Frenchtown Elk

This is a nice herd of elk who appeared in the fields about three miles from my house. Maybe forty or so in all; one big bull who was chasing around a few spikes, plus a bunch of cows and a few young ‘uns. I could have watched them all day. In all my years  around here, I’ve never seen them in this particular location.

Look close on a couple of these shots and you’ll see hawks perched on the fence posts, or flying around. What a beautiful day it was too.

Creekside Drama

The other evening a couple miles up on my (near) nightly ramble in the Rattlesnake I reached a spot creekside. It was a gorgeous fall evening, and I decided I wanted to grab a picture — it’s one of my favorite spots that, while definitely popular, doesn’t get near the traffic other sites do — before climbing a steep hill and returning to the trailhead. As I approached the bank, I thought to step out onto some flat rocks so that I could be farther out into the water for a better photographic vantage point. I took a step, heard a splashing at my feet, and lo and behold —

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This snake had a fish firmly by the tail. Up out of the water, the fish’s gills were still flexing steadily, but not quickly. My immediate reaction was to want to rescue the fish, which is strange. Yeah, I have learned a deep affinity for fish as I’ve become a more avid fisherman (how’s that for a contradiction?)(I’m certain other fishermen, and hunters for that matter, can relate), but why should its life be more important than that of the snake? So I left them alone, and sat back to watch the struggle unfold. I was transfixed, and found it oddly emotional.

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At one point a couple other hikers approached, with dogs, and I stood from my perch on a rock to try and keep the dogs away. The two hikers — young women — eyed me with looks of mild concern before ascending the hill I had intended to climb. I didn’t want the dogs to mess up what the snake was trying to accomplish.

The snake worked the fish around and positioned its jaw at the fish’s tail, clearly with the intention to swallow the entire thing. How it hoped to accomplish that I don’t know, but I trust it knew what it was doing. I could have remained until darkness watching, fascinated, but I had to return to Missoula and pick Julia up after work. I was pleased to witness it, though. Something I’d never seen before, and possibly never will again.

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The next night I returned to the spot, curious to see if there were any signs of what had happened. No dead fish, no bloated and belching snake, nothing. No one ever would have known what had happened there. Who knows what DID happen there. Maybe the snake pulled off its feast, maybe a dog — or bear, for that matter — came along and swallowed them both. I’ll never know.

I took the opportunity to take the pictures that I hadn’t the night before, though.

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I explored a couple little side trails on the way back that I hadn’t hiked before. Looking upstream I could see clearly that someone had built a cairn out in the flow, but there weren’t any obvious paths to access it. After some bushwhacking and finally some wading out into the current, I got a closer look.

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There were a couple cairns, which were cool enough, but what amazed me is that someone had taken the time and no small amount of effort to make little redirections of the stream so that it flowed over rocks, creating little pools and waterfalls along the way. It was like some guerrilla zen garden of some kind, and I loved it. Again, I could have stayed for hours. The pictures I took don’t do it justice.

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It made me happy. It proved that how we humans choose to disrupt nature doesn’t always have to be shitty, that sometimes we can actually make beauty. It was good to be reminded of that.

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Saturday Afternoon Fishing Magic

13FFFposterJulia and I woke up in the Livingston Rodeway Inn a little late Saturday morning, not unexpected considering the excellent (and gluttonous) evening we’d spent previous having dinner at Gil’s Goods. We rallied, gathered up our stuff, and headed to the Dan Bailey Fly Shop to get the lowdown on where we should fish, not expecting much since it was already nearly 11:00 AM by the time we got there. We purchased a few flies then discovered that it wouldn’t have mattered what time we got out on the water, as a thunderstorm had hit Yellowstone Park the night before (just as it had one year ago when we had pitched a tent in the park) and sent a bunch of silt downriver, clouding up the action. We got some suggestions as to where else to go — the best option being an hour or so east to the Boulder River — then took off.

Not wanting to backtrack east (having just come from there the evening before), we thought we might try something around Bozeman, then changed our minds again and headed southwest for Ennis, MT, and a date with the Madison River. Not exactly on our way, it was at least closer to home than the Boulder would have been, plus we’d passed through town last year and vowed to return to fish there sooner than later.

We hit town around noon, maybe a little after, and discovered we had arrived in the middle of the “Ennis on the Madison Fly Fishing Festival.” The streets were crowded with cars and people. We didn’t linger; we found a place to park and grabbed a quick burger for lunch, then it was back in the car and off to the first access site we could find. We were finally on the river by 1:30 PM or so.

The Madison flows quickly here, and while rocky the surface isn’t particularly slippery. We picked our spots and waded in, slowly working out into the middle of the river. A raft and then a drift boat passed us. I couldn’t see how Julia was doing, but at that point the river wasn’t giving me any reason to think there were any fish in it . . . then WHAM! I had one on the line. It wasn’t much of a fighter and turned out to be a small Brown. In short order I hooked two more fish, but after a couple runs and leaps out of the water, they managed to extricate themselves from my hook (I keep the barbs pinched off). For smaller fish, I actually prefer when that happens, to be honest. The thrill for me is in attracting them to my fly, landing them is secondary. I love to hold the fish in my hands, but for a smaller one I’d rather it not get hooked so deeply that I need to free it; it’s more difficult, and, honestly, I feel terrible when I catch them. As much as I love it, I find fly fishing to be a moral struggle when it comes to a philosophy of “harm none.” Perhaps more on that another time. . . .

About this point I looked upriver about 50 yards just in time to see a big, fat, cow moose lumber down over the bank and into the river. Julia was near enough to me that I was able to holler at her and point; she saw the moose too. It shared our spot for maybe 30 minutes. I was careful to keep a consistent distance, and she was clearly aware of our presence, but didn’t seem concerned. It was beautiful to see. I kept fishing, but was more interested in watching the moose. It hung out a while, then turned and hauled itself back up onto the bank and away into the brush. Julia described her as being about the size of a small draft horse, and I don’t disagree. She was a healthy one, no doubt.

All in all we fished for about three hours before calling it a day, then drove home. It was a beautiful late summer afternoon. Seeing the moose was spectacular, one of those things that I love about getting out and fishing. Being on the water is just another way to get down into the very workings of the outdoors, and I notice and pay attention to so many more things than I did before: bird patterns, bugs, wind, current, eddies on the water and those spaces where fast water borders calm. These are benefits I never would have imagined when I was first out there, wrestling with my equipment, wondering how such an activity could possibly rival the fun of going hiking, or any other outdoor pursuit that didn’t involve squirrely lines and threading needles. Putting oneself into a place allows that place to grow accustomed to you, then life becomes apparent that one may miss when just rushing through. It feels less an invasion or something.

I couldn’t have asked for a better outing.

Could YOU rise early from such luxury?
Could YOU rise early from such luxury?