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.
I am thrilled to report that at least one of our hens is laying eggs again. I found my first egg in the nest box in nearly a month. This year we kept nine hens over the winter. We had failed to cull our flock before cold weather set in so we made do with more than we normally keep in the winter. Initially I thought it would not be so bad as it would mean our egg production though less, with the shorter days, should be acceptable over the winter. Silly me as soon as the cold weather set in all but one of my laying hens went into full molt. Molting along with the shorter days meant that no matter how careful I was with my precious eggs, in January I did end up buying a dozen store eggs.
Yes my coop is sunshine yellow inside. I want my hens to feel sunshine everyday.
For those of you not familiar with chickens, molting is when all their feathers come out, like a dog or cat’s shed. During the molting process chickens do not lay eggs. All their food and energy go into making new feathers rather than eggs. Molting can be a long process of months and my hens did not disappoint. They started in late October and early November, and some of them are still working on replacing their feathers today and look pretty sad.
I have caught two different hens in the nest boxes last week. A couple more look pretty filled out feather wise and their combs are starting to perk back up. The days are getting longer. The chickens are starting to lay again. Spring is in the air in Montana.
Woke up to snow and wind this morning. It made me think back on the sunny days of summer. I went back and looked at some of the photos I took while on the road this summer. On the crest of the hill in the distance you can see a windmill. It was a “real” one that still pumped water into a stock tank for cattle on the range far from home.
Taken in Lake County, Montana
My flowers were blooming the day before and now they look sad covered in snow because winter is here for the duration.
Fall lasted what seemed to be unusually long this year in southwest Montana. The days were warmer and the sun brighter in late October than I remembered in years past. Then the calendar flip to November and suddenly we had two back to back snow events, leaving a thick covering on the ground. We still have a blanket of snow in our yard and they are calling for another snow event tonight. Fall was gone in a flash and winter is here to stay.
I recently read a blog post done by a person who said they traveled through Montana via Interstate. Their post talked about how they did not see all the wonder that so many talk about in Montana. This post got me to thinking about how we travel.
The signs on the interstate don’t even hint at the potential places have if you visit.
Many of us travel via airplane. When we fly, we accept that we are miles above the earth and what we see is from a perspective that many will never see. We also accept that at this elevation we will miss much of what is below us. The most we will get is a mosaic perspective on the earth.
Others of us will travel via auto and the interstate. When we travel this way we assume that we are getting a look into the world through which we travel. I had always assume that to be true until I spent my summer on the backroads of Montana. It was having my summer job and reading this blog that lead me to a new discovery, interstate travel really is only a common denominator for speedy travel. It is not the way to see the USA.
An interstate was designed to allow a truck to travel from point A to point B with the least resistance. It was to have the least amount of curves and hills. Business are located along the interstate to save truckers time and milage when traveling from business location to business location.
Knowing the objective of the interstate highway system it makes sense that when traveling to a vacation destination that we too will take the interstate. We want to get to our vacation location as fast as possible. When we travel at 65, 75 or even 80 miles per hour down the road we only get a glance at what lies along the interstate. It also means that we sacrifice the places we drive through. When traveling through Illinois or Montana when we hit a town it will be lined with exits with easy access to the Home Depot, Target and Costco. Each town will appear to have the same national chain restaurants. No one would ever claim that McDonald’s and Chili’s are as good as the culinary experience you could find in neighborhoods in Chicago, but if one were to judge the Windy City by the restaurants named along the interstate one might assume that to be true. The same is true of the viewshed offerings. What lines the interstate will feel very same, almost monotonous. This is why people claim the Dakotas are flat, the mountains in Colorado are just ok and Chicago is just tall buildings. It also explains why driving seems monotonous and hypnotic. The interstate is designed to be the same on each mile. When we travel via the interstate; we get the interstate view.
So the next time you go on holiday and decide to drive remember that when you drive though a place and you never get off the interstate for more than gas or to eat you really have not visited that place.
This sort of reminds me of the opening panoramic view in the Big Valley, but this is found today in Montana.
Growing up the TV was full of old-fashion westerns. They glamorized the history of the old west. Bonanza, High Chaparral, Gunsmoke, and Big Valley were a few of the ones never missed at our house. One of my favorite parts of these shows beside the handsome heroic cowboys was the scenic lands of the west. This summer I realized that as the world has become more populated and we have more and more urban sprawl, the places where you can go to imagine what the west may have looked like long ago are becoming pretty hard to find. Lucky for me Montana still has lots of places like that and I got to see many of them. I always wanted to visit places like I saw on TV westerns and now I have.