Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Montanan is home on the range

Lions and tigers and bears, oh, my

(all but the tigers and plenty more

 in the Beartooths of Big Sky Country)

Home, home on the range, where the deer and the antelope play.
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word, and the sky is not cloudy all day.

Healthy, happy Black Angus cattle enjoy green pasture north of Nye, Montana, in the beautiful Beartooth Mountains. 
Ace fisherman Patrick Cosgriffe fishes the Stillwater.

WELL NOT quite "all day" for the cloudy sky part.  At the moment it's raining. But the grass is green, the cattle are fat and sassy and I'm not complaining.
I get more writing done when the gods are greening up the meadows. As I cook a pot of soup from garden vegetables, I listen to the rain and thunder. The Yorkies, Nick and Nora, snooze under my desk.
There's no more spectacular time than summer in the Beartooths, particularly if nature has provided adequate moisture.  This year has been magnificent in the generosity department.
The writer gives a High Chaparral tour, noting flora and fauna.
SINCE EARLY June when I returned to my native Stillwater County, Montana, it has rained at least 20 times -- sometimes a sprinkle, sometimes a deluge.
To quote my late granddad Gus, "I'm happy as if I were in my right mind."
Just the right amount of time inside and out.  If it were constantly sunny, I'd accomplish nothing indoors-- my writing deadlines would be ignored, I'd be eating frozen food instead of cooking soups and fresh trout, or eating mixed nuts instead of fixing salads seasoned with homegrown herbs.
My San Diego friends have e-mailed:
"Show us High Chaparral."
Keller enjoys a hike on the Stillwater's
West Fork with Nick and Nora.
"What does your place look like?" "What do you do for fun there?" "Are you anywhere near Yellowstone Park?"
As the crow flies, Yellowstone Park is 70 miles south
of High Chap. Here, Cookie enjoys it with Rick and Jane
The answers:
"It's simply stunning. Plenty." And "Yes."
"HIGH CHAP" is high indeed -- near Red Lodge, Absarokee and Yellowstone Park, in the northern Rockies, elevation over one mile. Although there are deer and elk out the window, the park offers bears and
The little town of Nye includes Carter's Camp, above.
buffalo and a great destination for a night or two with out-of-town guests.While I'm here, I work my tail off: gardening, clearing, stacking wood, cooking, cleaning, reading, writing, walking and, believe it or not -- exercising at the Nye Fire Hall with a group of girlfriends.  We meet six days a week to do some form of workout from CDs we've all provided: Pilates, Jazzercise, cardio building, yoga.
And while I see a couple plays and concerts a week during my California stint, culture is no stranger to me at my home on the range.
I belong to a book club where we read everything from best sellers to memoir and biography.  We meet for gourmet luncheons at a historic home, The Big Yellow House in nearby Absarokee. I shop in this small town, too, and Milligan's IGA orders lamb chops for me.
Cookie, left on alto sax, entertains with friends at Cowboy Bar.
I PLAY piano at an upscale restaurant, Montana Jack's, in the tiny town of Dean. It's named after its owner, Florida entrepreneur Jack Mowell, another part-time resident who rescued the eatery from malaise, hired terrific managers, waiters and chefs and tuned up the old upright piano.
AT LEAST a couple times a month, I play at Jack's: jazz and blues, show tunes and light classics.  We packed the place last Saturday with a medley from "Cabaret," some Cole Porter tunes and my rusty but appreciated Bach fugues and "Hungarian Rhapsody" by Franz Liszt, which I hadn't attempted for 30 years. (Standing Ovation!!! I'm practicing Chopin and Beethoven now.)
Cookie, in braids, moves a couple river rocks.
I ALSO play with a band my friend Art Daniels organizes -- usually on my alto saxophone. We entertain at the Cowboy Bar in Fishtail -- everything from New Orleans style blues to swing and country. My last gig with them included a Beatles medley, "Hello Dolly!" pieces and a rousing "Beer Barrel Polka" which brought out the dancers. Both of these musical outlets are good for me -- as is the entire summer at High Chaparral.
My family and friends visit.  We have bonfires in the pit I dug myself and lined with sand and native rock. We eat well -- fresh trout, often caught by my brother Patrick, an expert fisherman, or my friends Marge and George who are also fine fishermen and (lucky for us) don't care for trout!
Yellowstone National Park with bison galore is a couple hours away.
I BOUGHT the place nearly 20 years ago, not long after losing my first husband, Bruce, in 1992. I hired Minneapolis born architect, Ted Wirth, to design an addition. I recruited my landscaper friend, Sam, to help me haul in four tons of earth to create a berm.  It flourishes, with more than 50 varieties of trees, shrubs and perennials.  My second husband, Billy, and I spent fertile time writing and painting here and when he died in 2005, it was, again, a place of solace, calming and strength for me.
NOW, WITH Keller, High Chap is once more full of contented life -- and construction.
Keller works on the artful fireplace project.
We drove to a quarry near Bozeman and bought back to Nye nearly a ton of rock to finish the fireplace.
We cleared a rocky slope, built fencing and planted an orchard which is a sanctuary for me and the Yorkies, with three varieties of apples and many perennials and rock gardens.
Keller helped me install an irrigation system which brings delicious, plentiful, beautiful water from a well above the house.
I plant at least four or five new trees a year -- firs and pine and this year some new aspen to complement the 50-plus surrounding and cooling the house.
 Cookie and Yorkies fix dinner in High Chap's kitchen. 
  I've fed by hand
deer who give birth in the protected corners of the property.  I have a mother white tail and twins now, and many rabbits, squirrels and even a fox, my own version of  "The Wind in the Willows." I've filled the home with Bill's paintings, family treasures and the pottery of my talented brothers, Rick and Patrick. The 1881 Log Room, the original cabin, is a repository of family  history and vintage photographs.
Montana Jack's in Dean serves fine
 fare and has live music (including
Cookie on piano) on weekends.

IT'S NOT all "Camelot" in the country. I've battled ants, vols, mice and the destructive pine bark beetle. I've chased bears down the driveway -- astonishing, but frightening. I've asked hunters to move on.  I've watched with wonder and fear as an ancient mountain lion circled the house after he pounced against a floor-to-ceiling window, admiring my cat, Nellie, sunning on an Oriental carpet. We've survived rattlesnakes (a serious bite to Nicky's face and a race to the vet with my nearly 90-year old neighbor, Grady, driving while I held Nick.)
Misha and Dave hike to Sioux Charlie.
Winter's are fierce -- I usually high tail it to San Diego. But it's hard on appliances as well as human skin and bones. I've replaced the dishwasher, windows and washing machine. I've repaired leaks and cracks. I need a new roof. I've chopped and hauled branches.  I've trimmed, weed-whacked, created  rock walls. All with Keller's help.
I'VE GOT plenty yet to do, and will until I go to that great pasture in the sky -- where I can watch birds, cook, play music and write -- way, way, down the road.
Meanwhile, our neighborhood recently hosted Montana State University's touring "Shakespeare in the Parks" in a little town park in the nearby village of Fishtail.  The production was "Henry V" and after, there was live swing and blues music in the Cowboy Bar and at Jack's. Carter's Camp, in nearby Nye, hosts Friday night specials -- steak and shrimp, lasagna anyone?
I hike the gorgeous canyon up to Sioux Charlie lake at least once a month during my Montana foray.  Friends and family marvel at the beauty of this part of the world, which I rank with
Fishtail is one of several small towns
near High Chaparral, Stillwater County.
the Swiss Alps, Tuscany, Bali and other stunning spots I've visited in my trips around the world.  Last weekend, the water at the Stillwater's source was still ferocious and the rocks were crashing down, from the power and force of all the moisture.
WHEN KELLER is here, we try to avoid "all work and no play."
But there are always chores on a rural property and although I have only 14 acres, there are fences to mend, rocks to clear, hedges to trim, trees to water, flowers to dead-head and grass to mow.  Boy is there grass to mow.  I have yet to yield to a sit-down mower since I love the exercise, but as I push the mower up the hillside, I fantasize about that -- or a magic wand.
The fireplace at High Chap, before its completion. It's done!
Meanwhile, there are birds, books, friends, deer in the yard, Yorkies to keep me company and, yes, a few clouds.  But the fireplace is finished and gorgeous!
So no discouraging words.
At least not from this reporter.

COMING UP: It's Cookie's birthday! See how she celebrates and what she's thankful for -- friends, family, Yorkies, Keller! Future blogs look at the evolution of the Alberta Bair Theater from the old 1931 Fox, the annual Art and Wine Festival in Fishtail, and a look at how the late Rudolph Valentino affected Cookie's life. Check us out Wednesdays and Saturdays at

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