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living life under the big sky
So here are a few iPhone shots from my mountaintop hike this week ... there are some others on the "real" camera, and I might put a few of those up tomorrow.

Anyhow, the hike was to an old fire lookout on the top of Garnet Mountain, which is about a half-hour south of Bozeman in the Gallatin Range. I decided it would be a good practice hike for my lookout visits later this summer, since the trail has roughly the same elevation gain as the hike to the tower where I'll be working. And it had been years since I'd hiked up to Garnet, besides. So here we go!

Garnet Lookout hike


The first couple of miles of trail were just climbing through the forest, but before long the views started to open up, especially towards the Spanish Peaks off to the west:

Garnet Lookout hike


My hiking companion, of course, had a blast, and managed to flush out all kinds of wildlife during the trip:

Garnet Lookout hike


About a half-mile before the top we intersected another trail and the hike got ridiculously steep, but eventually, the destination was in sight!

Garnet Lookout hike


The building itself is quite primitive and not very photogenic, and it has a rough life -- it's used mostly by snowmobilers and ATV riders and mountain bikers, none of whom show a lot of respect for their surroundings. But it was hard to beat the view through the windows:

Garnet Lookout hike


And like most fire lookout buildings, it has an outhouse in a most amazing setting:

Garnet Lookout hike


One last batch of photos tomorrow.
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Well, Charlie and I have made it safely back from our overnight hike, and we've collapsed on our respective sofas. I managed that big backpack better than I feared I would, but I'm still a little wiped out after the climb.

We spent the night at the top of Garnet Mountain, where there's an old fire lookout that one can stay at. I'll do a full report tomorrow, but here are a couple of photos for starters ... I took these at about 6:30 this morning, after Charlie woke me up to tell me that it was time for him to go squirrel hunting. Not many other bedroom windows have views like this!

Garnet Lookout view


Garnet Lookout view
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Time to start practicing/training for the summer, so I'm off to hike up to a mountaintop for the night.

backpack and Subaru


brb!
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I pulled out another one of my Mom's old scrapbooks yesterday ... one that included a large section of very old family photos. There are a bunch of them that I think are very cool, and this is one of my definite favorites.

Danish Army


The handwriting on the mounting board is my maternal grandfather's, and the seated man on the right side of the photo is his father ... my great-grandfather. I don't know very much about him, but he was born in 1871 and died fairly young, in 1925. He married my great-grandmother in 1897, and she outlived him by 43 years. They lived in a small town outside of Århus, Denmark, called Randers; I got to see the house when I was over there visiting.

I imagine this image dates from the mid-1890s or so, and it was clearly taken in a photography studio with a series of props. I love lots of things about this shot, but especially the giant old pipes, and the way that the photographer retouched the image by adding the smoke rings. And the empty bottles on the floor!
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I'm sure none of you are the least bit interested in what happened with the local Ingress battle today ... but since I promised you a post this evening, that's what you're going to hear about. :)

So I set the alarm for 4:30 AM today, and after a few gulps of coffee Charlie and I were in the car heading for the Drinking Horse Mountain trailhead, ready to help the other Enlightened agents fight the early-morning battle to protect the Ingress shard from the evil Resistance. We met the others after a brisk hike up the mountain ... nearly a dozen of us, in all. Here's a quick shot of some of the Enlightened team, discussing early-morning strategy:

Ingress shard


(The agent on the far left, unfortunately, was no help at all ... he didn't have the opposable thumbs needed to work a smartphone, and he kept crotch-sniffing the other agents at inopportune moments.)

We had the mountain well-fortified, and plans to transport the shard well in place, and ... we were totally out-maneuvered. While we had the mountain itself guarded, we'd failed to protect any of the land beyond, and the resistance completely surrounded the mountain with their own links. Gah!

So the shard was trapped on the mountain for the next 12 hours, and we had 12 hours to re-strategize. A couple of the guys put a huge amount of effort into it, working out a plan to secure the perimeter for miles around, and deploying our agents at key locations in the valley. Only five of us (plus Charlie) actually hiked up the mountain tonight to wage the actual battle. We had another Enlightened agent (based in New Mexico) constantly monitor the activities of every other Ingress agent within an hour of the mountain, and feed us constant updates via Google Hangouts. You can see her running commentary in the banner at the top of the screenshot below:

Ingress shard


The battle itself was very 21st-century ... little groups of guys standing quietly on the mountain, hunched over their phones and pushing buttons, occasionally whispering instructions back and forth. I thought it was weirdly hilarious, but I persevered.

And in the end, my side prevailed! We defeated the evil Resistance and put together a link to transport the shard on its way. (We shipped it to Columbus, Nebraska, of all places.) The five of us hiked down the mountain afterwards, and our teammates met us at the trailhead with celebratory beers.

Anyhow, that's that. It was definitely an interesting and novel way to spend my free time for a couple of days, and I'm glad I joined in. But I'm also really glad it's over. Now I can get some sleep!
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So yesterday I mentioned that the local Ingress players were in a tizzy about a rare game token that had made its way to Montana. It's called a shard, and there are 41 of them scattered around the globe this month. (With odds like that, it's quite the thing to have one in Montana.) Without getting too far into the backstory, each of the game's two factions is supposed to obtain possession of as many of the shards as possible, and herd them past enemy positions to central collection points. (In the case of my Enlightened faction, that destination point is currently in Taiwan.)

The shards can move every 12 hours, at 0000 and 1200 UTC ... which is 6AM and 6PM mountain time. Each movement point is always preceded by a couple of hours of battle between the two factions, trying both to secure possession of the shard and control its next movement. There's lots of map-based strategy, accumulation and deployment of weapons, agent deployments, and ground battles at remote locations.

All quite ridiculous. But I volunteered to help.

So I set the alarm for 4:30 this morning, loaded Charlie in the car, and headed out to clear some positions held by the opposing forces. (My teammates who were guarding the shard itself actually spent the night camped at its location, a remote riverbank about 20 miles from town.) When the 6 AM movement came, we successfully held onto the shard and it ended up near a parking lot on the north side of town. We managed to maintain possession of it there, too, and at 6:00 PM we guided it to a spot on Drinking Horse Mountain -- Charlie's favorite hiking trail! Charlie and I were up there working away, good Agents that we were, and we made sure everything went off without a hitch.

The shard is the little red polygon in the screen caps below ... interesting if you play the game, but only then.

Ingress shard


Ingress shard


And tomorrow morning, well before dawn, me and Charlie and a bunch of other people and dogs will hike up the mountain for another Battle Royale over the damn shard. (Expect it to look like the fight scene from West Side Story, except with iPhones instead of knives.) Our team's plan this time is to get the shard moved far, far away ... and I really hope it works, so I can go back to getting some sleep. :)
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Sorry I've been so LJ-absent lately, both in posting and commenting. This post is my resolution to do better, with at least daily entries for the next week or so. Really!

As for the last few days, here's a very brief synopsis:
  • Got my driver's license renewed last week ... and like everyone else who get their license renewed, I wasn't completely happy with the photo. I actually liked the one on the license that's about to expire, but so it goes.

  • Went out socializing with the environmentalists again, proving that they're still way more fun than historians. I've been appointed treasurer of the local Sierra Club chapter, which will be a pain in the butt, but may also score me the occasional free trip to San Francisco.

  • Another Design Review Board meeting last week, where we reviewed plans for a proposed Marriott, along with a retail arcade that was obviously inspired by the Ferry Building in San Francisco. My little town is getting so upscale.

  • There's much excitement among the local Enlightened Ingress players, because we've managed to capture a "shard" associated with the current "anomaly." (If you play Ingress you know what I'm talking about, and if you don't ... the backstory is way too ridiculous to post here.) We've got it stashed at a portal about 20 miles west of town for the night, and will send it on its way in the morning.

  • Got a haircut from Joey.

  • Bought a new backpacker's headlamp, which will be important for my summer adventures.

  • Took the dog for long walks in the rain, which he enjoyed more than I did.

  • Opened up another big box of stuff from my Dad's house, full of still more of my Mom's journals and photo albums -- ones I hadn't looked at before. Randomly, I pulled out a photo album containing shots from my parents' first year of marriage ... lots of pictures like this:

    Mom and Dad, 1952


    They looked so happy, and they looked so young, and looking at the photos made me terribly melancholy. I never knew them when they were that young, of course, but now it seems like I can only remember them being old ... which isn't how it should be.
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So this afternoon I called my friend who runs the fire lookout program up in northern Montana, and we talked for a half-hour or so. We speculated on the prospects for a busy fire season this year, discussed the historic evolution of the Forest Service's early 20th-century "L-4" lookout design, and talked about the changing forest protocol for animal pack trains. And to no one's surprise, I told him I'd take the extra days of lookout time that he'd offered me. It's going to be a very different summer, but a very interesting one.

So I have some preparation to do. The thing I'm most unsure of at this point is figuring out exactly what supplies I'll need for my two weeks at the backcountry lookout. The packers will only take a limited amount of cargo up, and everything else has to go up on my back ... and just as importantly, at the end of the hitch I'm responsible for carrying down everything that's left. So I have to plan all those meals very precisely, choosing food that is varied and will make me happy, but that is also lightweight and completely non-perishable. And I can't forget anything. It's a challenge for someone like me who's used to running to the store every couple of days, and who usually has three supermarkets within a half-mile.

But luckily, I have some reference material. Back when the Forest Service was staffing thousands of these lookouts, the agency actually published little cookbooks designed especially for fire lookouts, and I have copies of some of them. (Back then, a lot of the fire lookouts were teenage boys who'd never done any meal planning before, so some easy recipes and written advice on staying healthy were fairly important up there.) Some of the books also have provisions lists -- food that either the Forest Service supplied, or that lookouts were expected to bring up on their own.

Here's one of those shopping lists -- absolutely every food-related item that a person would supposedly need for a month all alone on a mountain. (This is from the 1930s.)

lookout shopping list


lookout shopping list


It's a pretty interesting list to look at, but some of it doesn't sound too appealing ... so much flour and potatoes. I would have to modify this list a lot.

Here are a couple more pages from the same cookbook ... some sample menus, and a few of the book's many household hints. Almost a vegetarian existence.

lookout shopping list


Maybe I should keep a list of everything I eat for the next couple of weeks, and use that as a starting point. Or would that be too depressing?
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Hmmm. I got an e-mail from my Forest Service friend today, telling me that he had an opening for someone to fill in for a few days at a second fire lookout that he manages ... but that he was mentioning it to me "without pressure or expectation." (It would save him, though, from pulling someone else off his waiting list and training them for less than a week of work.) This would be in addition to my two-week hitch at Baptiste Lookout, so if I agreed to this one it would mean close to three weeks in a lookout tower this year.

Baptiste is definitely the plumb lookout assignment in the program, and this other place is much less interesting -- it's in a valley rather than on a ridgetop, and you can drive right to it. Still, it's kind of tempting, and it would be a way to get some of the logistics of this down before heading up to Baptiste for half a month.

Again, hmmm. Too many more offers like this, and I'll never have to leave the mountains at all.

Here's a shot of my second prospective summer home:

Cooney lookout
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Just a quick note tonight, to let you know that I haven't yet dropped off the face of the earth. It's been another busy few days, though Charlie and I are still getting out into the mountains in the evenings some. The balsamroot is starting to bloom on the hillsides, and I like that ... a rugged-looking little flower, that seems to fit this part of the world well.

We took Woody the Jack Russell along on a couple of the latest hikes, too, and The Woodster has decided that walking with us is a total blast. Charlie's gotten used to him, too, and the two of them actually run sort-of together once in a while.

Otherwise, here's a link that I got recently from a friend ... it's more than a little self-indulgent, but I enjoyed the read and I like to think there are some truths in there, so I'm going to post it anyway. :)

4 Reasons Hikers are the Best People You'll Ever Meet

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And just because it's been a few days since you've gotten your Charlie fix, here's a shot of him on the trail this week:

Charlie on Peet"s Hill
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So I went to a film premiere tonight ... sort of, anyway.

You'll remember that I spent some time this spring doing oral history interviews with a number of local old-timers, talking to them about their memories of visiting the nearby Gallatin Range in years past. This was in conjunction with the local Sierra Club group, which arranged to have the interviews filmed by an MFA student in the university's "Natural History Filmmaking" program. The student put together a short film with material from the interviews, and it premiered at the university today.

She really did a heck of a job, creating a multimedia presentation with videos playing simultaneously on three of the exhibit room's four walls, along with audio snippets from the people we interviewed and a newly composed soundtrack. It was lots of fun to see, and I got an (undeserved) "Executive Producer" credit line!

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Anyhow, I teased you guys with a couple of unusual terms yesterday, asking if anyone knew what "belt WX kits" and "Cubies" were. No correct guesses, so here are the answers in case anyone's curious. A WX Kit is a small pouch containing some basic meteorological tools -- instruments to calculate wind speed and relative humidity and so on. They still get used in the backcountry, but have largely been supplanted by electronic equipment elsewhere. One of my jobs up at the lookout will be to keep weather records, so it will be fun to learn how to use that stuff.

And apparently "cubies" are ridiculously obscure things ... much more so than I would have guessed. I was fairly amazed yesterday when I went looking for a photo, and discovered that even Google didn't know what they were. So here's a screencap from that lookout film that I showed you guys last week:

Cubies


That's a cubie -- it's a square cardboard box surrounding a plastic liner that holds five gallons of drinking water. Handy for use on pack trains and at firefighting camps, among other places. And now you know!

Anyhow, that was one of those odd little moments when I was reminded how arcane and foreign some parts of my life might be ... at least in the eyes of city-dwellers. I'm totally OK with that, of course, and I tend to think that the city-dwellers are missing out. :)

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Finally, I'm sitting here tonight listing to the news feed from CBC Calgary, and I have to say ... holy crap, Alberta! I never, ever thought I'd see an NDP majority government in the Texas of the North. Way to go.
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So the Forest Service has officially confirmed my two-week hitch as a backcountry fire lookout this August. I received an envelope from the head of the program today with some paperwork in it, along with a couple of sheets of supplementary information. One was a detailed list of the gear the Forest provides for me in the tower -- things like:
  • "eye protection, clear";
  • "cubies, a few full";
  • "belt wx kit";
  • "tools, firewood"; and
  • "sleeping bags, 2 (cleanliness not guaranteed)."
I shall bring my own sleeping bag, thank you. And I'll award gold stars to those of you who know what cubies and WX kits are (without Googling).

Along with all this arcana, and right above "hard hats, 2," I saw a couple of slightly disconcerting entries:
  • "nomex shirt, large"; and
  • "two fire shelters."
Nomex is the flame- and heat-retardant material used to make firefighters' gear ... I really don't want to have to need that, especially since the forest doesn't think I should also be provided with Nomex pants! The fire shelters are even more worrisome ... they're sort of like giant space blankets made of fireproof material. If you're trapped in a forest fire, you're supposed to wrap yourself in one like a giant human burrito, and stay on the ground until the fire passes over you. A great idea, except for the fact that a lot of times, the fire shelters don't work. If there ever is a fire, they'd better just pluck me and Charlie off the mountain in a helicopter instead.

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The lead lookout also sent along a sheet with some advice on what to pack for a lookout hitch ... food, clothing, and so on. I was quite pleased to see that his recommended minimum list included "a spot of whiskey." That's a suggestion I'll definitely follow ... maybe it will help me stop worrying about my lack of fireproof pants. :)
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My family moved a lot when I was a kid, and I kept up the habit for a while as a young adult ... but then I landed in Bozeman, and I decided that the town was a good fit for me, and I eventually settled down. With a couple of breaks along the way, I've been here over half my life, now ... and in a college town, where a lot of people move away after four years or so, that makes me one of the old-timers.

And as an old-timer, I sometimes lament the fact that the town isn't the same as it used to be. With just a few exceptions, nearly all of the places I hung out at when I first moved here are gone, and it's kind of depressing.

There are a few survivors, though, including a ramshackle little place called the Stockyard Cafe, which has been my regular weekend breakfast hangout for years and years. It's a classic piece of old-time Montana, sitting out by an abandoned livestock auction yard, looking more than a little scary to the uninitiated. But the food's great, the crowd is classic, I'm friends with the owner, and the atmosphere can't be beat. I've actually dragged several of my LJ friends out there over the years, and pretty much all of you at least pretended to like it. For those of you who haven't yet made it out to visit, there's a post about the cafe here:

http://kishenehn.livejournal.com/375721.html

But then a few days ago, the terrible news came out: the cafe was shutting down. The story made the front page of the local newspaper, breaking the hearts of old-timers all across town ... mine included. This was the cafe's next-to-last weekend, and so of course this morning I headed over there for a final breakfast. The place was packed, of course.

Stockyard Cafe


After a couple decades of frying eggs and potatoes, the cafe's owner is getting restless, and she wants to figure out how to reimagine the property ... maybe turning the old livestock auction house into a performing arts space, adding a microbrewery or something, and then fixing up a new place to eat that serves dinner instead of breakfast. It all sounds very "new Bozeman," and no place for a old-timer like me. So I'm feeling melancholy today, and missing the past ... but so it goes.
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So I freely admit that Monday's post was a blatant example of comment whoring, but still ... I was honestly surprised at how many responses it got. I was heartened to see how many of you liked the notion of spending time on a mountaintop, how many of you got the Zen of the idea. I've chosen my online friends well. :)

Anyhow, here's the story. The tl;dr version of it is that, yeah ... I'm probably doing to do that this summer.

For those of you not in the US, these lookout towers date to the early 1900s, when there were some very devastating forest fires in the Pacific Northwest. In an effort to keep the fires from getting out of hand again, the Forest Service established thousands of mountaintop lookout posts, where young men were stationed during the summer months to watch for new forest fires. Most of the posts were reachable only by trails, and had tiny wooden cabins with windows on all four sides, serving both as living quarters and lookout stations.

The heyday of all this lasted until about World War II; after that, the government started to rely more on airplanes for fire detection, and most of the lookout posts were abandoned and demolished. The building in Monday's photo is in the Flathead National Forest, which once had around 150 operating lookouts. This year they'll staff seven lookouts, which is actually more than many places. They're important to the forest, because the lookouts can provide all-hours surveillance, and the people staffing them can help relay radio communications into the wilderness valleys. And a lot of the forest people like the nostalgia of it, too.

Because of budget constraints, three of the lookouts up there are staffed by volunteers, who take an early-summer training course and then agree to spend 10 to 15 days staffing one of the lookouts, with Forest Service logistical support. The handful of spots in the program are in high demand, partly because most of the lookouts return year after year. But I know the guy who runs the program, and last summer I told him I'd like to do it this year ... and Monday he called to tell me that there was an opening for me at Baptiste Lookout in August. He's met Charlie, and Charlie's welcome, too.

I'm pretty excited about doing this, as you can no doubt tell. At this point, my Dad's health will be the only thing that might keep me from going. Two weeks on my own mountain ridge ... hiking, taking pictures, and contemplating the world. (And maybe blogging a little.) It'll be hard to beat.

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I've stayed at several lookouts before, but never Baptiste, so I don't have any photos of the place yet ... I had to steal the ones I posted on Monday. But if you have a few minutes to kill, here's a short video of daily life at three of the lookouts that are near Baptiste. It's nicely done, and I think pretty evocative.



I like the video's last quote: " ... it really is about just not having to listen to the world down there, that’s so chaotic and crazy and noisy and unkind. Up here, it’s just the wind ... it’s just the wind ..."
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So here's a hypothetical question for you guys: would it be weird to spend a couple of weeks alone on a remote mountaintop, or would it be cool?

More specifically, what would you do if you just got a call from a friend giving you the chance to do exactly that this summer, while serving as a volunteer forest fire lookout? A five-mile hike from the nearest road, forty or so dirt-road miles from the closest small town, your supplies brought in by pack mule. Propane cookstove, a wood stove for heat, a two-way radio for communication. The lookout tower where you'd live would look like this:

Baptiste lookout


And this would be the view from your windows:

Baptiste lookout view


And before you ask ... yes, you could bring your dog.

Two weeks at the end of August. What do you think?
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You know how sometimes you see people driving through town with a pushy little dog sitting right on their lap, its head sticking out the window? Definitely one of the most ridiculous sights ever ... and you'd never catch ME doing that!

Oh, wait:

Woody


Yeah, that dog's on my lap ... and you can see Charlie's nose in the mirror, sticking out the back-seat window. The pushy little Jack Russell in the photo is named Woody, and he belongs to a friend of mine. My friend isn't always able to take Woody for a walk these days, since Woody's sister is very elderly and ailing, so I offered to assist. Charlie was not amused.

Anyhow, Woody made himself right at home, sleepily curling up on my jacket at first, before making his patented move to my lap:

Woody


And he eagerly and determinedly hit the trail, though he clearly preferred to follow his own path, rather than the one Charlie and I were setting. When I tried to keep him in line he gave me a petulant teenager look that every adult knows: "You're not my Dad!"

Woody


Anyhow, it's fun having him along. We met a friend with a couple of other tiny dogs that day, so Charlie was roaming the hills with a pack of ankle-biters.

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Otherwise, it's been a busy couple of days ... some family stuff that I might write about in a protected entry later, along with some good hiking time and a couple of social get-togethers. On Friday Charlie and I took a long hike up the Foothills trail, for the first time this year -- no snow at all up there, which is pretty unusual. That evening I went out for drinks with some Sierra Club types, which was lots of fun. I'm finding environmentalists to be way more interesting and fun than historians lately, which actually shouldn't have been much of a surprise at all.

Yesterday morning I went over and helped the parents of a friend get their new iPhones set up and synced to their Macs. That sort of thing can be pretty stressful sometimes, but those guys were so cool and enthusiastic that it was actually pretty gratifying. Went out to a dinner party that night, at a big house at the base of the Bridgers, and got to catch up with some old acquaintances I don't see very often anymore. Charlie played outside with the house's resident cowdogs, one of whom had the amazing skill of being able to open the exterior doors into the house! Every time somebody came or left, if they forgot to lock the doors behind them it was only a matter of seconds before the dog got it open, and all of the dogs crashed the party. Hilarious, and it made me glad that Charlie isn't quite that smart. :)
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... are a couple of photos of a dog on a hilltop. Take it or leave it.

Charlie


Charlie
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So as you know, the photos I take on my iPhone are automatically backed up to my Google account ... and once they get there, Google sometimes plays with them. They have a feature called "auto-awesome," which automatically selects some of your photos and allegedly makes them better, so you'll be more inclined to share them on ... Google Plus, or something.

Anyhow, Google auto-awesomized a couple of my photos from Saturday's trip to Yellowstone, and I thought I'd pass them along. The first one is a photo of Yellowstone Falls, which got the high-saturation postcard look. A little over the top, but pretty dramatic:

Yellowstone Falls


Google also took a couple of my bison photos and decided they'd make a lovely panorama, but then something apparently went horribly wrong in the Transporter Room. I'll put this one behind a cut, since it's not for the squeamish:

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So I only live about an hour and a half from Yellowstone National Park, but I hardly ever go down there. There are always way too many people, it costs $25 to get in ... and honestly, I've always thought the place was just a little overrated. There are equally-pretty landscapes outside the park nearby, without all the people -- and as far as National Parks go, Glacier has Yellowstone totally beat.

But that said, I still decided to drive down there today. This was the first weekend some of the park roads were open for the summer, and the park was having a free-admission day, so what the heck. It was a gorgeous day and it was nice to get out, despite the long string of cars on the road ... and we passed through several bison-caused traffic jams, which were a source of much fascination to Charlie.

Yellowstone


My main destination for the day was a place called the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, which I think is definitely the scenic highlight. Still some snow up there, though nowhere near as much as a couple years ago. Someone I talked to up there said that the snow level was the lowest in memory, even less than the big forest-fire year of 1988.

Yellowstone


Drove down to Artist Point, which I think offers the best view of the canyon and the lower falls, and it didn't disappoint:

Yellowstone


I liked the giant walls of ice at the base of the falls. Here's a closer view, from Lookout Point, on the north rim:

Yellowstone


Finished the day with a drive down to Old Faithful, just because I hadn't been there in years. Old Faithful Geyser has to be one of the most over-hyped attractions in the entire National Park system.

Yellowstone


And that's it! It was a nice day, all in all, and it felt good to get out.
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A lot of people in Bozeman are fair-weather hikers, and the big snowstorm chased most of them off the trail. But Charlie and I never let anything like that stop us, and we were out for a couple of hours after work both yesterday and today. The trail conditions were really sloppy, and the melting snow was dripping off the trees on us as we hiked. Some stretches of the trail were as slippery as I'd ever seen them ... but hey, I've got my Wilderness First Aid card now, and my health insurance is paid up. (Thanks, Obama!)

And once we made it up to the top, everything was pretty glorious. Here are a couple of shots from yesterday:

Drinking Horse hike


Drinking Horse hike


The view from the summit gave Charlie a chance to look regal, too ... something he always enjoys doing:

Drinking Horse hike


Not that he always looks regal, of course ...

Drinking Horse hike
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I don't really enjoy most science-fiction movies nowadays -- generally, they're all about special effects rather than telling a compelling story -- but I really liked a lot of those films back in the day. One of my favorites when I was a kid was Silent Running, with Bruce Dern and his little troop or robots ... and a few years later there was Blade Runner, with that amazingly heartbreaking Rutger Hauer soliloquy at the end. When I think of great movie characters, the Edward G. Robinson role in Soylent Green is still near the top of my list.

And then of course, there were the Star Wars films. I absolutely loved the original trilogy -- the ones that are now Episodes 4, 5, and 6. They told a great, epic story, and told it beautifully. (And Mark Hamill was definitely pretty adorable in that Jedi robe, though it was never open quite far enough.) In contrast, I thought that Episodes 1, 2, and 3 were terrible films, badly cast and horribly written, and sacrilegious in their treatment of the original canon. The prequels basically ruined the original trilogy for me, which made me pretty sad.

With that, I was more than a little conflicted with the news that Hollywood had revived George Lucas's old plan to finish off the series with Episodes 7, 8, and 9. I was pretty sure it was going to be another money-grabbing hack job, something that I'd never want to see, and it may still end up being that ... but I saw the new trailer for Episode 7 this morning, and I have to admit that I totally swooned. It was full of music and visuals and voices from the original films, and it transported my mind back to a warm summer evening in 1977, at the Cinedome 70 theater in Ogden, Utah, with three of my friends. I'm still there.

The last scene and the last line of dialogue in the trailer have already set tens of thousands of geeky people to cheering, and I was one of them:

Chewie and Han

"Chewie, we're home."

Don't screw this up, Lucas.
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I've posted some encouraging, relatively spring-like images of my world lately ... but that won't happen today. This was the view out my window this morning:

April snow


Around a foot of new snow on that railing, and it kept coming down. With weather like that, there was clearly only one thing for me to do:

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A couple of random things I've been thinking about, after that wilderness first aid class last weekend:
  • One of the primary class lessons was that there's an established set of protocols to follow when one begins caring for an accident victim: make sure the airway is clear, that the person is breathing comfortably, and so on. There's also something called a "head to toe assessment," which involves a hands-on search for signs of injury that the patient might not have reported. To be a bit crass, it's basically a full-body grope, albeit one with the best of motives.

    It was interesting practicing that in the class on Saturday, examining the bodies of near-total strangers in places where they were very seldom touched. Everyone was very matter-of-fact about it, and it didn't seem inappropriate at all, but the experience made me think about how much our society has stigmatized physical contact in this day and age. It's really kind of unfortunate, in a way, and maybe we're poorer because of it.

  • A couple of you commented yesterday that I was now better prepared to head out into the mountains safely, and that's kind of how I expected to feel this week, too ... but today, I'm actually feeling less prepared than ever. The class reminded me how many different things can go wrong with a human body, especially when it's out having fun, and how very complicated many of those things are to identify and address. I don't know anywhere enough to handle most of those problems, and when it comes to some of them I might know just enough to be dangerous, rather than helpful.

    Even more disheartening was the fact that my class included several people who were already certified first responders ... and listening to them, it became very clear that they didn't know what the heck to do, either! I'd be scared to death if a couple of those people tried to treat me. All in all, it was definitely not confidence-inspiring, but rather a reminder of how fragile and imperfect humans are.

    But of course, I can't let any of that worry me ... at least too much. The only thing to do is go out and tackle the world with at least as much gusto as before, knowing that now, I'm a little more aware. And maybe someday, I'll address that insecurity by figuring out how to set aside a couple of weeks to take the advanced-level class. (Of course, that might just make me feel more insecure than ever!)

  • And on a completely different note, I thought I'd show you a photograph of the trash can that was in our classroom. A nice bit of recycling, and it gave me a chuckle ... though you have to be of a certain age to appreciate it.

    UM trash can
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Well, I'm back from my Wilderness First Aid course ... it turned out to be a really rewarding and worthwhile experience. Here are a few photos from the weekend.

The course was conducted by an organization called Aerie Backcountry Medicine, and it was held at the University of Montana. I've always loved the UM campus ... I think it's got one of the prettier settings in the country:

UM campus


The program included sixteen hours of course time spread over two days, a mix of classroom instruction and hands-on training. We took turns assuming the roles of victim and rescuer, tackling increasingly-complicated scenarios as the course progressed. Here's a relatively easy one: a "broken" arm that I patched up quite nicely:

Aerie class


We were outside much of the second day, in a mix of rain, sun, and snow ... doing patient assessments in teams of three or four and learning additional techniques form the instructors. This is one of my classmates receiving treatment for an (imaginary) life-threatening, sucking chest wound:

Aerie class


We saved him! :)

And of course, after class people hit the town to unwind. Ironically, after spending a day learning how to save lives I ended up in a group that went to what is perhaps the least-healthy restaurant in Montana. But the place is a Missoula institution, and the bar in the basement provides more than enough beer to dilute the chicken grease.

Double Front, Missoula


Anyhow, I might write a little more about the course tomorrow ... but as I said, I'm really glad I did this. It was good for me in a bunch of different ways.
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First off, a random picture for today. I took one of the old images from my grandmother's photo album and with a little photoshopping, turned it into wallpaper for my phone. I was pleased with how it turned out:

iPhone wallpaper


Anyhow, I'm headed out of town momentarily ... I'm taking a 16-hour Wilderness First Aid class in Missoula over the weekend. (The Sierra Club is paying for this, since the First Aid certification is a requirement for their hike leaders.) The class is supposed to be both very challenging and lots of fun, and I'm quite looking forward to it. And there will be some good skills to learn, especially considering how much time I spend in the mountains.

So I'll talk to you when I get back, if not before.
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