It is still winter in Montana and will be at our house for months to come. We have had some serious early thaws recently as we will here every year about this time. Today it had melted enough of the snow away that it was a perfect day to open the chicken run and let the ladies out today for some free-range time.
Though it doesn’t look like much the chickens were out there eating the shoots of new grass that the melted snow provided. My chickens can be an industriousness bunch when it comes to good fresh food after the snow hiding “good eats” and being on commercial chow for a few months.
Let’s hold onto the memory of this day with sunshine and blue skies as we enter a week that is suppose to be full of show again. The snow is happening less frequently and days like this are happening more often. There is hope for spring, no matter how far away.
Working outside the home and commuting daily allows a person to notice when the days get longer and shorter. There is a consistent time piece of our daily routine when we walk out the door, get on the highway, catch the commuter bus or train by which we are able to measure our days. We noticed day and night relative to that constant migration daily to work and home again.
I feel like I have been living in constant darkness lately. Each day I left home in the dark of night with the stars overhead heading to town and came home in the same darkness. If I was going to get some sunshine it had to be during my lunch hour. This first week of January we had vicious cold snap of subzero temperatures. One day we got all the way down to -30 at our house, and that was before we factored in the wind. I was down right miserable in the cold and darkness. Yet by the end of the week, even with the nasty freezing temps, I had found hope. I was driving home as the sun was setting. In Montana twilight lasts forever, so suddenly I was driving home in the last vests of daylight. The days were still cold, but the afternoon light was giving me hope and encouragement. The hint of days getting longer has gave me optimism and hope that no matter how cold the days were yet to come and no matter how long the nights, spring though months away is slowing making its way to my neck of the woods.
One of our favorite spots on the Wise River.
This week we were out and about taking photos for a retirement journal RangerSir has asked me to make for one his employees. Our daytime adventures took us to some of our favorite places in our neck of the Montana. One of those places was an out of the way place on the Wise River. Once we got there I just had to get my feet wet. The river was low as it often is this time of the year. Even though it was low the water was cold, a true mountain river. It made it easy to imagine walking out into the river because there was a log on that someone had placed in the middle of the river. RangerSir was not interested in getting his feet wet so this was a solo adventure for me. My destination was to sit on the log, enjoy the water and sunshine.
I could have laid there for hours listening to the sounds and relaxing. Too bad it is a couple of hours from our house.
I laid out there quite awhile until RangerSir and Zip reminded me we had other places to visit before the day was out and the sun would set. I was totally relaxed listening to the water, the wind and the sounds of nature. I could smell the resins of the evergreens heating up in the afternoon sun. It was a little bit of paradise.
Once I had gotten back in the truck and and we were headed on to the next place we wanted to photograph I realized I think I am more water than mountain. I suppose that is easy to say since I have a mountain front and center in my picture window, and no water near by. As a kid I spent my summers on the lake with my grandparents and spent years living in the land of 10,000 lakes. Until I moved to Montana I was always walking distance to a lake or river. Now as we start to think about where we might move to next, I think water trumps mountain. Not 100% sure but something to think about when picking our destination. Water or mountain? Mountain or water?
Today we were under a red flag warning. What that means is that conditions are right that a wildland fire if started could go wild and easily grow. Today the air is super dry, my phone says the humidity is 13% and the winds are blowing a steady 21 mph in town. The temperature here at the house is 84 degrees in the shade and the winds here are surely as strong as they are in town. Yes I am from the Midwest and know that 84 isn’t hot at all, but at our place in Montana it is darn hot.
We are starting to enter fire season around here. The Red Flag warning is a sign of the coming of the end of summer. Our grasses are all cured and getting drier by the day. The hottest days of the year should be just around the corner. I can’t remember the last time we had any moisture, but we have dry lightening at least a couple times a week. That is how many of the local wildland fires start. RangerSir had spent the last week trimming down grasses around the house and outbuildings because it is the time of the year you do that type of thing if you live here. We had a large grass fire between our house and town last week. If something gets started out here it should burn hot and fast through our property, but we should be ok. There is always the factor of what are the odds of should really means. So you do all that you can do to improve your odds.
I went out today to try and photograph rooster boy thinking I would get some good photos and would blog about the chickens. The weather was not cooperating. He is a handsome blue rooster, instead here with the wind at his back he looks like he is having a terrible hair day. Oh well what is a little wind now that we are in fire season.
Each morning I am now out the door no later than 5:30 to get my morning walk in on the weekdays, before I start the rest of my morning routine to get out the door daily to commute to work. I wish I could take each of you with me on my walk. Not to experience the cold or the see overcast skies we had this week that prevented seeing a sunrise every day this week. Instead I would want to share with you the the sounds of nature waking up. The sound of a meadowlark announcing the morning. It is something I adore, though had never heard before coming to Montana. This year for the first time we have sandhill cranes nesting in the area. Each morning I hear eerily strange sound of cranes. I hope that this is the first of many years for them to be near by. There are the sounds of the robin family and the bluebirds letting the world know they too are awake. There are more than the sounds of birds I am familiar with. There are many birds waking up and calling that I can not identify their song, but I have become familiar with the sound they make as they wake up. It is an amazing peaceful, but energizing way to start your day.
Growing up in the Midwest the return of the robin was always a harbinger of spring. Here in southwest Montana a kind of sparrow like bird is always the first to return in the spring is. Following the sparrow like bird a week or so later is the bluebird. Finally there is the the meadowlark who is the last of the migrating birds to return.
I first noticed the sparrow like birds early last week. When hanging my first clothes out I could clearly hear them calling out to one another about the bounty or lack of bounty they were finding here in Montana. They were gathering and flitting about in the pastures around the house. They always seem to be on the move and just far enough away that I never capture them well with a camera.
Mountain bluebird in the snow. Taken by Betty Holling.
Monday I saw my first bluebird. I haven’t seen another one yet, but I am sure more of them will be arriving soon. Once the males have mostly arrived and check out the digs we have on the fence posts, the females won’t be far behind. We have a series of blue bird houses on our fence posts and love to watch them each year.
I looked at my blog to see when I wrote about the bluebird last time and see I saw this fella almost two weeks earlier this year. Last time we had a major snow storm with six inches just after my first bluebird arrived. This year we have woken up to snow already twice this week. It always make me think about hearty and resilient these little guys are. How far they go to return here each spring and how the weather doesn’t stop them. It is how we should all look at the setbacks we have once we get spring fever. March on it will get better.
We were out walking in the winter and came across this sign warning about bears. It made me laugh a little bit because before I moved to Montana I wasn’t as aware of my surroundings as I am here. Anytime I am out I think about what wildlife I might encounter based on the time of year, where I am at and the ecosystem. While it is early for bears to be out, I am wondering with the warm spell called for next week, what might change and could that early hungry bear be out there looking for an easy meal soon.