Tags: montana

Insect Orders in Montana

Insect Orders in Montana

I have written a few posts on insects over the past few years for this blog: pine beetles, butterflies and moths in our area, insects that are eaten by trout, etc. This semester, I am helping a college student in independent studies (capstone) and one task for the student is to learn the orders of insects that live in Montana, and a few representatives of each. (The real interest for this student is spiders, but of course spiders are not insects -yes, the student knows this- and we'll tackle one set of crawling things at a time.)

My tribe the Ioway called insects, "wagri" (WAH-gree), "it crawls."

I learned about 10-12 of these insect orders in 10th grade when we had to make an insect collection, identify, label, and mount them as a display. We also had to do a leaf collection the same autumn, and I still have photocopies of the leaves. No, I didn't save the insect collection. The teacher threw out all our collections so the next classes couldn't cheat with inherited sets!

Why insect orders? Entomologists tend to specialize in particular orders. There are "beetle guys" (beetles = Coleoptera) and butterfly and moth specialists (Lepidoptera), and so on. So when you first begin to grapple with insects, learning the orders are one of the foundational tasks.

And don't call them all "bugs." Bugs are bugs at the order level.

So here is the list of orders currently identified as endemic to Montana. Climate change will doubtlessly cause some shifts, perhaps even at the order level. The online Montana Field Guide is one place to consult, but it focuses on insects important as food for gamefish such trout, so it is heavy on caddisflies, mayflies, stoneflies, and true flies. There are other orders such as Hymenoptera (Bees, Wasps) that aren't even listed there.

There are also various groupings of the taxonomic groups (taxa) by different scholars, who each have their proposed favorites. The groups pretty much stay the same, the scholars just sometimes insert Superorders that group certain orders together, or merge two of the orders in a proposed new order (such as the case with Hemiptera and Homoptera). Some of this is due to new DNA studies (whereas the older systems were based solely on morphology) and some of it is just the way taxonomists (and pretty much all scientists) tussle over new proposals.

PHYLUM - MANDIBULATA (Insects, Springtails, Millipedes)


Anoplura - Sucking Lice. Greek "anoplos" (unarmed) + "ura" (tail), referring to the lack of cerci (external copulatory organs) at the end of the abdomen. We have them in Montana.

Blattodea - Cockroaches. Greek "blatta" (cockroach). There are a few stories I have heard about cockroaches occasionally being found in Montana, for example in Missoula, but they aren't very common. I didn't see any growing up in Helena. Although cockroaches can deal with cold (like in NYC or Chicago) by staying in warm places, they also need moisture, and Montana is cool and dry, with relatively lower population density, so cockroaches don't have it easy here. Nothing like when I lived in Hawaii, and they seemed as common and numerous as mosquitos.

Coleoptera - Beetles. Greek "koleos" (sheath) + "ptera" (wings), refers to the modified front wings which serve as hard protective shells/covers for the membranous hind wings. Ex: Japanese beetle, Ladybug, Emerald Ash borer, Pine Beetle. See my entries on pine beetles at: http://hengruh.livejournal.com/91223.html and at http://hengruh.livejournal.com/86073.html and at http://hengruh.livejournal.com/67973.html
Finally, there is an interesting post on pine beetles and power animals at: http://hengruh.livejournal.com/47056.html

Dermaptera - Earwigs. Greek "derma" (skin) + "ptera" (wings), refers to the thickened forewings that cover and protect the hind wings. I have seen these in Helena, in wet places under wood piles for example.

Diptera - True Flies. Mosquitoes, Horseflies, Deerflies, Houseflies. Greek "di" (two) + "ptera" (wing) = 'two-wings', referring to the prominence of the two main wings. They all can get pretty bad during some summers, especially mosquitos along the rivers and the High Line. A cool mystery game about mosquitos, the West Nile virus, and birds is here: http://hengruh.livejournal.com/52339.html

Ephemeroptera - Mayflies. Greek "ephemera" (short-lived) + "ptera" (wings), a reference to the short lifespan of most adult mayflies. My post on Mayflies, Caddisflies, and Stoneflies and their interaction with Montana's trout is here: http://hengruh.livejournal.com/52148.html

Grylloblattodea - Icecrawlers, Rockcrawlers. Greek "gryll" (cricket) + "blatta" (cockroach), refers to the blend of cricket-like and roach-like traits found in these insects. Montana does have these, at high elevation near snow, ice and/or caves.

Hemiptera - True Bugs. Greek "hemi" (half) + "ptera" (wing). There are two Suborders: Homoptera and Heteroptera (in the old days Homoptera was a separate order from Hemiptera.
Heteroptera - Typical/True Bugs (Assassin bug, Bedbug, Stinkbug, Waterboatmen, Water Striders, Giant Waterbug). Greek "hetero-" (different) + "ptera" (wings), referring to the fact that the texture of the front wings is different near the base, where it is leathery, than it is at the apex, where it is membranous.
Homoptera (Leafhoppers, Planthoppers, Treehoppers, Cicadas, Aphids, Psyllids, Whiteflies, Scale Insects). Greek "homo-" (same/uniform) + "ptera" (wings), refering to the uniform texture of the front wings
===Back when I learned the orders in the late 1970s, Hemiptera were the true bugs and were a separate order from the Homoptera (cicadas, leafhoppers). Now the preference seems to be lumping the two old orders together as Hemiptera, and renaming the true bugs (previously Hemiptera) as Heteroptera (which in the older Linnean system were a suborder of Hemiptera). Are you confused? Yeah, me too. I thought the point of Linnean classification and Latin/Greek-based names were clarity and stability over the centuries! Sheesh. Anyways, this is a large group of insects in Montana.

Hymenoptera - Bees, Wasps, Ants, Ichneumon, Sawfly. Greek "hymen" (membrane) + "ptera" (wings). The name is appropriate not only for the membranous nature of the wings, but also for the manner in which they are "joined together as one" as in marriage by the hamuli (little hooks that join the fore and aft wings together), so the reference to Hymeno, the Greek god of marriage. Plenty of these in Montana, especially wasps in the late summer.

Isoptera - Termites. Greek "iso" (equal) + "ptera" (wings), refers to the similar size, shape, and venation of the four wings. "Termites are active in portions of Montana, including narrow bands along the eastern and western borders of the state. Termites are more likely to be found in western cities, like Missoula and Dillon, or eastern cities, like Miles City, than cities near the center of the state, like Great Falls or Billings, Montana. ...Subterranean termites are known to cause damage to homes in Montana. Drywood termites are not native to the state." (http://www.termites.com/regional-termite-information/montana/) I haven't heard much about termite problems in Helena personally.

Lepidoptera - Butterflies, Moths. Greek "lepido" (scale) + "ptera" (wings), refers to the flattened hairs that look like scales, that cover the body and wings of most adults, and give them their color. My post on Helena's butterflies is here: http://hengruh.livejournal.com/tag/butterfly

Mallophaga - Chewing Lice, Biting Lice, Bird Lice. Greek "mallos" (wool) + "phagein" (to eat), refers to habit of feeding on mammals like sheep, though mostly they infest birds. None go after humans. In Montana, Mallophaga species for example are found on ruffed grouse and the water pipit, as well as Bighorn sheep.

Mantodea - Mantis. Greek "mantis", the name for these insects. Generally tropical and semitropical insects, praying mantis apparently do occasionally occur in Montana (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cjp5cVDa-fQ), but I didn't see any growing up here and they aren't common.

Mecoptera - Scorpionflies, Hangingflies. Greek "meco" (long) + "ptera" (wings), referring to the shape of both the front and hind wings. An ancient group of insects that according to DNA evidence are the living ancestors of fleas, true flies, and butterflies. They are referred to as scorpionflies because the male genitalia appear like scorpion tails when they curl upwards.
Bittacus strigosus, Boreus californicus, Boreus coloradensis, Boreus nix, Boreus pilosus, Boreus reductus, Brachypanorpa sacajawea, are all Mecoptera that live in Montana.

Megaloptera - Dobsonflies, Alderflies, Fishflies. Formerly considered part of Neuroptera, but these are now considered separate orders. Greek "megalo" (large) + "ptera" (wings), for the large, clumsy wings. Not a very noticeable group of insects, except for the dobson flies, whose males have tusk-like mandibles which serve to attract mates. Their immature stages are aquatic. Two alderflies (Sialidae) are listed in the Montana field guide, Sialis hamata and Sialis velata.

Neuroptera - Lacewings. Greek "neuron" (sinew) + "ptera" (wings), also often translated as "nerve-wings" due to the branching patterns in the wing veins. Fossil Neuroptera from the Oligocene have been found in the Ruby River Range in Montana. Lacewings feed on aphids in Montana.

Odonata - Dragonflies, Damselflies. Greek "odonto-" (tooth), refers to the strong teeth found on the mandibles of most adults. I used to keep bright blue damselfies for a day or two as a kid to watch them, then let them go. Dragonflies hold their wings horizontal while resting, while damselflies hold them vertically and are usually much smaller.

Orthoptera - Grasshoppers, Crickets, Katydids. Greek "ortho" (straight) + "ptera" (wings), referring to the parallel-sided structure of the front wings (tegmina) that lie along the sides of the grasshopper while it is resting. Montana's late summers in the country are marked by the clickity-clacking of flying grasshoppers. Also see my post on grasshoppers/locusts at: http://hengruh.livejournal.com/106278.html

Plecoptera - Stoneflies. Greek "plecos" (braided) + "ptera" (wings). My post on Mayflies, Caddisflies, and Stoneflies and their interaction with Montana's trout is here: http://hengruh.livejournal.com/52148.html

Psocoptera - Booklice, Barklice. Greek "psokos" (rubbed or gnawed) + "ptera" (wings) - "a winged creature that gnaws". Not common in cool dry climate like Montana's, but sometimes found here in improperly stored grain.

Raphidioptera - Snakeflies. Greek "raphidio" (a needle) + "ptera" (wings), referring to this winged creature's needle-like ovipositor. I have seen these here in Helena. The long thorax and head are prominent and slender, with a raised snake-like appearance.

Siphonaptera - Fleas. Greek "siphon" (a tube or pipe) + "aptera" (wingless). Uncommon in Montana, because we are so cool and dry.

Strepsiptera - Twisted-Wing Parasites. Greek "strepsi" (turned or twisted) + "ptera" (wings), refers to the resting position of the male's large hind wings. There were Strepsiptera found parasitizing Ichenumon wasps near Bridger, Montana.

Thysanura - Silverfish, Firebrats, Bristletails, Springtails. "Fringed tail," Greek "thysanos" (fringe) + "ura" (tail). I've seen silverfish here in damp basements. It seems that these days the jumping bristletails are considered by some authorities as a separate order, called Archaeognatha. Greek "archaeo" (ancient) + "gnatha" (jaws), referring to the articulation of the mandibles, which has a single condyle, where all higher insects have two. The jumping bristletails have changed very little in appearance from their origins in the Devonian. An alternate name is sometimes seen, Microcoryphia, Greek "micro" (small) + "coryphia" (head). Jumping bristletails can use their tails to propel themselves instead of legs; they have small vestigial legs which appear more as bristles.

Thysanoptera - Thrips. "Fringed wing," Greek "thysanos" (fringe) + "ptera" (wings). Some are pests of grain here in Montana and affect gardens as well.

Trichoptera - Caddisflies. "Haired wing," Greek "trichos" (hair) + "ptera" (wings), refers to the long, silky hairs that cover most of the body and wings. My post on Mayflies, Caddisflies, and Stoneflies and their interaction with Montana's trout is here: http://hengruh.livejournal.com/52148.html

Orders Not Found in Montana=
Once classified as insects, Proturans are now in a class of their own. I have not so far found whether they are represented in Montana. I have never seen any Phasmatodea - Walkingsticks - in Montana, and they tend to be in warmer and more humid climes. Zoraptera - Zorapterans - is a poorly understood order of insects, mostly found in tropical and subtropical areas, and only two species in the U.S., in Florida for example, so it is doubtful they would be in Montana.
Embioptera - Webspinners - are also mostly tropical and subtropical species and I can't find any examples for Montana.

Common Forest Insects in Montana:
Douglas-fir Beetle
Fir Engraver
Spruce Beetle
Douglas-fir Tussock Moth
Mountain Pine Beetle
Western Pine Beetle
Engraver Beetles
Red Turpentine Beetle
Western Spruce Budworm

Boreus unicolor, a minute black leaping insect seen in the snow, is a species supposedly found only in Montana.


Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail

Montana's Glacial Lake Missoula is now part of the nation's first National Geologic Trail, Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail, which extends from Montana through Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. (Stories below the map)

Bitterroot Valley included on first National Geologic Trail

By WILL MOSS - Ravalli Republic - 06/25/09

The Bitterroot Valley has been included as a stop in the nation’s first federally designated National Geologic Trail.

The recently established Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail, which follows the path of the Lake Missoula floods from western Montana to the Pacific Ocean, will feature a spur pathway running near Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge through the Bitterroot Valley, which constituted the southern tip of Glacial Lake Missoula.

The lake is believed to have formed around 18,000 years ago when the Cordilleran ice sheet moved south into the Idaho Panhandle damming the Clark Fork River basin.

Due to the massive pressure caused by the immense volume of water held in the lake, the dam suffered numerous failures which sent vast amounts of water rushing west toward the Columbia River Basin and eventually into the Pacific Ocean.

The violent force of the sweeping waters is believed to have formed a range of dramatic geologic features including Palouse Falls and the Scablands of eastern Washington.

The trail was authorized in the recently passed Omnibus Public Lands Act (PL-111-11) and establishes a network of marked touring routes and interpretive centers extending across Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon.
According to the Ice Age Floods Institute’s Web site, the trail will “represent the largest, most systematic, and most cooperative effort yet proposed to bring the dramatic story of the Ice Age Floods to the public’s attention, and ... has the potential to bring significant economic and cultural benefits to communities throughout the Northwest.”

Jim Shelden, President of the Institute’s Glacial Lake Missoula Chapter, said that, while funding for the authorized trail has yet to be planned, the time has come for the importance of the Lake Missoula Flood to be recognized.

“Earth Magazine said it was one of the ten big things in the history of the planet as far as dirt moving and water sloshing,” he noted. “It’s impossible to be schooled in the northwest and not have a good background in the flood. Just in my work, I’ve lived from one end of the flood to the other pretty much and it’s always been of interest.”

Shelden, a geologist who spent the bulk of his career working as a federal geologist with the BLM and Forest Service, was a founding member of the IAFI and had been following the trail-establishment process since its inception.

He said that, while the legislation had been passed twice before by both the House and Senate, it always seemed to get lost in the shuffle.

“It kind of seemed to be one of those bad luck things,” he said. “It would pass in the House and Senate with slightly different versions and every time we would come up with a reconciliation bill we’d either get bombed or declare war or do something and, you know, it was just never a big priority.”

But, he said, now that the legislation has been signed into law, it’s only a matter of time before details start to come together.

According to Shelden, federal funds for the trail will come from the interior department via the Parks Service, though those details are still up in the air.

“The next big thing is to see how the states will proceed,” he added, noting that a steering committee composed of at least one member from each state is in the process of being assembled.

The theory of catastrophic flooding in the northwest is a relatively young one that took some time to gain traction with a scientific community that, at the time, was fairly certain that geologic change only happened particle by particle over millions of years.

J. Harlen Bretz is credited with bringing the theory to the forefront of scientific thought, though it might not have been popular at the time.

Luckily for Bretz, said Shelden, the evidence supporting his theory was well preserved.

“One of the nice things about Lake Missoula is it’s all carved in very good rock so that everything about it looks very fresh and you can see how high the water was,” he said. “Everything about it is very provable.”

Shelden said that Bretz’s ideas came at a time when conflicts between scientific and religious arguments were at their pinnacle. Many in the field of science had a tough time swallowing the idea of a biblical-scale flood.

“What was happening then was there was all sorts of collisions between science and conservative religion; even within science itself,” Shelden said. “On the science side, geology was built on the idea of millions and millions of years and one sand grain at a time gradually doing things. The countervailing theory to that was that the creation took place in a week and it was only 7,000 years old. They were knocking heads just on those two ideas and then Bretz kind of stepped in the middle of it and proposed the biggest, most preposterous flood anybody could have heard of, unless you believed in the biblical flood. That put him on the wrong side with most of the scientists. Not to mention that it violated this, what was almost seen as, religious dogma in geology that things happened one particle at a time.”

The 1940 discovery of giant, ripple marks on the floor of what was once Glacial Lake Missoula supplied evidence of massive currents that correlated with the rapid movement of massive volumes of water. This finding seemed to conclusively identify a source of water for Bretz’s catastrophic flood theory.

“So, Bretz did his thing and it turned out that he was right and, in so doing, he did two things,” Shelden said. “He’s sort of a cautionary tale that says, you know, you better look at a guy’s evidence and see if he knows what he’s talking about; and he made it permissible to think in terms of big changes and fast catastrophism.”

That precedent, Shelden said, paved the way for more rapid acceptance of scientific theories dealing with catastrophic change such as the global extinction of dinosaurs at the hands of a giant meteor.

Another theory that has built itself upon the shoulders of Bretz’s work is the previous existence of large bodies of water on Mars, evidenced by huge ripple marks similar to Lake Missoula’s.

“Those guys that said that did not get immediately laughed-out of the conference because of the ground that Bretz had covered with Lake Missoula,” Shelden said. “That’s really Lake Missoula’s place in history .... Lake Missoula [was] the one that proved the theory, gave us a signature so we knew what we were looking at and gave permission to think big.”



The Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 established three National Scenic Trails -- the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail, the New England National Scenic Trail, and the Arizona National Scenic Trail. The much-awaited scenic trails have generated a good deal of buzz. For example, some are saying that the new Pacific Northwest Trail may rival the renowned Pacific Crest Trail within a decade. Pretty much lost in all the hoopla is the fact that this year’s public lands act also established the country’s first-ever national geologic trail.

The Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail, actually a network of routes in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana, is designed to interconnect historic sites, parks, and other facilities interpreting the geologic consequences of the Glacial Lake Missoula Floods. And my, what geologic consequences they were! The Missoula Floods, a series of several dozen immense floods resulting from the sudden draining of a giant ice-dammed lake many thousands of years ago, scoured vast amounts of sediment and rock from the eastern Washington scablands, created many unique landforms, and carved the impressive Columbia River Gorge. And all of this was done so quickly it defies the imagination.

It was a pretty awesome system that stored enough energy to do this work. Glacial Lake Missoula, which formed in western Montana at various intervals during a period extending from about 13,000 to 15,000 years ago, was perhaps the largest of all the ice-dammed lakes we now of. It formed when lobes of the Cordilleran Ice Sheet that extended southward from Canada and along the spine of the Rockies blocked the Clark Fork River with ice dams soaring 2,000 feet high. The 200-mile long lake that backed up behind thee ice dams contained about 500 cubic miles of water, or about half the volume of present-day Lake Michigan.

When the dam was breached, an event that is thought to have happened about every 40 to 140 years during the span of two millenia, the immense torrents of water that gushed out were some of the biggest floods this planet has ever produced. The largest of the floods discharged an estimated 2.6 billion gallons of water per second. Each of the great floods packed enough kinetic energy to accomplish, in a mere geologic eye blink, erosion that would take normal geologic forces many thousands of years to accomplish.

Trail supporters, especially in the state of Washington, campaigned more than 15 years to make the new geologic trail a reality. It’s expected that the trail, which will traverse public lands and minimally impact private lands, will generate many economic and cultural benefits in the four-state region encompassed by the project.

To see a map of the new trail (at the proposal stage) and get additional relevant information, visit this Ice Age Floods Institute site. [Map shown above]

The National Park Service will administer the Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail, but the trail will not be counted as a unit of the National Park System.

Postscript: The lower St. Croix River in the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway near Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, has a notch-shaped profile in places. Those miniature canyons were carved by cataclysmic floods gushing from ice dammed lakes similar to (but smaller than) prehistoric Lake Missoula.


More stories on the Trail:


Book Review: The Wild Marsh: Four Seasons at Home in Montana, by Rick Bass

I just finished reading Rick Bass' new book The Wild Marsh: Four Seasons at Home in Montana. This book is an ode to phenology and local knowledge, and Bass' love of his home, the Yaak of northwest Montana, which some consider to be a "Noah's Ark of Diversity," with mountain lions, moose, elk, bobcats, grizzly and black bears, lynx and wolverines. He took inspiration from Thoreau's Walden, wondering what it would be like to re-imagine such work so profoundly Eastern in a remote wild landscape of the West. Bass writes from a pioneer homestead on a marsh in the Yaak, tracing the changes and events of a year's cycle, month-by-month, the transect of a year, of time rather than space. Although Bass is well-known as an environmental writer, the focus of this book is not advocacy and politics, but celebration and observation. Why? Said Bass, "I'm not sure why I made that choice, with this book; perhaps in order to simply stay sane longer." (6) As someone who grew up in the Helena valley in Montana over the last 40 years, and being roughly the same age as Bass, I am coming to share his views on the retention of sanity in the world that is coming to pass.

But even the remote Yaak valley is not immune to change:

"The thought occurs to me again how strange and perhaps hopeless this chronicle is, destined to disappear like melting snow, with regard to its calendrical observations...That these days will never again have compare; that not only is time rushing past, but so too is the four-seasoned, temperate nature of this place. As if it is all finally, after so many centuries, becoming only as if but a dream. ...But my God, what beauty." (p. 159)

"It's not just for the scientists of the future that I've profiled the passage of a year, here in a northern land still fortunate enough to have four full seasons despite the rising tide of the world's increasing heat, the ever-increasins global exhalations of warmth and carbon. I like to imagine that this record has value, in a scrapbook sort of way, to my family, and to others who will in the future inhabit, and love, the Yaak. ...That the passing on of such knowledge constitutes a transfer of some of the most valuable currency, other than love, possible; that the transfer of that kind of intimate and place-based knowledge, the knowledge of home, is a kind of love, and rarer and more valuable now certainly than silver or gold...Some days I worry that there is a sand-through-the-hourglass effect to such observations, and the passing on of that knowledge; that though the knowledge might be passed on to the next generation, and the next, so rapid now are the ecological changes in the West, so severe the dissolution of various biological underpinnings as one piece after another is pulled from the puzzle, the map, of previous integrity, that the future will render such knowledge irrelevant: as if, already, I am describing things that are gone-away, or going-away. ...But one of the key components of love is hope -- enduring hope --and to let fear replace hope would be a bitter defeat indeed, a kind of failure in its own stead." (p. 8)

This recordation and compilation of twenty years of place-based memory is a real gift from Bass. As a poet of natural history, he muses over the opening of the icy and snowbound land in March, the appearance of baby robins in July, a forest fire in August, hunting in November...It should inspire each of us to consider passing on our own legacy of local knowledge to future generations, although most of us, less gifted as writers and chroniclers than Bass, can only do bravely what we can, through writing, storytelling, record-keeping, and the arts. But it is not only a matter of the natural world; Bass is as sensitive and attentive to the importance and value of the human world in equal measure:

"Children grow up and move away, friends grow old and stooped, communities shift and flow, fragment and weave back together. The deliciousness of a moment, and of beauty, is almost always heightened by the consciousness of such brevity. It is a sweetness, and awareness, however, that I sometimes tend to overlook, or take for granted; and it's good for me, particularly during the holidays, to step back and remember that it is not merely the marsh, or the natural cycles of things, that give me stability and even peace in a tumultuous world, but also the braid, the weave, of people passing all around me -- a current of people, friends and others, as ceaseless and interesting as the wind itself, or the currents of some broad river, or again, the flow of the seasons themselves, passing around and around the globe, year after year, bathing us in change, and at the same time bathing us in regularity, with a constancy that is remarkable, and which in my opinion follows very much in the same pattern and logic as does the human emotion of love." (p. 375)

A highly recommended book, especially for folks who are in love with the land and their place on the land, who would like to pass on their knowledge to the future, and for those of us who wish "to simply stay sane longer."

Midsummers and the Camas Moon

Camas flowers (Camassia quamash) in June

In a couple of days Summer Solstice/Midsummer will be here. For us in Montana and the rest of the Mountain Time Zone it will be at 11:46 pm, Saturday night, June 20, 2009. To determine the exact time where you are, check out the June Solstice 2009 article on EarthSky.

This is one of the big days for many traditions and religions around the world. This period of the year marks the Sun's greatest increase and triumph

For the Celtic Druids, it is Alban Heruin (Alban Hefin in modern Welsh). This is usually translated as "the Light of the Shore" as this date is between Alban Eiler ("Light of the Earth"- Spring Equinox, when the Earth is awakening) and Alban Elued ("Light of the Sea" Fall Equinox, - when the Sun is descending into the Sea). Vervain (verbena) was the holy herb of this day. Many consider this day under Belinus, hero-god of fire and the Sun, and Lugh, the sun-hero. For those of Arthurian bent, it is the day of Sir Gawain and Lady Ragnall (John Michael Greer's The Druidry Handbook, 2006); also see The Three Realms, AODA, and OBOD.

For the Germanic and Norse Heathens of Northern Europe, including Asatru, it is a time to honor Sunna and Baldr in blot (ceremonial feasting), all night outdoors, with the same focus on the height of the sun and its life-giving power, the greening growth of the land. Check out the Asatru Alliance for example; one of my favorite Heathen resources is Uncle Thor's Blog.

For Catholics, midsummer's day was marked by the Feast of St. John the Baptist. With the shift in the calendar, this moved from solstice on June 21 to June 24, the same that Christmas Eve/Christmas moved from winter solstice on Dec. 21 to Dec. 24-25. As with other feasts in Europe, this day was picked to overlay/co-opt/transform the pagan festivals of midsummer. this day did not mark St. John's death, but his birth, and bonfires and other pagan survivals marked this day, although cast in different terms by the Church. See more at Midsummer's and the Festivals of St. John and the Catholic Encyclopedia's article on St. John the Baptist.

For bioregional animists, one takes one's cues mostly from the local environment. The wasps and bees are out in force, and the birds are fussing over the eggs in their nests. The flowers of many plants are in transition. The fruit tree blossoms are gone, the lilacs are in steep decline, and roses are beginning to bloom.

Midsummer marks the Sun's triumph in his ascent to the highest point in the Sky; but of course that triumph is always brief, for the highest point cannot last and the descent towards fall begins right after it. This is a lesson of life: that the highest point brings descent, and the lowest point brings ascent. Mountains are defined by valleys, and valleys by mountains.

In Montana, the Native American tribes were not agriculturalists. Instead they followed the bison's movements and the ripening of wild plant foods, so they did not mark the time by festivals and solstices in the same way as Europeans or even other tribes in other parts of the U.S. However there were certain very important wild plants that were harvested now (and some folks still do this), and in June in the hills around the Helena Valley and the rest of western Montana this was the time of gathering and roasting Camas (Camassia quamash) (important! don't confuse it with the death-camas!) for the Salish (Flathead), with attendant feasting and happiness.

June - The Month of the Camas
Camas plants have a bulbous root that is usually ready for harvest in June. Camas bulbs are baked with black moss in earthen pits for three days. After baking, the bulbs were dried and stored for later use. Baked camas is delicious and has a licorice like flavor. During this time people would also be making bark baskets from cedar and birch trees. The baskets would be used for berry picking. Tipi poles would be cut now, as the bark would peel easy. When the wild roses were in bloom, the people would know that buffalo would be nice and fat. Salish hunting parties would then travel to the plains country for their summer buffalo hunt. http://www.anamp.org/culturally/pdf/elem_weather.pdf

The Blackfeet also gathered camas at this time but focused more on the buffalo.

The buffalo migrated to the open grassy plains in the early summer, the time known to the Blackfeet as the "moon of flowers." The people followed the buffalo to the Cypress Hills or other hunting grounds in the eastern region of their homeland where they would stay only as long as the buffalo. The summer hunts provided the ceremonial buffalo-bull tongues needed for the Medicine Lodge, or Sun Dance Ceremony, during the moon when "serviceberries were ripe". http://www.trailtribes.org/greatfalls/camp-life-and-seasonal-round.htm

The camas here grow in higher elevations, and I have not been able to see any this year. I did see buffalo as I noted in an earlier post. I am thinking about some ways to celebrate Summer Solstice by strengthening connections with my three friends here in my neighborhood: Tree, Hill, and Gulch. I will put out some gifts at Tree and the Gulch in the afternoon, and will go up on the Hill and light a candle (since bonfires are out of the question here!) in the evening sometime. This is a time for the wights, the landvaettir, the faerie, the nature spirits and Mother Earth herself. June is the best and most fragrant and magical month in my neighborhood.

The Unabomber and the Miner

I like people as individuals, many of them I even love as individuals, but not so much as "people." Is this a common trait of the animistically-inclined? It's hard to explain. One-on-one, I can usually find common ground with almost anyone, but in crowds, in traffic, in malls, the negative stuff seems to bloom. People who don't know me think of me as unfriendly, but little kids, animals, and old people seem to like me a lot. I get nervous in crowds and at a certain point, I gotta get out of there-- even if "out" is already outside! No, you won't find me milling around in concerts or festivals anytime soon.

On my Redroom author site (http://www.redroom.com/author/lance-m-foster), I have been posting chapters of a book about the encounter between two very different misanthropes in an animistic, magical realist setting:

Just put up the fifth chapter of my Miner book here on Redroom. This chapter is all about the Unabomber, Ted, a character in my Miner book.

I actually was doing historic preservation surveys during my tenure as an archaeologist for the Helena National Forest Service in the same mountains up near Lincoln, from 1991-1996, not far from where the Unabomber had his cabin. He had not been captured when I started looking though the old mines and mine buildings up there, and I wonder if I might have seen him, riding on his bike along those backroads.

Now here I am, combining an utterly fictional character (the miner Joe) with a REAL public figure (Ted K.) who has been transformed into a fictional character. I have been struggling with this, whether it is right or wrong to do. Yet for me, they are kind of two sides of the same lonely, isolated sort of man, and the choices they make.

The character of Ted is obvious, based on not only the historical Unabomber, but my own isolationist, luddite, misanthropic, antidevelopment, antigovernment feelings at times in myself and encounters with other human beings with Ted-like characteristics in my life.
Actually Ted had more in common with some of those old recluse miners than he would like to have admitted. It seems no one has tried to look through the eyes of the Unabomber in this way before. And yet writers do look through the eyes of murderers all the time.

And Joe is an amalgam of the various oldtimers I have met during my life, miners, old veterans, laborers, ...stoic, solitary, lonely and taciturn men. Men who grin and bear the impossible. And keep going, one foot in front of the other. Enduring. Because what other choice is there. There is a lot of my grandpa in Joe.

Two lonely sorts of men, neither liking the modern world or having much use for people most of the time. And yet so very different. Worlds apart in another way. One a romantic nihilist and the other a pragmatic stoic.

When I thought about writing this story, based on my upbringing in Montana, I originally thought of it as a horror story. A "Grapes of Wrath" meets "The Shining" sort of book. And then there were elements that were more like magical realism. I have been struggling with what this book wants to become, and how it fights me at the same time. How do you write a story that wants you to write it, yet fights being written?


Here is the latest chapter:

Chapter 5

Ted, Early April 1987

I saw the overhead fluorescent lights blink out, one by one, from the other side of the building as it approached. I had no idea how I had gotten locked in the high school, for class had been over hours ago, everyone had gone home, even the janitors, and it was dark outside. I had to run, and run fast, before the sequence of darkness reached me, because all I knew, is that I did not want to be in the black halls with whatever was approaching and turning off the lights. In fact somehow I knew it was not turning off the lights; they simply were blinking out as it came onward.

And as I ran, with the floor so slippery I knew it was but a moment before I was in the dark, and I turned and caught the doorknob of a classroom. I yanked it open and slipped inside.

But the classroom was not empty. I recognized several of the people there, teachers from high school, a counselor who regarded me warmly. The lights were so harsh they seemed to cast three shadows for every object and person there. In one corner a chair sat, with a doily on the back, glowing yellow-green under the lights.

My parents were not there, but I knew they were waiting outside for me in the car, greedy and impatient, on the street by the lonely streetlight. The people in the room motioned for me to sit in the high-backed chair.

I sat in that room, a little nervous, but confident. I knew what I believed in. And after all, I was only here to discuss my values. I did start to wonder what was going to happen to me, when they started connecting the wires to my arms, the little adhesive patches itchy and damp with gel. And I felt that I could not breathe, for they pressed in around me, wanting something from me, something terrible. I had to retain my focus, and prepare for the trial. I could handle it.

“It will be okay,” the counselor said, touching her lips in the sign of silence, though I had not uttered a word. “It is a well-regarded study, and the Doctor is known throughout the world for his work. You are in good hands. He will bring forth your genius. All will know your name. We are in this together. Be positive. Don’t move.”

So against my better judgement I sat there, when I really felt like bounding like a wolf through the window and fleeing into the night. The room went dark and a spotlight shone above my head, and into my face. I looked at my feet, to escape the glare, and noticed that on the floor, a halo had formed around the shadow of my head. I could feel they had seated themselves about the room, their eyes shining wetly.

A figure, well-dressed and courtly stood before me, holding a paper in his hand. He rattled it at me. “So, I have been reading your essay, Ted (may call you Ted) and I must say you are a bright and earnest youg fellow. However I feel you have not been completely honest with me.”

I squinted my eyes to look at him, standing there, so removed and composed. He was talking about my essay that I had worked so hard on, that I considered my manifesto, a love letter from my heart, a tribute to reason and justice.

“Yes, I think,” and here his eyes stretched oddly and spittle flew from his mouth, “you are a fucking liar, a puss-ay!” I felt the spittle flecks as he roared. “You are wasting my time with this bullshit!” And he ripped up the paper and flung it in my face.

Then he straightened his tie, and licking his finger, smoothed a long hair that poked from his eyebrow. “You know, I think it is time for you to admit to yourself the truth.”
I sat stunned, feeling the wires tense and throbbing against my skin. I opened my mouth to speak, but all I could get out was “What truth?”

He laughed. “Exactly!”

“Truth does exist, it is in the dance of the spheres in their mathematical certitude, in the genetic code that produces like from like, as above, so below, and to everything there is a male and a female. And in everything the divine vibrates.” I had no idea what I was saying, but it seemed to calm him, and he looked at me carefully.

“You really are quite mad, aren’t you?,” he smirked. “The poor little scientist. The tragic figure, walking to and fro worriedly on life’s widow walk. Let’s try this again. Listen honey, don’t kid a kidder!”

At first confused, I decided he was insane, that I would have to get through this, that I would not lose my cool this time. I would win.

He said, “You are lonely.”

I would not look, but I could feel the pulse through wire that split my heart with cold despair.

“You love people, but they disappoint you, so you hate them for that. You love the quiet of your study, but the sound of laughing voices in a car passing your window stirs your balls into restlessness. The poor little genius, so misunderstood.”

He tousled my hair. I felt the sweat trickle down my sides beneath my shirt. I would snap his windpipe with my teeth if I could. I saw my father in him.

“On the one hand we have the moral man. Judge not lest ye be judged. You of course, as a moral man, do not judge. How can you judge an Eskimo for leaving grandpa on the ice to die, if taking him means you don’t get to the seal hunting grounds in time and your entire family dies? Isn’t it all relative? A matter of living with the choices you make? A choice unmade is in itself a choice.

“And on the other hand, science promises hope, the upward climb of progress like the beautiful ascent of a mushroom cloud. Values are only superstitions. Life is purposeless, a music box wound once, and slowing every year. But there is concrete in those foundations. Ah, decisions, decisions. Now, again, in your intractability, you must decide.”

And the walls on either side of the room slid back and I saw my choices, clear as day.

On one side I saw a raggedy and bony man, perhaps thirty-five years old. His face was savage and bearded, his eyes at once innocent and world-weary. He was standing in a green meadow, holding a small child which coughed up blood. He wept and laid the child down, and dug a hole. And on the sweet and wooded ridge behind him, a pack of wild dogs watched him intently. And even in his grief, the man stood bold and human, and my heart went out to him and his child.

On the other side, I saw what looked like a darkened honeycomb, filled with sleeping human forms in jellied masses, with veins and arteries connecting them, as they slept safe, content, and fat, rolling like restless infants. And the terrible technology which cared for them, harvested them like squirming maggots to feed a great fearsome bird, metal and silicon, its wings arched above the honeycomb egg that contained both its young and its food, one and the same. And the human maggots smiled and dreamed, even as they were crushed in the bladed beak. And I wept at the horror of the scene.

Then the man before me approached from behind the glare of the lamp, and I could see him almost clearly, though my tears blurred my eyes, and I saw ash darkness where his face should have been, and the glowing coals that were his eyes. And he chucked me beneath my chin and said, very quietly, “You can’t eat your cake and have it too.”

I woke up terrified, bathed in icy sheets of sweat, my beard stiff with crystals from my steaming breath, my eyes cold with tears. I remembered the hard coals which were his eyes looking at me, knowing that I was his, fully and completely, that he would gut me and devour me for my perfidy. That he scorned me for my beliefs, all the while, wires and tubes attached to me like the beaks of mosquitos and deerflies. They squeezed the fear dew from me like ants milking aphids.

The little cabin was dark and smelled of smoke. I rolled over and grabbed for the pack of saltines I kept there. I ate one and waited for the waves of unreality to subside into the ripples I always kept to the dark corners. Food brought me back, the crispness and the salt. Food was always reliable.

I knew the Devil waited out there in the dark, visiting me in my sleep in my heart where he lived at night, to remind me just what I was doing. How could I forget? I did not choose this road of martyrdom. All I had ever wanted, ever since I was a kid, was to fit in, not be looked at, to have friends, and live for something true and right.

Fuck, why had I ever gone to Harvard? To prove something to myself, to my goddamn parents in their insipid and whiny grasping? My heart tore at me like a ragged dog.

I remembered waking once from a dream in the woods, in the moonlight, and for a minute I thought I saw a fantastic figure, spiderlike with a small rotund head and owl’s eyes staring at me, until I realized I saw only a tree and the owl which sat upon its trunk.

I still felt unreal, so I lit my lamp. I took my diary and began to write of mundane things, of supplies I needed, of trips to make. I decided that I would make a trip back to the mine where I had seen the beautiful Sheri. That there were things to be removed from that place, before they destroyed it, and I knew that with warm weather coming, I did not have long to take what I needed.


Big Game Management Challenges in Montana

Changing attitudes stymie elk managers

By EVE BYRON Independent Record - 04/26/2009

FWP photo The Helmville area has a skyrocketing number of elk because herds hole up on the property of those who don’t allow hunting on their property, according to Alan Charles, landowner-sportsman coordinator for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Big game animal management is facing big challenges in Montana.

Recent studies report that the public perception toward elk, deer and antelope is gradually shifting throughout the Rockies; landowners and urban dwellers often have opposing attitudes toward large ungulates; and Montana’s human population is expected to triple in 50 years.

Those changes create a perfect storm for big game managers, for whom hunting is the main method of keeping populations in check.

Shifting perceptions mean that more people are viewing big game — particularly elk — as an animal in need of protection instead of as a food source. The anticipated population growth means more encroachment on big game habitat, prompting more opportunities for human-wildlife conflict.

More and more private land is becoming off limits to hunting, due either to urban sprawl or to large ranch owners who no longer allow hunters to shoot game on their property, which means fewer animals harvested during hunting seasons.

While hunter numbers remain stable, a smaller percentage of Montana residents are taking to the fields and their average age is increasing. Those who do hunt, especially those from out of state, more often seek trophy males with big racks rather than shoot females for food, leaving more animals to breed.
Soaring population

Elk populations are soaring in some areas and a concern that other management techniques — changing hunting seasons, instituting more areas where only antlerless elk can be hunted or even something as drastic as using sharpshooters to cull herds, similar to what’s been done to deer in Helena, or paying people to hunt — might be necessary in the future unless something is done now.

“In the Ovando and Helmville areas, we have a skyrocketing number of elk because lands in a couple areas are closed to provide refuge for those elk to move away from hunters, and the landowners don’t allow for hunting,” said Alan Charles, landowner-sportsman coordinator for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. “No matter what we’ve been trying, we’re not getting elk killed. It’s gotten way ahead of us.

“… This is one of the toughest issues we face as a state and a lot is riding on it.”

Fewer harvested elk might sound like a good idea to people who like to see them roaming among Montana’s wildlands. In fact, the increased number of elk, antelope and deer in Montana are seen as a success story after their numbers dwindled from over-hunting in the early 1900s.

“We could even have more elk in some places,” notes Jay Kolbe, a Region 2 FWP wildlife biologist. “What we try to explain to people is that we don’t have an elk population problem; we have an elk distribution problem.”

In most of Montana, elk populations are near management levels set by state officials. But in areas like Helmville and Ovando, where FWP believes about 600 elk is the limit for landowner tolerance and habitat capacity, Kolbe counted 1,679 last spring.

“The growth was driven by elk being harbored (on the private property of owners who didn’t allow hunting), so their herds continued to grow because they weren’t being controlled by the public,” Kolbe said. “In the ’90s, there were very few elk in the valley, maybe several hundred, and to grow to 1,600 was an increase of about 15 percent a year. That’s extraordinary growth and attributable to a lack of allowing hunting in the valley.”

Unhealth conditions

FWP officials worry that with crowding, elk become more susceptible to disease. In addition, those large herds not only are consuming more forage on public lands, they’re increasingly moving onto private lands and eating alfalfa and other crops meant for cattle, decreasing landowner tolerance for big game.

Charles said a basic premise of conservationist Aldo Leopold and a fundamental tenet of wildlife management is that if you don’t manage a herd within limits, the animals will destroy their own habitat and themselves.

“When you have large concentrations in low proximity, there is an increased risk of things like chronic wasting disease,” Charles said. “Our state management objective numbers are based partially on habitat limitations and landowner tolerance. In some places elk are close to exceeding their range habitat and the alfalfa fields are sustaining them.

“Everybody likes to see elk, but when they’re at my (irrigation) pivot I’m not a happy camper.”

Public commodity

Dave Mannix understands that sentiment. His family has ranched in the Helmville area since the 1880s, and he’s happy to allow hunters onto his property to harvest the elk, which he refers to as “public property.”

“We own and manage elk habitat; that goes with the territory when you’re ranching in Montana,” Mannix said. “I recognize they’re a public benefit, much like navigable waters. The landowners don’t necessarily own them. I don’t have a problem with that; the problem is when it impacts us economically.”

Recently, he’s noticing that where he might have seen 75 elk in one of his fields 10 years ago, he’s now seeing 400. He’s cut back on the number of cattle he runs on his allotments and private land. He’s fenced his haystacks. A hunting season extension by FWP on his land as well as nearby public and private properties helped drop the elk population to 1,233 this spring.

But others in the neighborhood don’t allow hunters on their land, so the elk have learned to move where they won’t be shot during hunting season, then back into Mannix’s fields afterward. It’s not economically feasible for Mannix or other ranchers to build 8-foot-tall fences to keep elk out of all their alfalfa or other food products.

“The elk seem to know when the season starts before the FWP Commission even sets the dates,” Charles said wryly. “They’re moving sooner off of public lands onto private, where they’re safe, and remaining there longer. That dynamic harms the whole public management system.”

Shift in values

The differing stances by landowners and others in Montana reflect a regional shift in wildlife values, according to the Wildlife Values of the West survey, conducted by Colorado State University and the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

The study notes that traditional Western values toward wildlife are “utilitarian,” emphasizing the use and management of wildlife for human benefit. But with increased urbanization, affluence and education comes a trend toward a “mutualist” view of wildlife, in which people are less likely to support actions resulting in death or harm to wildlife, and are more likely to engage in viewing wildlife in human terms — like Bambi — and to engage in feeding wild animals.

The study also classifies some people as “pluralists,” which is a blend of utilitarianism and mutualism, and “distanced,” who are more likely than the other types of fearing for their safety while outdoors due to the possibility of negative encounters with wildlife.

According to the study, 47 percent of those polled in Montana view wildlife from a utilitarian perspective; 27 percent hold pluralist values; 19 percent are mutualists, and 7 percent are distanced.

“Different landowners have different values, and there isn’t a right or wrong in those values,” Mannix noted. “But the differences do create difficulties.”

Elk historically have been viewed by the majority of Montanans as a utilitarian type of wildlife, according to the study, but Charles said a strong percentage of new, large property owners moving into Montana seem to exhibit the “distanced” values.

Major influx

The influx of urbanites to Montana and other western communities is part of the 2009 State of the Rockies Report Card, which predicts populations in Montana will increase by 200 percent in the next 50 years. That growth mainly comes from metropolitan people moving into small western towns, and the report notes that the eight-state Rockies region is the fastest-growing area in the country.

That concerns Charles, as does the increase in people who buy large acreages but only live in the state a few weeks or months each year.

“There are lots of people who want to do good things for wildlife, but they don’t understand management and don’t know what affects the community because they’re not part of the community,” Charles said. “They fly in for two weeks to their trophy home, and want to see elk when they come in. That’s affecting the other landowners and the community of hunters who live here.

“What cripples our ability to manage free-ranging ungulates is not having all people committed to doing some part.”

Kolbe is quick to add that it’s not just the nonresident landowners who don’t allow hunting on their Montana properties. Some long-time ranchers angered by people who leave gates open, drive vehicles across fields or even shoot cattle have decided against allowing public access for hunting.

The Madison Valley near Ennis has a similar overabundance of elk, driven in part by large landowners refusing hunter access. After almost a decade of trying to bring all of the affected parties together, the community came up with a plan instituted last year that it hopes will provide a balance among land owners.

The first step was getting everyone to understand that actions one landowner takes affect the neighbors, noted Dan Vermillion, a FWP Commissioner from Livingston.

“Once the nontraditional landowners understood that, they wanted to be part of the solution rather than not participate,” Vermillion said. “They looked at this as treating the area as a landscape, rather than just ranch to ranch.”

Hunter coordinator

Last fall, the community hired a hunter coordinator, who acts as a liaison between landowners and hunters. In addition, the state extended the hunting season in the area into February, instead of the traditional closing date toward the end of November.

Hunters registered with the hunting coordinator, and landowners having trouble with elk in their hay fields would call the coordinator, who would dispatch up to 30 people to the landscape each day. A key part of the arrangement was that landowners could request specific times that hunting wasn’t allowed, such as when family members were going to be at a ranch.

“We are flexible, as long as the department feels the public was getting reasonable access,” Vermillion said.

He’s not sure if this solution would work throughout Montana, and notes that it’s only been in place in the Madison Valley for one year. Still, last year’s harvest under the pilot program worked well, and they plan to try it again this fall.

Charles points to another survey with a hint of optimism. That study, put together by the same researchers of the wildlife value report, shows that many ranchers in Montana do allow hunting on their lands, even if it’s only by friends and family. The key, he said, is teaching people how to approach landowners to ask for permission to hunt and to educate landowners about the positive aspects of allowing hunting.

That can be difficult, he notes, because many of the nonresident landowners are difficult to meet in traditional fashion, since they typically don’t show up at coffee shops or come to town-hall meetings.

“Most people say there’s no access left because it’s all leased up, but this survey says lots of people allow hunting — you just might have to work harder for it,” Charles said. “People need to develop a relationship with the landowner. ... We need to help landowners understand how hunting helps.

“It’s critical that we figure this out. If we don’t, we will potentially lose our hunting heritage and our ability to manage our wildlife resources.”

Toward that end, FWP put together a 12-minute video called “Owning Eden,” meant to reach out to nonresident or new Montana landowners and promote conservation, not preservation.

In the video, former Silicon Valley entrepreneur and current Sun Ranch owner Roger Lange notes how he grew up in California, where environmentalism generally meant people were anti-hunting and thought cattle were bad.

“I had an awakening when I came up here and that really surprised me because, boy, I was way off in terms of my book-learned education,” Lange said. “I understand padlocking gates, because people came from a place where they had to protect their property, but we are not there yet in this state. Hunters can be helpful with management, and moving wildlife away from where you don’t want them and toward where you do.”

Charles said FWP also is toying with the idea of creating a Web site to match hunters and landowners, “kind of like a dating service” and that a private organization — Siman LLC — already has a Web site (dowcowhunt.com) trying to link landowners with hunters seeking to harvest female elk, deer or antelope.

“One of our biggest challenges as an agency is to try to find ways to more effectively involve landowners as well as hunters in game management,” Charles said. “We’re trying to give them tools … but people don’t change overnight. Still, I think they’re adjusting.”

Spring and Some of the Valley's Landmarks

I went to the Hill a couple of days ago, to share the first beautiful day of spring with it in friendship. I took a few photos of some of the landmarks that mark the rim of the valley--

The Tower on the Hill, known also as the Guardian of the Gulch, and beyond, Mount Helena, which is the Totem of the City. It is in the southwest of the Valley. Behind it one will see the approaching Thunder.

The Scratchgravels, marking the northwest from the City, and the west side of the Valley. Behind it is the Continental Divide.

The Sleeping Giant (shown in an earlier post) is to the left and out of the view; looking north, at the North Hills and beyond them, leading right and eastward, the Big Belts. Many of the peaks of the Big Belts are named as well.

Acropolis Hill, to the south, marks the mouth of Last Chance Gulch, to the right.

Mount Ascension is the highest point of the South Hills.

Self-portrait, with Guardian of the Gulch and Mount Helena.

Greenway County #1

Part of the McKinley, Montana collaborative fiction project.

Sorenson Ranch, 1873

The Sorenson Ranch was established in 1872, in a unique partnership between the Sorenson Family and the Piegan Blackfeet people, its unique success based in large part on the happy marriage of miner and rancher Barton Sorenson and Mary Weasel Shirt Sorenson, the missionary-educated daughter of the Blackfeet Chief Weasel Shirt. It is the oldest ranch still operating in Greenway County.

Medicine Station Cabin, 1973

From the PREHISTORIC AND HISTORIC OVERVIEW: McKINLEY NATIONAL FOREST. By Lance M. Foster, for the McKinley National Forest, USDA, 2009.


1896-1904: Swanson Family Cabin

Medicine River Ranger Station (now usually known locally as the Medicine Station Cabin) was originally built by Joseph (Old Joe) Swanson about 1896 as a home for himself, his wife, Elizabeth and daughter, Edna. Swanson was born in 1874, a son of James Swanson who came into the McKinley area from Helena, as part of the Dog Gulch Rush of 1869 and settled here. Joe Swanson did a little placer mining in Little Medicine Creek and ran a few head of cattle, but the country was so remote and harsh that it was too hard on his family, and hungry Blackfeet Indians from the reservation nearby sometimes ran off with a cow or two. A young son named Robert was born there in 1896, but he died under a year old of a fever. A year later, another baby was born, another boy, Joseph Jr. He lived to the age of three, when he became ill as well and died in 1900. Both Swanson boys are buried close to the cabin, where their grieving mother would often visit them. In 1901, the Swansons moved to McKinley, where Elizabeth Swanson ran a boarding house. Elizabeth died in 1926, after giving birth to three more children, all of whom survived and lived in the McKinley area. Swanson never remarried. Old Joe served as a handy man and worked seasonal jobs including ranch work at the Sorenson Ranch, along with a little mining until his death in McKinley in 1957 at the age of 83.

1905-1954: Medicine River Station, McKinley National Forest

In 1905, the Medicine River Forest Reserve was formed and between this date and the forming of the McKinley National Forest in 1908, the Swanson Cabin was taken over by the U.S. Forest Service for administrative use and renamed the Medicine River Station. The cabin is the oldest administrative log structure on the McKinley National Forest and, in fact, predates the establishment of the Forest. Medicine River Station was used by the Forest Service on a regular basis until 1954.

1954-1992: Local Use, Greenway Livestock Association and local hunters and snowmobilers

Although still owned by the Forest Service, riders from the Greenway Livestock Association and local hunters and snowmobilers used the Medicine River Station over the years from 1955 up until 1992. A photograph from 1973 shows the cabin as it existed after decommissioning and during local use. An agreement between the U.S. Forest Service and the Greenway Livestock Association provided for its use and maintenance. During this time, the cabin became known as the Medicine Station Cabin by locals, although its legal name was still Medicine River Station.


The Medicine River Station Cabin is the oldest administrative log structure on the McKinley National Forest. Because of its historical value relating to the early history of the National Forest and its integrity, Eagle Cabin has been determined eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. From 1992-1996, the Forest Service, with the help of volunteers and donated materials, restored the cabin. Primitive building skills and materials were used to restore the cabin's original features.

There is a $25 a night usage fee with a two-night minimum stay on holiday weekends. The cabin will accommodate up to six people with three bunk beds. The last four miles up to the cabin is not open to motorized vehicles. The site consists of the cabin, a woodshed, toilet, barn, horse corrals, a fire ring, and is surrounded by a jackleg pole fence. An artesian well accessed by hand pump provides potable water, but there is no electricity. The cabin is heated with a wood stove. A propane camp stove is provided for cooking. Also available are dishes, silverware, cooking utensils, pots and pans, firewood, axe, shovel, outhouse and cleaning supplies.

Pierre-Auguste Grenois, 1812

Pierre-Auguste Grenois was a metis furtrapper who passed through the Greenway area in 1793, returning to establish Apekuni House to trade with the Blackfeet in 1795. The drawing is from 1812, by an itinerant peddler, artist, and preacher by the name of "Father Badger" Jones; Jones wandered through the region, often shouting to himself as "moved by the Holy Spirit," and was considered "touched" and was thus left alone by the Native tribes. In 1813, Grenois died of smallpox and Apekuni House was abandoned. For some years afterward, Grenois’ labrador retriever is seen wandering the area. Blackfeet travelers called the bluff and the ruins Maohk Omitaa, Blackfoot for “Yellow Dog.”

Edward Grenois, 1870

Edward Grenois claimed to be a grandson of Pierre-Auguste Grenois, having been born in the Red River country of Canada. He came to the area in 1869 during the series of gold strikes in the area, and staked a claim in Dog Gulch. Gregarious and well-liked, he was also a controversial figure, and was found murdered in 1870. The murder was never solved.


You too can be part of this experimental creative project, whether you are a writer, an artist, a podcaster, musician or whatever, and in whatever genre you would like to try. Just go to McKinley, Montana to learn more!

The Roots and Politics of Bioregionalism

bi·o·re·gion·al·ism (bī'ō-rē'jə-nə-lĭz'əm) n. The belief that social organization and environmental policies should be based on the bioregion rather than on a region determined by political or economic boundaries. bioregionalist (bi'o·re'gion·al·ist) n.

After a pretty extensive search for things relating to the concept of the bioregion (bioregional, bioregionalism), I found that that the bioregion is also sometimes called the ecoregion.

I like to compare definitions of the bioregion, and here is another I like:

Bioregionalism is a term used to describe an approach to political, cultural, and environmental issues based on naturally-defined regional areas, consistent with the concept of bioregions, or ecoregions. These areas are usually based on a combination of physical and environmental features, including watershed boundaries and soil and terrain characteristics. Bioregionalism stresses that the determination of a bioregion is also a cultural phenomenon — with phrases such as "the politics of place" and "terrain of consciousness" appearing in bioregionalist writings — and places emphasis on local populations, knowledge and solutions. ...The term appears to have originated in work by Peter Berg and Raymond Dasmann in the early 1970s. The bioregionalist perspective opposes a homogeneous economy and consumer culture because that culture ignores a dependency on the natural world. Those taking a bioregionalist perspective seek to:
    Ensure that the boundaries which demarcate political regions match those which demarcate ecological, or bio-regions.
    -Become familiar with the unique ecology of the bioregion.
    -Eat local food where possible.
    -Use local materials where possible.
    -Cultivate native plants of the region.
    -Live sustainably in a way that is specifically tailored to the bioregion.

...Bioregionalism intersects with green politics but is in no way subsumed by it. In addition to birthing the North American green party, bioregionalism can also take major credit for the birth of the current sustainable movement. It is curious to note that except in certain progressive regions, mainly the west coast, both the greens and sustainabilists operate largely unaware of this heritage.

However, Cascadia is not only a bioregion, but a secessionist/independence movement based on the bioregional concept as well:
Cascadia (commonly called the Republic of Cascadia as a full name) is a proposed name for the independent sovereign state that would be formed by the union of British Columbia, Oregon, and Washington. Other suggested boundary lines also include Idaho (all or parts), Northern California, parts of Alaska, and parts of the Yukon. This type of "federation" would require secession from both the United States and Canada. The boundaries of this proposed republic would incorporate those of the existing province and states. (http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Cascadia_(independence_movement))

So no wonder it felt to me like Cascadia had a political taste to it and why I keep bumping into political references...bioregionalism was/is tied into Green politics and political identity based on regionalism. The funny thing, is that while the argument is localist, and a resentment against the domination by the national metro centers of Washington, DC, New York, LA, etc. ...the new centers would also be metro centers, only this time, Seattle, Portland and Vancouver. Local people and tribal nations would be trading national "Romes" for local metro overlords (sigh). You can read more about Cascadia at the link above. It has old roots, in the 1800s quest for independence from the U.S. by Oregon; such movements were repeated in the 1930s and 1950s (http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Cascadia_(independence_movement)).

Except for perhaps Missoula and pockets of people here and there, Montana is not really involved with Green politics, although there is a sense of isolationism we drink with our mother's milk. Such feelings were summed up in a 1970s issue of National Geographic which asked "Should They Build a Fence Around Montana?" (National Geographic (May 1976), 614-57_. Some folks still feel that way, but it is probably too late since the latest influx of migrants because of such movies as "A River Runs Through It." Montana is still pretty much formed along the Democrat and Republican moiety lines, with some Independents and Libertarians here and there.

That same article I quote above mentions a number of bioregions with active bioregionalist movements in them. I list them below for your reference; I believe I will be returning to the topic of national bioregions sooner or later:

    Cascadia Bioregion- derives from the Cascade Range of generally the Pacific Northwest and, for some, the entire Columbia River watershed, with Seattle-Vancouver-Portland foci). It's probably the most active bioregion in the bioregionalism paradigm.
    "The Cascade Range is a major mountain range of western North America, extending from southern British Columbia through Washington and Oregon to Northern California. It includes both non-volcanic mountains, including the rugged spires of the North Cascades, and the notable volcanoes known as the High Cascades. The small part of the range in British Columbia is called the Canadian Cascades or Cascade Mountains; the latter term is also sometimes used by Washington residents to refer to the Washington section of the Cascades in addition to North Cascades, the more usual American term, as in North Cascades National Park." (http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Cascade_Range)
    Eastern Piedmont Bioregion- the piedmont areas of North Carolina, South Carolina and northern Georgia, characterized by the Piedmont Plateau: "Erosion of the piedmont plateau created iron-oxide rich clay soils. Three general landforms exist. Flat ridges, Hillsides and, Floodplains. Each landform has its own Ecology" (http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Piedmont_bioregion).
    Katuah or Southern Appalachian Bioregion- the mountain areas of North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, southwestern Virginia, and northern Georgia...named after a Cherokee (Tsalagi) name for the same region.
    Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina
    Excelsior Springs, Missouri
    Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan
    Lake Cobbosseecontee, Maine
    Guadalupe River, Hill Country, Texas
    Ohio River, Kentucky

I will be looking around for a more comprehensive list of the supposedly hundred or so bioregionalist movements in the U.S,


The US History Encyclopedia as quoted at Answers.com also has a nice treatment of bioregionalism:

Bioregionalism, as much a movement as a philosophy, is a North American response to the modern environmental crisis. The term comes from the Greek root bio (life) and the Latin regio (place). As a philosophy, bioregionalism refers to the fullness of all earthly life existing in mutuality and synergy. Regions are defined not by legislation, with dotted lines and borders, but by nature, with a commonality of climate, geology, hydrology, species, and earth forms. Islands and deserts are defined as bioregions. Usually, however, the term applies to a watershed, an area defined by a network of runoffs into a central river that forms a kind of organizing spine. It is along such spines that all natural species, including humans, have situated themselves. Bioregionalism posits that human societies must learn to honor these networks if they are to be ecologically sound. The philosophy also argues that nations, empires, and large political economies of any kind are antiecological, claiming that the bigger they are, the more threatening to nature they become. It is only at the natural scale of the bioregion that people can learn the complete systems and species of nature and thus know how to satisfy their basic needs and create social institutions that do not do violence to that ecosystem.

As a movement, bioregionalism began in the late 1970s in the San Francisco Bay Area and slowly spread through the West and into the Ozarks, Appalachia, and the Hudson River area. The first continent-wide gathering was held in the tall-grass prairie near Kansas City in 1984. Since then, congresses have been held at sites from the Squamish bioregion of British Columbia to the Gulf of Maine bioregion on the Atlantic. Over the years these meetings have established a bioregional "platform," with position papers on subjects ranging from agriculture and forestry to art, economics, and community. By 1994 there were more than one hundred active bioregional groups throughout North America, or what bioregionalists call (following Native American tradition) Turtle Island. Movements have also taken root in Europe and Australia. In the United States, bioregionalism groups do local ecological work, especially restoration and environmental education. Other groups concentrate on forming networks and "green pages," environmentally focused directories, within their regions, often with newsletters and magazines. Other bioregionalist groups work to link like-minded organizations into alliances on specific issues, such as water conservation, organic farming, and tree planting. Movements within the larger bioregionalism movement focus on practices such as permaculture (short for permanent agriculture) and asset-based community development, which are attempts to make communities more self-sufficient by mapping and utilizing local assets. Communities were mapping such local assets through the late 1990s. Other concerns include bioremediation, which aims to clean up polluted land, water, and air using organic means.(http://www.answers.com/topic/bioregionalism)

There's a lot of other stuff out there on bioregionalism.


Since what we are REALLY talking about here is more about bioregional animism rather than strict bioregionalism, we should differentiate the two as follows:

1. Bioregionalism is an anthropocentric movement; although it is based on bioregions/or ecoregions, it focuses on what humans see as the boundaries for a differently-defined political identity and the planning and resource base for their bioregion.

2. Bioregional Animism, at least as I see it, is based more on mutualism, nature-centric spirituality, and on seeing the human being as a member of the bioregional community, but not as the planner-directors as in Bioregionalism.

Perhaps this is a subtle difference to some, who seek to practice both, but it is a yawning chasm to others.

Search for Montana Blogs

Looking around for new Montana folks to connect to, who seem to be of similar subversive and ancient (same thing really) mind about nature and such here. Maybe not bioregional animists, but people who love Montana for what it is, and aren't just promoting it as real estate. I'll be reading these blogs and seeing what they have to say.

So far I have today:

Mary Scriver, fantastic writer with "true grit" up in Blackfeet Country, Valier, Pondera Co., and formerly married to famed western artist Bob Scriver: http://prairiemary.blogspot.com/
...aka Prairie Mary...her books are at http://www.lulu.com/PRAIRIEMARY

"Montana Outdoors" at http://montucky.wordpress.com/ - ..."He lives about an hour or so northwest of Missoula, near Plains." His wildflowers of Montana is at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/montucky/sets/72157614071423338/
Great post about a pictograph site..

A Missoula blog "A Drivel Runs Through It" at http://www.patiastephens.com/
I love the title! That movie ruined the Blackfoot and many other fishing spots.

Let's start there and see what happens. Anyone else, you guys?

My essential criteria:

-Subversive, not co-opted by groupthink, neither right or left...contrary even
-Montana-nature is essential to your religion (Hipshot Percussion is there)
-Bioregionalism and animism- open to the ideas therein..that you belong to your "place" first, and that nature is alive, not only animals and plants, but rocks, hills, mountains, wind, springs and rivers...