Quick camping trip
cures lingering ills

Game Range Ramblin's

Game Range Articles by Mike Thompson,
FW&P wildlife biologist,
writing for the Pathfinder




September 21, 2000
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana


It's a very good thing for you if you've not run into Sharon and me lately. Our bodies have been repositories for every debilitating bug on the block.

Sharon was the first to fall prey to this plague. She picked up a flu just as the worst of the smoke began to clear up in early September. She ached. She sweated. She shivered. And, for a brief but eventful time, she trotted.

Meanwhile, I fretted. How could anyone survive such a constant bombardment of microscopic pathogens, descending in invisible clouds and waves upon my body?

Miraculously, I staved off her flu. But, then she came down with a hard cold that settled into bronchitis. She sniffled and snorted and sneezed and hacked. After several more days of this, I finally surrendered to a sympathetic head cold that drained my energy along with the rest of my precious bodily fluids.

So we reclined in our lawn chairs under our maple tree this past Saturday afternoon, already spent and recovering from a morning of convalescing. And we pondered our choices. We could continue to lay around, waiting patiently to feel better. Or, we could get out of town and camp overnight, taking advantage of a pretty day in the waning summer.

It was not an easy decision. But, as we motored our way up the Blackfoot and over Rogers Pass to the shortgrass prairie on the other side, our spirits soared.

Once more time, we were reminded how different are the fuels that feed our attitudes, than those that merely maintain our physical bodies. A little dose of golden aspen relieves a lot of suffering.

Soon, we observed that this year's fire season may have entered a different stage, but it is definitely not over. A huge funnel of smoke, terminating in a brilliant, white, cumulus mushroom cap signaled the roaring resurgence of fire, seemingly in the vicinity of the Upper Monture-Spread Ridge Complex. Two smaller plumes arose closer to Morrell Mountain.

By the time we turned north off Highway 200, onto the Bean Lake Road, the smokestack of another fire was visible just behind the ramparts of the Rocky Mountain Front, west of Augusta. In this remote location, driving along the Old North Trail where ancient people traversed the continent for hundreds of generations before us, it gave us an impression of what many summers must have looked like to travelers in times past.

We stopped at Bean Lake to get the dog wet. What we accomplished instead was to bury him in mud tending toward quicksand. Fortunately, he did eventually scramble out of it on his own before either Sharon or I felt compelled to sacrifice ourselves, but he lost quite a bit of his charm in the process. Generous quantities of clear water restored most of it, and we tossed him a bone for his trouble before reloading and continuing hastily toward Choteau for supper.

CLOSED proclaimed the sign in the window of the Log Cabin Café, but thankfully we found the Circle N open. We had a very pleasant meal along with local fire crews, who must be making quite a positive impact on small businesses, perhaps offsetting some of the lost tourism.

Bellies full, we drove on in the darkness to some of my old stomping grounds. The moon was just barely past full, colored orange as it rose in the path of a narrow smoke cloud. As we turned north we saw a beacon shining to the heavens where no airport or other man-caused explanation existed.

It was the northern lights.

But, just as too much sugar isn't good for you, too much heavenly light cancels itself out. Once the moon cleared the horizon, the northern lights were obscured, as well as the Milky Way. Oh well, you take what you get.

What we got at about 10:00 P.M. was Bynum Reservoir all to ourselves. All to ourselves, that is, unless you count a thousand or so ducks, geese, pelicans, gulls, killdeer and other birds on and over the water. They never ceased with their astounding commotion all night long, including occasional thundering lift-offs performed by hundreds of Canada geese, which honestly sounded like trains passing by.

The dog knew he'd died and gone to heaven.

So did we come daybreak, when the sunrise shined crimson on the face of the Rocky Mountains, while the moon refused to yield its grip on the western sky.

I thought we might find some sharp-tailed grouse to hunt in a spot I knew from years past on Blackleaf Wildlife Management Area. But, as we meandered on foot through the thick aspen, wild rose and limber pine, with the wind drowning out all other sound and blowing stiff in our faces, I suddenly felt like a fool in some of the best occupied grizzly bear habitat in the lower forty-eight. We made short work of it and took a pleasure cruise in the truck instead, ending up back at Choteau in time for breakfast buffet at the Log Cabin. They wouldn't have cooked my grouse for me anyway.

Of course, we couldn't pass the Blackfoot-Clearwater Game Range on the way home without giving the dog a little pleasure in the pond south of the headquarters. The low water this year will thin out some of the thicker cattails, which will open up a little more water surface for nesting pairs of birds next spring. But, waterfowl hunting on the pond will probably not amount to much this fall.

Home at last we were proud of ourselves for summoning the energy to get up and go when our get up and go was almost gone.

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