Saturday, August 25, 2012


Just the anticipation of spending a week in the always magnificent Montana Beartooths is enough to charge anybody’s batteries.  Our annual trip this last week to Big Sky went without too many incidents and afforded us the opportunity for yet another huge payoff – the chance refresh ourselves by relaxing in a pristine environment and then realizing once again that we aren’t alone.
This year offered some expected challenges including the extended heat and drought which like Texas in 2011 has affected the northern Plains and sparked what has been a brutal Western wildfire season – 62 active fires while we were in Montana.  We were elated at an early though timely Fall cold front that broke the heat and brought welcome relief via showers for a day ushering in nightly lows in the upper 30’s and lower 40‘s.     

You think, time to open all the windows and let all that cool air nod us off to sleep?  Well, not really as the reports of bears scavenging in the area during the late evening and early morning hours motivated us to just crack the bedroom windows and stop-look-listen before we exited our home.  Another local Red Lodge resident offered that a large sow and her cub ran not ten feet from her while she walked her dog on the Red Lodge Golf Course.  She noted that her dog remained uncommonly silent...  Some touristas had apparently failed to use the Red Lodge mandated bear-proof herbie curbies opting to dutifully put their garbage bags on the streets for pickup.  At least one bear that evening had a real smorgasbord…

Now, we can deal with the bears and truly understand that this is their land.  After all, we are the visitors… We just have to be respectful, careful and understand that premise – forever and a day. We noted the reports of another Grizzly recently sighted just south of Red Lodge while earlier in the summer Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks officials reported that a young grizzly was euthanized after killing some sheep and cattle near Red Lodge.

While our barely cracked but still open windows offered some protection against the local fauna they allowed smoke and the smell of burning Idaho timber to curl its way into the home though luckily that really only lasted one evening.  It did remind us of our place in this environment and our charge to be responsible stewards of the land.  Fire officials estimate that dozens of the fires for this and for several years were started by “target shooting” and the use of steel jacketed bullets that throw off sparks when they hit rocks.  Utah State Fire Marshal Brent Halladay has commented  re. steel bullets that, "you might as well just go up there and strike a match." That’s good enough for us…

So, we played, ate, visited with good Friends and even planted some more bushes around the house including one magnificent purple barberry and several of the yellow-blooming Potentilla “jackmanii” – finishing off the great work and generosity of visiting Friends. Then we topped off our work with a visit to Absarokee, Montana and the Dew Drop Inn where we feasted on some great burgers and their now famous Huckleberry shakes. And if you haven’t had Huckleberry ice cream from Scoops in Red Lodge, then add that to your bucket list…
While the Huckleberry isn’t the Montana state fruit (Idaho claims that honor) it seems to thrive in the high elevations of Big Sky Country, the Pacific Northwest and Canada.  With apologies, the Huckleberry looks a little like a blueberry though with a distinctive sweet taste and a slight tartness that only magnifies its uniqueness.  Folks have tried to grow the fruit commercially with little success.  This cottage industry finds Huckleberry enthusiasts competing with Black Bears and Grizzlies for this little gem in mostly in our national forests and parks. Yes, the bears win every time.

I have seen Huckleberry ice cream, shakes, sundaes, etc. along with preserves/jam, syrup, salad dressing, soda even lip gloss, soap and shampoo with flecks of real berries. We even noted that the Great Northern Brewing Company, a craft brewery in Whitefish, Montana which features Wild Huckleberry Wheat, a lager beer flavored with Huckleberry juice. They say it’s great and try as I might to buy some; it was sold out wherever I went.  So, the possibilities are endless…

It seems that some Canadians trying to cash in on the Huckleberry mania in the lower 48 have been secreting Canadian blueberries labeled as Huckleberries across the border to unsuspecting Yankee tourists.  Indignant Montana lawmakers passed a law in 2007 making it a misdemeanor to label a product “Huckleberry” if it contains any other fruit. It would certainly appear that along with Flathead Cherries, the Huckleberry is an integral part of Montana's identity.

After a few days of pondering some of the more pressing problems of our Montana Domain and enjoying that environment including some more Huckleberry ice cream, we prepared for the trip back to Dallas via Billings/Salt Lake City.  Thanks to my Weather Channel app we noted the severe thunderstorms in and around our scheduled flight into DFW.  Gads and memories of that terrible Delta L1011 crash in August 1985 while trying to land in a storm that generated huge wind shears.  Well, an already long layover in Salt Lake turned into a six plus hour mandated delay which included some tarmac time. We had no problem with Caution, Caution and more Caution.
Salt Lake was shrouded with clouds of what looked like heavy fog but turned out to be more of that smoke from western wild fires. It literally blanketed the area once again punctuating the dire situation out west.

While delayed, our flights were just fine noting that many other flights into DFW had been cancelled.  One Delta agent thanked me for keeping them apprised of the weather in Dallas – seems that the weather screen on their monitor was out at their gate?  The Delta Captain asked to see my handheld and then thanked me – ah – Al Roker for a few hours…  Guess they could have been patronizing me, but it did not appear so.

We were lucky though we landed very late evening at DFW along with many of the other delayed flights.  It was a madhouse as we hit the baggage claim areas all at the same time causing lots of confusion and huge transportation backups to all the parking areas.  You would think they would have anticipated the predictable weather delays and managed the situation better – they didn’t.   

We finally got back to far north Dallas and all the hullabaloo about the continuing and accelerating West Nile Virus which by our return had prompted a state of emergency and the start of the first aerial spraying in over fifty years in Dallas.  Yea, our neighborhood got it twice and we appreciated that effort.  Kudos to the State of Texas, Governor Perry, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings,  Director of Dallas County Health and Human Services Zach Thompson (Hurrah!) and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins who declared a state of emergency and facilitated this very appropriate response.  Having said that, it’s not over yet and we need to remain ever vigilant.

Good to be home… but, if I could just find some Huckleberry ice cream…


Ned Buxton

PS.  No bug or spider bites that we can find this year though the wife of a good Friend was recently bitten by a brown recluse spider in their home here in Texas.  Please be careful… NB

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