Friday, July 31, 2020

Home on the range, COVID style: Montana's changed, nature remains

In the distance, center stage, Cookie greets the morning sun, mowing the lawn at High Chaparral, flanked by the mountains.

Nick is an only child now, and much 
cherished by Cookie since Nora's passing.
Oh give me land, lots of land, and the starry skies above
Don't fence me in
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love
Don't fence me in
Let me be by myself in the evening breeze
And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever but I ask you please
Don't fence me in-- Cole Porter


MONTANA IS WRESTLING with the changes wrought by the COVID virus.  But it's still possible to ride through the wide open country that we love, listening to the murmur of the cottonwood trees.
We were waiting for the state to mandate the wearing of masks, so when that finally happened a few weeks ago, we packed our bags and headed home.
We set off from San Diego, leaving the Pacific behind, headed east to
"the real west," our wonderful Montana, COVID-19 precautions,
 hoping for considerate encounters enroute.

Leaving the Pacific Ocean behind, we drove into eastern California, through verdant irrigated farmland, into the prairies and desert of Nevada, up into Utah's red rocks and craggy canyons, then through Wyoming with its familiar brush and sunburned hillsides of Lander and Riverton.
Finally, we navigated the welcoming curves of the Beartooth Mountains, into Bear Creek, Red Lodge and home to the West Fork of the Stillwater River. Home.
Young robins await the return of their mother, in a nest
their parents built in our cabin's breezeway.
FOR THE FIRST time in 15 years, we made this annual pilgrimage with only one Yorkshire terrier, Nick.  His twin sister Nora's ashes rested in the back seat next to Nicky, in her little urn, along with her favorite fetch toy and her dog tags.  They will join other beloved four-footed family members in our "Pet Cemetery" when we find the right moment.
A honey bee and pink hollyhock
greet the road weary warriors.
As we unpacked, checking on plants and trees to see how they survived winter, we admired the faithful hollyhocks whose colorful blooms greeted us.  We found apples on the trees and butterflies in the berm, baby robins in a nest by the door.  All good signs.  The chickadees and finches chirped impatiently, recognizing we were back and reminding us to fill the many feeders.
A drive through the countryside anchors us after four days on the road.
Butterflies and moths in the flowers add color to our return.  
FAMILY AND friends had mowed the lawn a few times, weed-wacked and spruced up the place for our coming.  We paused by the memorial to family members who have passed, dusting off their bronze plaques and greeting their spirits.  We walked down to the west fork of the Stillwater River, whose main branch rises in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness south of us.  This gorgeous stretch of the Beartooth Mountains is only about 70 miles as the crow flies from  Yellowstone National Park. We hope to make a cautious annual drive through the park, and wonder how masking and distancing will happen there.
RETURNING to the mountains this year has special meaning for us with the constraints and concerns wrought by the virus. It's been a long time away from home for me, and for Keller, a long absence from the mountains he
has grown to love. Tourists and natives alike love Montana's mountains. Writer John Steinbeck said they were the kind of mountains he'd make if mountains were ever put on his agenda.
Apples on the tree -- only a few high ones.  
The deer helped themselves, too.
Four years ago, as we climbed the transplant list, we did not know if we would be back. Now, having celebrated the three-year post-transplant anniversary, the Beartooth view is a daily blessing. We don't take it lightly. But how things have changed in a year.
Tippet Rise, our internationally known performing arts center, cancelled its season. We're disappointed because we were lucky enough to score tickets, so we donated the modest cost to the Food Bank, as the venue suggested.
OUR ANNUAL trek to the world famous Oregon Shakespeare Festival is also cancelled. The entire season went up in smoke, so we'll miss our sacred pilgrimage to Ashland, with its award winning docket of plays in three beautiful theaters. For me, the first miss in 47 years 
Keller and Cookie celebrate each day, even with COVID to contend with.
NORMALLY, we would be entertaining guests at High Chaparral this time of year.  In past, we've welcomed visitors from all over the United States -- friends and relatives from the United Kingdom, the Middle East and several European countries.  A planned visit from friends in Australia was cancelled. 
Critters, birds celebrate life
   Birthday parties and barbecues gone.  But we can still hike and bike and drive those winding country roads, where we admire  
.horses and cattle and deer grazing in the fields. We're not fenced in 


UP NEXT: Yellowstone Park beckons our road warriors, who have witnessed the splendors of our nation's first park for many years. Find out what's new in the park, and enjoy a quick but satisfying trip through this natural wonder with tips for enjoying this splendid gift to the people. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays for a fresh look at nature, the arts, travel, family and more at


  1. I'll bet Montana is happy to have you back. Wonderful piece.

  2. Thermopolis TravelersAugust 1, 2020 at 9:01 AM

    Fun piece. Hang in there, Montana. We are having the same "divide" about masks.

  3. European WanderersAugust 6, 2020 at 5:46 PM

    Fun piece and we'll look forward to the park. Love Yellowstone.