Coalition works to protect Montana loons
Loons have become a rare sight in Montana recently. The unfortunate truth was noticed by a broad group of Montanans, which is now working to protect and preserve the birds.
Missoulian reporter David Erickson explains:
RAINY LAKE – Most birds’ songs are pleasing to human ears, but the haunting call of the loon – the way it pierces the air as it resonates off a quiet mountain lake’s placid surface – evokes a feeling of wildness like perhaps no other sound on Earth.
Innumerable writers have spilled considerable ink trying to describe it, but there’s no substitute for the real thing.
Unfortunately, people have to get pretty lucky to hear or see the creatures these days in the western U.S.
Loons are fickle, territorial birds, and lakeshore development, motor boats, pollution, lead fishing weights and human disturbance threaten the species’ reproductive rate and habitat.
There are only between 200 and 250 common loons in Montana, including 75 nesting pairs, making them a species of concern.
And even though small, that’s still the largest population of loons in the lower 48 west of Minnesota. There are only one or two known nesting pairs in Idaho, for example.
The birds don’t produce many offspring and they aren’t good at pioneering new territory.
In the Clearwater-Blackfoot watershed of western Montana, there were only four loon chicks hatched this year, although the numbers vary every spring.
That’s why, since 1999, a small army of state wildlife officials, agencies, tribes, businesses, volunteers and interns – collectively known as the Common Loon Working Group – has been working to observe, collect data and protect the species while educating the public about the threats to its long-term survival.
“It’s a massive, statewide, collaborative effort,” said Kristi DuBois, a non-game wildlife biologist with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, as she glassed a pair of newly hatched loon chicks with a spotting scope recently at Rainy Lake in the Seeley-Swan Valley. “It takes a village to monitor loons.”
Read the rest of the story and see more photos here.
Show and tell: Our July/Aug. events calendar
It’s prime festival time all across the U.S. In Montana, that means there are more than a few awesome weekends of fun coming up.
Check it out – and if you make it to one or more, send us your photos so we can put them in our Reader Submitted Photo galleries (email jpgs to firstname.lastname@example.org).
Your Big Sky Country events calendar for July and Aug 2015
- Arlee Celebration, Arlee, July 1-5
- Moods of the Madison, Ennis, July 17-18
- Flathead Cherry Festival, Polson, July 18-19
- Evel Knievel Days, Butte, July 23-25
- Red Ants Pants Music Festival, White Sulphur Springs, July 23-26
- Daly Days, Hamilton, July 24-25
- Clark Days, Pompeys Pillar, July 25
- Dino Shindig, Ekalaka, July 25-26
- Crow Fair Celebration, Crow Agency, Aug. 12-17
- Huckleberry Festival 2015, Trout Creek, Aug. 14-16
Have something else to add? Send us an email at email@example.com.
Top reader photos: A salute to Montana
They’ve done it once again. Our readers are experts at capturing Montana at its best.
And in this edition of our top reader photos, we’ve got some wonderfully beautiful Montana summertime scenes.
There’s a few sunsets, of course. And some beautiful bloom, too.
Scroll down to enjoy.
Submitted by Amy Engbretson
May and it’s a full moon night.
We pull 9in with the trailer loaded, all the way from Ohio. We’ve been married for a week. Under the great blue sky, the love of my life has spent four months building a house.
The first dirt has moved while we were both there, dreaming as new lovers do about our life together. Before that, before we disturbed it, the dirt had lain silent for centuries. The creek that diverts into the canal had now gone through our place, beside the willow trees.
Maybe tepees had once stood there as well.
Maybe a war party had moved through the in the early morning, the sun looking out over the mountains just like it does now. But the grass grew serene, unt the day we, a little sadly, watch the excavator gash a large hole, dirt bleeding out the sides.
Where there was nothing, but wounded dirt, now stands our house. The House That Josh Built.
The love and hopes built in with the beams, the screws, the tile, the wood for the floors. And we marry and make our nest, finding strings and fluff weaving only with care.
For three years, we live there, the two of us alone in Montana. We watch the sun come up over the mountains every morning, know every morning our stunning luck to be here, to be given this to see.
We sit on our swing and feel thermals off the mountains in the evening. In the winter the mountains glow pink.
The grass is yellow and the larches are too, in the fall.
We climb mountains in the summer, stumbling over stones and sweating to the top, where we lay in the sun and eat sandwiches. Camp and sleep easy under a billion stars. Picnic at the edge of the timber by the canal. Float and swim the Flathead, the Jocko, the Blackfoot. Swim the lakes, Mission, McDonald, Flathead, high alpine lakes whose names I don’t remember now. Clear as ice. …
There were grizzlies in the neighborhood and one night we see and hear them, eating a deer a couple hundred yards away.
Once in the Flathead, I’m in the water, a warm, clean bathtub. The river is her beautiful self. Montana’s not names Big Sky Coutnry wrongly; the sky stretches into eternity at all edges of the earth….
Once, we ran out of water before we ran out of trail, coming down from Flattop Peak. We walk dry and hot, hot and dry. The sun swims in our eyese and shoes are string-tied ovens. If there’s a part of us not covered in sweat and dust, we have no idea where. My legs burn and wobble. At the base of the mountains, Ashley Creek comes on us suddenly. We sit in it, drink it and throw handfuls at each other.
Once we laid in the canal bank in the cold dark, not three miles from our house, and listen to a herd of elk on the other side of the canal. Cows grunting and moving and squealing, bulls fighting and bugling and thrashing wild. When they are tired, they move off, jumping a sagging wire. The bulls go last.
And then we have to leave. Not say goodbye, because the song says truth that you can never say goodbye to Montana, only goodnight. Goodnight to rivers, houses, lakes, mountains, sky. The larches will shine in the little jam spot of color that I can see out my window. The rivers will run clear and warm as they always have. The snow will melt off the peaks. We will not be here to see it.
December, it’s a full moon night. We empty the last of our things out of our first home. The sun will shine in the double glass doors, gilding the larch floors. The bedroom where our son was born will fill with moonlight. the breezes will come in the windows. We will not be there.
We will not be here, but some of here will always stay with us, memories of this wild and beautiful land. We have not parted until we have forgotten, and we will never forget.
We walk across the field to the loaded trailer, stopping to watch a round moon rise from behind the mountains. It would be black dark, but the moon is a great white light.
Dreaming of the day I return home
Submitted by Barbara Merriman
I had no choice but to leave Montana to attend medical school in the summer of 2009. It was so stressful to be away from such a beautiful place, for four years of grueling studies taking 28 credits per semester… but I have stayed in touch with my friends in Montana and subscribed to Montana Magazine as a reward.
Now, I am two years into my residency training in Pennsylvania, and dreaming of the day in two more years when I can return to the state I love once again.
For now, I dream of Montana’s sunny skies, white-capped mountains, clear, dry air, healthy residents, outdoor recreation, and perfect climate, until I can return for the last time and finally be home.
Beautiful Connection: An intimate glimpse of the Crow Nation
Photography of Erika Haight
Erika Haight is often asked why she makes her photographs – including a sweeping set of portraits of people from Montana’s Crow Nation – in black and white.
In a world full of Instagram filtered and digitally altered images exploding with colors, Haight’s answer is simple.
“You actually are forced to see the person,” she said.
The Montana native and Roundup resident has long photographed Western life around Montana, taking her stay-at-home mom hobby to the professional level when her work began being published in publications like Cowboys and Indians Magazine.
“Being a stay-at-home mom kind of gave me the liberty to go out and do other things. I got stuck on photography and bloomed from there,” she said.
Haight’s set of black and white photographs from the Crow Nation, currently on display at the Western Heritage Center, was created after Haight forged a special bond with the Real Bird family of the Crow Nation.
Haight’s “Apsaalooke Beauty” exhibit will be on display at the Western Heritage Center through Sept. 12.
Apsaalooke Beauty exhibit
“Apsaalooke Beauty,” a fine art photography exhibit by Erika Haight honoring the people of the Crow Nation will be on display at the Western Heritage Center in Billings through Sept. 12. An artist reception will be held at the museum on Aug. 7, from 5:30-8:30 p.m.
The Western Heritage Center is located at 2822 Montana Avenue in Billings. For more information, visit ywhc.org.
To view the entire Beautiful Connection Portfolio, subscribe today!
The Last Best Plates explores the Kestrel Prairie Camp
This is the fourth piece in a six-part The Last Best Plates series about food and eating in Montana featuring the photography of Lynn Donaldson and the writing of Corinne Garcia. For more information, visit thelastbestplates.com.
By Corinne Garcia
Photos by Lynn Donaldson
Encompassing a large stretch of land with few people residing on it, Montana is arguably best known for its high mountain peaks and glacial lakes in Glacier National Park, and its neon colored, steam-gushing geothermic wonders in Yellowstone.
Another astonishing viewshed is the Great Plains of eastern Montana, a prairie landscape that stretches for miles upon miles.
This is the setting of a Montana dining adventure like no other, and the venue is a yurt camp on what’s known as the Kestrel Prairie, sometimes called the “American Serengeti.”
The land is owned by the American Prairie Reserve, or APR.
The organization hopes to create the largest wildlife reserve in the continental United States by linking more than three million acres of private and public land on north central Montana’s legendary Great Plains.
Its mission is to preserve and rehabilitate the land to an oasis for a unique natural habitat that includes wildlife and native grasses and plants.
“We’re building the next great national park with a twist,” said Hilary Parker, APR communications manager. “It will be privately owned for public benefit.”
If it were a success, the reserve would be larger than Yellowstone National Park and equivalent to the size of the state of Connecticut.
Now in the development stages, APR hosts fundraising and volunteer stays at the Kestrel Prairie Camp.
Many have featured meals catered by Livingston chef Carole Sullivan of Mustang Catering. Here, people from all over the world convene to celebrate the wild landscape and its potential revival.
For a signature outdoor feast that is typically held on the final evening of a stay, guests dine on dishes that are representative of the West, such as a salad of local greens and braised bison short ribs served Provençal style, with kalamata olives and fresh herbs.
- Scroll down to view the recipe for bison short ribs Provencal
Other dishes capture good old Americana flavors, such as a southern dish of fried catfish fingers with a lemon tarragon sauce.
Sullivan finishes the meal with a lemon goat cheesecake, made with organic goat cheese from the Bozeman based Amaltheia Dairy.
Getting the food there and preparing it is no simple task.
“Many times, I’ve had to pack food for five days worth of meals for up to 12 people,” Sullivan said.
She has been catering events at the camp since before electricity was hooked up, and travels with food in tow down miles of dirt roads to reach the Kestrel.
But the travels there are well worth it for the views.
“It’s at one moment both exhilarating and peaceful, which is a rare combination,” Parker said.
The final dinner typically involves flavor combination that coincides nicely with the landscape, a special treat after a long day of tearing down fences and moving rocks.
And after a campfire – with s’mores included – guests can fall into bed in nearby yurts, drifting off to the sounds of the grasslands blowing in the cool summer breeze.
Corinne Garcia and Lynn Donaldson are frequent contributors to Montana Magazine. Garcia writes from Bozeman. Donaldson is based in Livingston.
Recipe: Bison Short Ribs Provençal
5 to 6 pounds bison short ribs
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ cups red wine
2 cups beef broth
½ cup yellow onions, diced
½ cup medium carrots, peeled and diced
½ cup celery, diced
1 tablespoon garlic, chopped
2 cups canned diced tomatoes
1 bay leaf
2 fresh thyme sprigs
2 fresh parsley sprigs
1 cup Kalamata olives, sliced
1 tablespoon lemon zest
¼ cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
¼ cup fresh thyme, chopped
Salt and pepper ribs.
In a large oven-safe pot, on medium-high heat, brown ribs in olive oil on both sides, about 8 minutes. This needs to be done in two batches. Once browned, use tongs to remove ribs and set aside.
In the same pot, add red wine, and scrape up brown bits collected from the ribs on the bottom of the pan.
Add beef broth to wine and stir for another minute. Next, add all of vegetables, including canned tomatoes, garlic and bay leaf. Bring to a boil for 5 minutes.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Add ribs and fresh herbs to the boiling liquid. Cover pot with foil and place in preheated oven.
Bake for 2 ½ hours, and occasionally change position of the ribs for optimum cooking. It’s ready when the meat is falling-off-the-bone tender.
Ideally, you’ll need a large over pot or roasting pan with a lid. If you don’t have one, before baking, transfer ribs to a large baking dish and cover tightly with foil.
Top with Kalamata olives and lemon zest, then garnish with flat leaf parsely and fresh thyme.
-Courtesy of Carole Sullivan, “Gatherings Friends and Recipes” from Montana’s Mustang Kitchen
Montana Book Review: Bookshelf gems
By Doug Mitchell
A pair of outside-the-box mysteries by a veteran writer and local newcomer. The story of one man’s lifelong quest to find Sasquatch – who ran off with his mom. A superhero picture book perfect for bedtime, the story of a boxing warrior, a historical look at Montana roadways and great gardening tips. Montana Magazine contributor Doug Mitchell reviews a versatile set of books that should be on everyone’s reading list.
Open Road Integrated Media, New York – 2015
The best way for me to describe how I consumed William “Gatz” Hjortsberg’s latest book, Mañana, is that I devoured it. The act of reading the first page is an almost conspiratorial act that had me grabbing for the coffee pot to prepare for what promised to be a long evening of reading.
As I did so, I harkened back to Bette Davis’ famous line in All About Eve, “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”
Hjortsberg is one of Montana’s premier writers. His 1978 classic, Falling Angel, launched a career that has included the publication of a broad spectrum of work including significant success as a screenwriter with major Hollywood films Angel Heart (Robert De Niro) and Legend (Ridley Scott, Tom Cruise).
With Mañana, Hjortsberg roars back on to bookshelves with a book that I believe will find both critical and commercial success.
Let me be clear though, this book will not be for everybody. Within the first pages we meet the book’s main character (Tod) as he wakes up in a cabana in Mexico next to a dead prostitute (Frankie) – and remembering that the previous evening he had taken heroin for the first time. Bazinga!
Set in the 1960s in the Mexican beach town of Barra de Navidad, Mañana is a novel over 40 years in the making and in part comes from the first-person places and experiences of the author. Hjortsberg actually owned a bright yellow Volkswagen bus called “Bitter Lemon” and used that memorable vehicle, and icon of the 1960s, to transport Tod as he careens through the pages of this amazing story.
Part murder mystery, part tale of discovery, Mañana is filled with unapologetic prose that transports the reader to a different place and time with characters that will more likely repulse than charm most readers.
You’ll meet Linda and Nick, Doc and Shank, and the mysterious Freddy.
You’ll go to bull fights and chicken fights as Tod tries desperately to find both Linda and the answer to exactly who killed Frankie – hoping against hope that it wasn’t him.
I described my feelings about the writing in a conversation with the author as though T.C. Boyle and Hunter S. Thompson had run headlong into each other and created a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup-type combination of styles that turn out to be delicious.
The sculpted, elegant prose of Boyle colliding with the revolutionary urgency and honesty of Thompson to create something only a truly gifted author like Hjortsberg could fashion.
On its face, Mañana is a murder mystery – and a good one at that.
But in Hjortsberg’s elegant hand, the job of unravelling this potentially one dimensional story quickly becomes a game of three dimensional chess. If this makes the book sound complicated, I’ve misled you. A better word for it is “unexpected.”
My guess is that for many readers of this magazine, Hjortsberg may be one of the best writers you’ve never read. If true, I highly suggest changing that.
San Bernadino, California – 2015
- Read an author Q&A with Ramirez here
I had arranged to meet a friend at the Blackfoot River Brewing Co. for an IPA after work one day and stumbled upon a book signing.
It turns out L.A. Ramirez was at the brewery that day to sell and sign copies of her first novel Big Sky Siren.
I bought a copy on the spot and started it that night.
Consumer warning: Big Sky Siren is a bit like eating potato chips – once you start it’s hard to stop.
For me, one of the charming parts of this book was that it is clearly set in my town, Helena. Although Ramirez uses the moniker “Capital City” to officially describe the location, there’s no doubt where the novel is set.
Big Sky Siren is to be the first in a series of novels for Ramirez and you can tell from the outset that at least a couple of the characters, and the relationships between them, can be a strong recurring theme.
This book is a good, old-fashioned crime mystery. A little bit on the dark side, I would give the book a TV equivalent of Criminal Minds.
In Big Sky Siren, we encounter a troubled stalker bent on kidnapping the “siren” of our story – Keeva Ryan – in a manner and psychology reminiscent of the Dan Nichols/Kari Swenson odyssey of the early 1980s.
Thankfully, the Capital City police department has the talented and handsome single parent, Detective Tony Salazar on the case.
Ramirez avoids the obvious traps that ensnare too many lesser writers. The romance you are predicting just from these few paragraphs does indeed develop, but it does so in an interesting way with a well-crafted and compelling supporting cast.
One warning though, this is not young adult fiction. There are a couple of what I’ll call “romantic” scenes that, to use movie vernacular, are “intended for mature audiences only.”
You will not find Big Sky Siren in the “literature” part of your local bookstore, but that shouldn’t be the measure for whether it belongs on your summer reading list. I am a big believer in spreading my reading time between genres, and with Big Sky Siren, Ramirez gives us a page turner that, for me, compares best to the Kay Scarpetta series of novels by Patricia Cornwell.
Self-Published, Bozeman – 2015
Bedtime reading to our kids ended long ago at the Mitchell household, but that doesn’t mean I’m still not a sucker for a good children’s book. Bozeman mom, entrepreneur and now author, Sara Crow, has just published Even Superheroes Need to Sleep, a picture book that does a neat job of sharing with kids how mom and dad’s day job really just might be the work of a superhero. Summer is baby gift season and this is a good one.
Henry Holt and Company, New York – 2015
Another of the University of Montana’s talented master’s of fine arts graduates, Sharma Shields presents a fascinating and beautifully written story in The Sasquatch Hunters Almanac. The book is about the life of a boy whose mother runs off with Sasquatch – known in the book as Mr. Krantz – when the boy is 8 years old. We follow the boy to adulthood, through two marriages, while he continues his life journey to find Sasquatch. The writing is top notch and it’s neither a story nor a style of writing that you’ll come across every day.
Riverbend Publishing, Helena – 2015
I’ll admit up front that I am a boxing fan – or at least used to be in the halcyon days of Ali and Frazier and Leonard and Hagler. In Warrior in the Ring, Montana writer Brian D’Ambrosio brings out of the shadows a story more Montanans and more boxing fans ought to know; the story of Native American world champion boxer Marvin Camel. Camel’s mother was Salish and Marvin grew up in Ronan with 13 siblings. Camel won the first cruiserweight Championship of the World in 1979. In this compelling biography, D’Ambrosio tells Camel’s story in a forthright and compelling way that makes this not only a good read but an important one too.
History Press, Charleston, South Carolina – 2015
Making history accessible through the written word is a gift, and Jon Axline has it. You have read in these pages many of Axline’s compelling articles and in Taming of Big Sky Country, Axline brings us a feature length look at the story of the construction of Montana’s highway system. If this sounds boring, think again. Axline’s incredible ability to tell a story makes this book a must have for anyone even slightly interested in Montana history.
Cheryl Moore-Gough and Bob Gough
Globe Pequot Press, Guilford, Connecticut – 2015
It’s that time of year. Gardening is in full swing and I’ll admit to being somewhat intimidated by gardening books. You see, I’m more “weeder” than “gardener” and my experience with hobbyist books like this one is that they make the reader who most needs the information, the novice, feel stupid. The Montana Gardner’s Companion does the exact opposite. From the first pages, I felt empowered by the common-sense approach and the can-do spirit the writers take to approach the often daunting and unpredictable task of gardening in Montana. My copy is dirty and dog eared already and I’m betting yours will be too.
Doug Mitchell is the Montana Magazine book reviewer. He writes from Helena.