Montana Wolf

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Hunting Camp

I'm still in Montana. Friends are starting betting pools, guessing my day of departure and southern migration. Daylight savings time is a (grateful) thing of the past, as dazzling Jupiter hangs in the sky next to the Hunter's Full Moon. Recent spectacle includes two pileated woodpeckers swooping from pine to pine, a sighting of the beaver that has constructed an impressive dam 100-yards upstream from the house, and a moonlight-drenched elk herd at dusk...cows and calves at peace in nearby mountain meadow.

This place continues to enthrall. The human interface with the wild is like none I have witnessed. Woodtick reminds me, as he smiles and stretches his utilitarian elastic suspenders with his fingers, that I'm in the midst of a ultra hunting culture. People hunt huckleberries for food and shed horns for art and cash; they hunt character wood for furniture and big game for sustenance. They hunt mushrooms, herbs and trap small game for pelts. There's a bumper sticker around here that says it all: "I Farm the Forest." It's a serious bunch.

 "This place is hard on horses and women," is a common refrain. Many men have been abandoned by their mates and live in trailers or shacks with no running water or amenities. Couples that stay together make due with one of them working in a city, sometimes several states away. The women I've met are a striking, spirited group. I ran into feisty Donna yesterday. She'd been laid off from a newspaper management job in Missouri, collected unemployment for awhile but found her bored-self in the job service office after a few weeks, hunting for a new life. They had a list of jobs by pay scale. Her professional job was in the lower 25% and she said by the time she figured in overtime, she'd been lucky to make minimum wage. She looked at the top of the money list: heavy equipment operator. "Wish I could do that," she laughed.  "Why couldn't you?" countered the job counselor. "Oh no, I couldn't do that." "Why not?" came the coy reply. Donna applied a government unemployment grant to the one year school and found her tiny, 50-something frame in southern Montana on a road project twelve months later. She said she made more in her first week than in six weeks at her prior job. She also said she got seasick her first few weeks from driving the water truck that never stopped rocking back and forth. She explained that she didn't get breaks and had to eat on the fly; she lost twenty pounds the first few weeks. But she loves it. She gets winters off, on unemployment. She joins hiking and gem clubs in new towns. Said she's going to try a gold panning group. She returns home to visit the hubby on the occasional weekend but said it didn't happen often: "Why work all week and come home to housework?"

There's another woman I want to talk to soon. She offers refuge to the primo hunter of this area, wolves. A subject of volatile proportions in this neck of the woods, she keeps a low profile.

A hefty breeze fills the air with magical sheets of half-inch, soft golden needles from giant larch trees. The sky is filled with glints of gold; my walk silent, through the forest on a soft, yellow carpet. Today I hunted down a pair of red sequin suspenders on-line. My campy response to this place on edge.


  1. Christina! You too can become a heavy machinery operator. You'd only have to work 6 weeks a year and be set.
    You are immersed in a wilderness unimaginable to most of humanity these days. Blessed be that you've landed there.

  2. Carole, I think I already am! Heavy equipment operator of the spiritual kind. (smile) And yes, blessed be, blessed me.