September 16, 1999
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana
by Mike Thompson,
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks
"Game Range Ramblings" column Seeley Swan Pathfinder
These are the days!
These are the days we live for. Clear, blue skies. Crisp, cool nights. Sunshine that warms us and lifts our spirits, instead of driving us to cover.
These are the days that don't come every year. Remember El Nino and La Nina? And, how many years have we lost our clear skies of September to the smoke from fires in Montana, or Idaho, or British Columbia, or wherever? These perfect days are so rare that we forget life can be this good. Until it is again.
These are the days that boost our spirits, even when we're stuck in the office. Last week, John Firebaugh, Mack Long and I spent a day at Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) headquarters in Helena. We were making a presentation to the FWP Commission on the Game Range 50th Anniversary Project. It was a long day with an overloaded agenda. Still, the mood remained upbeat, even as the public meeting dragged on into the dinner hour. It was as if this rare September allowed us to feel the privilege and tradition we share as stewards of an outdoor paradise, and we discharged our duties gracefully.
By the way, you may be interested to hear that the Commission remains impressed with the progress and direction of the 50th Anniversary Project to bring 7,800 acres of Plum Creek inholdings within the Game Range into state and/or federal ownership. During last week's meeting, our presentation focused on plans to begin the public involvement process for Phase II, which involves a possible exchange of lands between Plum Creek and Montana DNRC. The proposed result would be the addition of approximately 3,000 acres to DNRC's ownership in the heart of the Game Range, and a cooperative management agreement between FWP and DNRC to meet both agencies' missions. You'll be asked to offer your input and get involved in a 12-month decision-making process in the near future.
These are the days to sneak out of the office, too. Monday's excuse was almost too good to be true. I came back to my FWP office in Missoula after lunch to find the lights out, the computers dead, and the Coke machine unresponsive. The electric company worked diligently, reporting that power would be restored in about four hours. "See 'ya," I replied on my way out the door, and within the hour I was up to my hip boots in the Clark Fork, flailing away at the trout that Sharon and I had watched lazily from lawn chairs atop the far bank for most of the previous afternoon. The water flowed clearer, the fish jumped higher, and the splashes gleamed brighter than they had in July and August. I even got to handle a couple of colorful and feisty rainbows, once the late afternoon shadows reached my position.
These are the days to fly. Sunday morning dawned on Bill Stewart and me in his little Citabria airplane, soaring over the Garnet Range, listening for signals from radioed moose. Western Montana sprawled before us. The Swan, the Missions, the Bitterroots, Flints and Pintlar. It reminded me of the day years ago when we glided on perfectly smooth air in the Bob Marshall and watched fish jump in a mountain lake. We found 14 of the 18 radioed moose before gasoline consumption drove us back to the airport.
These are the days to share. Jamie Jonkel has been making noises lately about his extensive experience with aerial surveys, and I realized that we haven't found enough opportunities for Jamie to share in FWP's flying work. By the time you read this, he will have completed a fixed-wing survey of the mountain goat population in Dunham Creek, and he'll have tried to locate two grizzly bears that were captured and radioed in the vicinity of the Game Range last spring. It is especially rare when there are enough of these special days for everyone to have one.
These are the days that bring us the peace and energy for things we would never do otherwise. As I'm writing this, Sharon sits beside me, huddled over a huge pot of grapes she patiently harvested from our trellis. She now picks the skin from every single grape, one at a time, each "grape" the size of a modest huckleberry, in preparation for making jam. Those of you who know Sharon will never mistake her for Laura Ingalls Wilder. It's the weather. It's definitely the weather.
These are the days we've been given to use. And, when these days come along, as rare as they are, as unreliable as their arrival may be, why don't we use them? Why don't we close our businesses, lock our offices, and do the things we think of doing? Because if we can't spare the time to use these few special days, when Montana is as close to paradise as we'll ever get on earth, then why in the world do we live in Montana at all?
Don't forget to remember that these are the days we live for.