On Wednesday, I drove over five hours northwest from my home up to Browning, Montana. My work in education requires occasional travel, and this week took me to the edge of Glacier National Park, just south of the Canadian border. When I moved to Montana in 2000, I lived on the other side of Glacier Park in the Swan Valley. My roommates and I frequently visited Glacier, which quickly became one of my favorite places to go hiking. Long, lush valleys surrounded by high peaks were the reward for a short and scenic drive north under towering pine trees. It was that summer living at Swan Lake that I first fell in love with Montana. Everything here was larger than my imagination could fathom. Something about the place felt both authentic and wild, an alluring combination.
Sixteen years later, when I arrived in Browning for an education seminar, the hotel clerk asked me if I wanted a view of the mountains or a view of the parking lot. Seriously, do you even need to ask this question? Out my window in the fading light of evening lies a stunning vista. High lofty peaks blanketed in snow line the horizon. Swirling eddies of white meander down the slopes under peaks capped by towering clouds. Yet down from those majestic mountains comes a relentless whipping wind. The last two nights I’ve woken up nearly hourly to the noisy rattle of my windows. Tonight is off to a rollicking start. With gusts up to 60 mph predicted, I don’t see much peaceful sleep in my future. The east side parking lot view is looking a bit rosier now that I’ve tried the view to the windy west…
While staying here, miles from home, I’ve missed my morning routines. Usually, I enjoy a mug of hot tea while sitting by the freshly stoked fire in the dark hours before dawn. When day breaks, I pull on my muck boots, down jacket, hat and gloves, ready to venture outdoors. Doc stretches, shakes and joins me in greeting the world. The fresh air and mountain views make my morning complete.
My first task is to open up the chicken coop and bring the girls fresh water. Usually a couple of the red chickens are up and feeding or wandering around the coop. Most of the girls are still on the roost, clucking softly and waking to the day. After the chickens are released to the wider world, I grab a big flake of hay for the horses. They have become used to our routine, and usually wait eagerly for me by the back fence. Buddy gets a bit pushy, trying to get the first bites of hay before Whiskey runs him off. I make sure to create two equalish piles, more than a horse-length’s apart, so that they both can feed on the sweet grass hay. The scent of it is lovely; in the crisp winter air it fills my nostrils with the warm richness of summer.
For the month of December and into January we were blessed with a blanket of snow that made cross country ski adventures a daily reality. Doc jumps at the opportunity to ski or hike with me, and most days he seems unsettled until we have put a few miles under our belts.
On these cross-country journeys my path crosses with those of mice, rabbits, fox, and coyotes. Magnificent views and the discovery of secret animal worlds reward my efforts to get out in the wind and cold.
The sun is at its lowest point in the sky, yet we have only had to use the generator 2 – 3 times to bring our batteries back to full charge. On the fall equinox, we tilted the panels up to a 60 degree angle to maximize solar input. They continue to crank out the energy and the batteries usually reach “float” stage (ie full) by mid-afternoon on sunny days. Our cabin has proven to be more than adequately insulated. When our wood burning stove really gets going, we have to open the windows and bring in the cool night air so that we can sleep.
The heifer calves don’t mind winter on their thick straw “nest”. They have become friendly enough with us that 4 – 5 of the 8 will eat cow cake right out of our hand. One particularly bold heifer will even put her head into the shed when we are getting the cake out. Someday, she may become a milk cow for us. The one thing we must buy consistently and can’t make independently (yet) is cheese. Little #009 may change all of that if she agrees to a milking now and then!
Life is about to get really interesting as the time for calving approaches. In preparation, we bought a new love seat with dual reclining chairs. Between three-hour shifts checking the cows, we will be able to nap in the comfort of the love seat. For tonight, I can only hope that the raging winds will somehow lull me to sleep under my sweet mountain view.