened to the wind sigh through the pines, the creaking of the windmill and the yipping howls of the coyotes. Slipping out of bed, I scratched a patch of frost from the window and stared out into the clear winter night, searching the shadows. The sparkly-bright snow glowed in the moonlight and every star in the universe seemed to be out.

    “Queenie can see her way home,” I thought with some relief as I jumped back into the flannel sheets, freeze-dried and sweet smelling. I fell asleep, dreaming of winter wheat, oatmeal cooking on the stove, and Queenie. All the sudden, Queenie was licking my face and I turned away laughing, trying to escape that rough little tongue! Someone was shaking me and Queenie was still licking my face!

    I didn’t want to give up my dream, but the gentle shake was insistent. Was I awake or was I dreaming?

    Daddy was sitting on the edge of the bed, his face soft and unguarded. “She ate four fried eggs! She must have hung up in a rotten log and starved her way out,” the words came out in a rush!

    “I knew she’d come home, I just knew it!” I said.

    Half laughing, half crying, I hugged her skinny, fur-matted little body close. The whole family came awake, crowding into the room to exclaim over Queenie’s miraculous return. As she was passed from one to another she basked in the attention she was getting and wagged her tail weakly.

    After everyone but Daddy had gone happily to bed, Queenie snuggled down comfortably in “her” spot on the pillow. Suddenly she sat up and took stock of her surroundings, which included Daddy’s formidable presence.

    Remembering former scoldings, she scuttled under the covers to the very foot of the bed. Feigning a look of stern disapproval, considering a “dog” in the bed, Daddy’s face broke into a resigned smile as he closed the door behind him.

    Queenie squirmed from under the covers and with a tremendous sigh of relief settled herself back on the pillow beside me. And again, I fell asleep to dream of tomorrow, of sunshine and Chinook winds, of melting snow and waterfalls, of crocuses and pine-covered mountains to climb with Queenie and the reassurance that, with God, all things are possible for those who believe in Him.

  • august in mt

    August in Montana

    Written and submitted by Kirsten Billingsley

     

    There is an argument that, because they pass on the July crop in favor of chokecherries, bears do not like huckleberries. This is nonsense. The bears know that the larger, sweeter huckleberries that appear in August are worth the wait. Huckleberries are the grand finale of the mountain berry season. Bears simply save the best for last. I, too, am a huckleberry snob and have been since I was little. The year I turned 3, we lived smack in the middle of a huckleberry heaven.

    In 1965, East Portal was a Milwaukee Railroad substation, tucked away in the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana. The tiny community consisted of two small houses, one for the substation manager and one for the electrician’s family; a bunk house for maintenance workers; and a brick building full of the wires, conduits and transformers that kept the trains running. The railroad tracks were only a few yards from the creaky wooden front porch of our house. You could hear the trains coming long before they arrived and, for some time after, you watched the caboose disappear into the woods. My father was employed as the substation electrician.

    The morning of my birthday, my father prepared for a walk in the woods in search of berries for a much-anticipated huckleberry pie ala mode. After supplying the two of us with plastic ice cream buckets, my mother warned us to be careful of bears.

    “Claws” raised above his head, my father growled a deep bear growl. The two of us laughed while mother shook her head.

    The memory ends after we stepped across to the other side of the tracks. I do remember, from other huck hunts and hikes of my youth, that the forest ground in late summer is covered with dry evergreen needles that fill the air with the scent of pine as they crunch under your feet, mixing with hints of wild mushroom, grasses and earth, inviting you to breathe a little deeper.

    As you hike, you feel rocks, twigs and packed dirt under your feet. If your huck hunt is rewarded with a berry patch, and you don’t hear the grumbled warnings or rustling of a grizzly bear, your buckets fill much more quickly if you do not eat the berries as you pick.

    My older brother Tim always did just that – unrepentantly. It takes a stronger will than my brother possesses for the berry to make the trip from bush to bucket. There is nothing more intoxicating than deeply inhaling the sweet, tart aroma of a bucket full of fresh wild huckleberries; their scent more than hinting of their bold flavor. If left unattended, he would sneak berries picked by others as well.

    Several years ago I visited my childhood home for the first time since I was 3. Now known as The Hiawatha Trail recreation area, East Portal, Montana remains just as I remembered it: a magically colorful and aromatic micro-climate of fairy story proportions. The railroad tracks have been removed, but the imposing 50 foot, rough, blackened wood tunnel door remains – as does the breathtakingly beautiful woodland of my childhood. One need only walk a few steps out of the warm sun into the cool shade to hear the creek that feeds into the Clark Fork River. Along the banks of the creek are lacy ferns, soft moss and a mixture of sweetly scented delicate wild flowers.

    As I had as a child, I picked a bouquet of paint brush, glacier lilies and phlox. To retrieve lavender harebells and columbine for me, my younger brother Stephen braved the slippery wet rocks of the “crick,” as the Montana boy in him still pronounces it.

    When I returned to Utah, I placed the flowers in my curio, on top of the brick I took from the pile of rubble that marks the place where my father died of electrocution on Nov. 9, 1965; three weeks after Stephen’s birth, and three months after my third birthday.

    Whenever I return home to the mountain air of Montana, or hike in the woods, or taste huckleberries, or hear a train, I am transported back to a perfect August day from my childhood.

  • hogeland church

    Celebrated Place: Hogeland welcomes hundreds for church’s centennial celebration

    By JENNA CEDERBERG

    Photos by TODD KLASSY

    Early summer sun filtered brightly through the sturdy stained-glass windows that line the worship hall of Hogeland’s American Lutheran Church onto pews packed full of people last June, as the worship bell rang to announce the start of special Saturday morning service.

    Just outside the church, nearly 200 people sat under a white and green party tent set up for the day, their folding chairs turned toward a pair of flat screen TVs set up to stream the service live.

    “This is a living house of worship,” visiting Bishop Jessica Crist told the crowd as the service began. “I give thanks to God for the ministry of this congregation.”

    The red-roofed, white washed church that makes up the skyline of the tiny northern Montana prairie town celebrated its congregation’s 100th year on June 28 when it welcomed almost 300 people and eight clergy members to its centennial celebration.

    Crist joined Bishop Rick Hoyme, five former pastors and current pastor Ellen Ayres at the head of the church.

    Susan Billmayer ran the registration desk outside before the service. She helped hand out nearly 275 meal tickets and nametags to attendees, most who had come back especially for the church’s celebration that Billmayer and other church members worked for nearly a year to plan.

    Of all the living former pastors, only two were missing, Billmayer said.

    “I had all the pastors’ seats and all their wives assigned seats. I had a map,” said Billmayer, a Chinook native and Hogeland church member since 1976.

    Lifetime member Kathy Johnson Zellmer played piano during the service.

    Kathy and husband Ed’s son, Jordan, set up cameras and streaming equipment to make sure the overflow crowd in the tent could see the service.

    Their daughter, Jennifer Zellmer Cuaresma, performed special music during communion with Aimee Timmons and Hazel Del Hansen Clegg.

    The church’s altar was dressed in vintage maroon velvet for the day and decorated with fresh bouquets donated by the family of Hilda and Adolph Beck.

    The light shining through the church’s impressive stained-glass windows – several of which are dedicated to the church’s founding families like the Becks – added a winsome touch to the ceremony.

    “We had a wonderful celebration,” Billmayer said.

    ***

    A spate of churches popped up along the Big Flat and Hi-Line areas in the early 1900s, as settlers set down roots and got down to the business of forming congregations.

    The Lutheran congregation that would eventually find a permanent home in Hogeland held its first official meeting in the community of Silver Bow in 1914.

    In October that year, the founding families accepted the former Silver Bow Schoolhouse as it church.

    According to church history written for the anniversary, “liberal donations,” including one from railroad magnate James Hill, helped build a new Silver Bow Lutheran Church which was completed in 1925.

    Three years later, church members met to decide if they would move the church to Hogeland, the “new town that sprang into existence when a branch line of the Great Northern Railroad was built out from Saco in 1928.”

    The church was moved to Hogeland in 1928, and although it was an unpopular decision in the eyes of many, its members came with it. A parsonage was added and the church served the community through its peak and through harder times.

    Hogeland’s population thinned with the Depression and drought years in the 1930s. The school closed in 1970. Small farmers had a harder time making a living.

    Today, there are roughly 50 members at American Lutheran in Hogeland, which is now a part of a three point parish with Harlem and Turner.

    That Hogeland’s church has survived is credit to its hardworking and longstanding members.

    Current pastor Ayres is the only paid employee. She makes a 70-mile round trip drive from Harlem to Turner and Hogeland for three services each Sunday.

    The rest of the work is done by member volunteers, who made sure the church was in top condition for the celebration.

    “They just do an amazing job,” Ayres said. “A new fence was put up, they sided the old garage and put down sod around the church in April.”

    ***

    Hogeland got a scrub down, too.

    “I think we had about 12 to 15 weed eaters in town and I don’t know how many mowers,” said Ed Zellmer, a Hogeland native. “I tried to count them and I think there were about 10 mowers going around town. All at once.”

    Necessary improvements to the church are done on an ongoing basis. Funding for larger projects is often secured through donations solicited from current and former members through letters.

    “You couldn’t believe (the donations),” Ed said of the gifts received to help prepare the church for the 100th anniversary celebration.

    Rev. Ron Nybroten and his wife, LaMay, stayed with the Zellmers during the celebration.

    Nybroten was the last pastor to live in the Hogeland parsonage before the church – already a partner parish with Turner – was consolidated into a single parish with Harlem.

    Now retired in Wisconsin, the Nybroten’s first came to Hogeland in 1966. LaMay taught at the Hogeland school while Ron served the church.

    “Our oldest son was born in Havre in 1968. He was like a son of the rest of the families. I’ve never been in congregation where they would say, ‘Pastor you look kind of tired, you should go for a vacation and we’ll take care of Nathan,’ ” Nybroten said.

    The Nybroten’s hosted radio nights – for area kids of any denomination – during their time in Hogeland.

    “We had the only high fidelity stereo,” he said. “We’re just like one family in Christ.”

    They left in 1969 but felt at home when they came back nearly 45 years later for the 100th anniversary celebration.

    “One thing I was really surprised about is how many people I know here,” Nybroten said, adding that the draw to return to a place like Hogeland – hampered perhaps only by lack of economic opportunity – is strong. “They’d all be here. They would all live here if there was more of an area to make a living.”

    ***

    It was under the party tent during an early afternoon supper of pork loin and baby red potatoes that Nybroten and the rest of the returners got reacquainted before spending the rest of the afternoon reminiscing.

    No one was surprised that so many came back to celebrate the congregation’s 100th year.

    “This is home for a lot of people,” Pastor Ayres said after the service. “There are so many people where this is all their memories … This church is kind of the womb of their faith.”

    In fact, as many as five former pastors completed their first call in Hogeland, including Nybroten and now Bishop Rick Hoyme, who served in Hogeland from 1979-1982.
    “He spent many hours on tractors, grain trucks and combines, as well as in churches and working with young people,” the church history said of Hoyme.

    During the centennial celebration service, Hoyme delivered the sermon and Holy gospel, recounting anecdotal stories of church as both a place that shelters those who have been beaten down and that can bring out the optimist in everyone.

    “That’s this church, I know that,” Hoyme said.

    Kathy admitted to fighting back tears at moments as she sat behind the piano during the service.

    “It was so emotional,” she said. “It was déjà vu seeing eight pastors all together. It was just awesome. I could hardly make it through.”

    A crowded church isn’t the norm at the American Lutheran Church in Hogeland. Typical Sunday services draw a dozen or so members.

    That doesn’t mean roots don’t still run deep.

    “Everybody still feels that,” Kathy said. “That’s what’s so great about it. A lot of places people leave and don’t come back, that doesn’t happen here.”

    Jenna Cederberg is the editor of Montana Magazine. She writes from Missoula. 

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