It Could Have Been Worse

According to the weather app on my phone, it’s 56 degrees outside right now, and the temperature today is supposed to hit 70 degrees.  56 degrees, in itself, is like a tropical heat wave, but . . . 70 degrees!  Sure, it’s supposed to rain during the day, but still . . . 70 degrees!  After the long, dark, dank, cold winter we’ve endured in the Midwest, outdoor temperatures that will actually feel warm seem so wildly improbable they can scarcely be imagined.

I’ve written before about the lousy winter weather, and those of us in the Midwest have been feeling pretty sorry for ourselves about it.  And, in fairness, it has been an exceptionally crappy, frigid, snowy winter, so there has been cause for the muttering.  But I do want to note that, as bad as it has been, it could have been worse.  Much worse.

d2e991b7-2bbf-4062-a886-47c3386c060d-02172019_giant_springs_weather_art-bConsider Great Falls, Montana.

Our friends in Big Sky country have been through one of the coldest, most brutal continuous stretches of weather in recorded American history.  As a slack-jawed article in the Washington Post recently recounted, in many parts of Montana temperatures for the entire month of February averaged — averaged — 27 to 28 degrees below normal .  That’s hard to even conceive, and it is the most extreme, extended variance from normal temperatures seen in the lower 48 states in 50 years.  And March began with temperatures going even lower.

Great Falls, Montana, was in the heart of the bone-chilling zone.  The Post article notes that, in that city:  “The mercury didn’t rise above zero on 11 days and dropped to zero or below on 24 nights. Only the first day of the month topped freezing. Its average February temperature finished 27.5 degrees below normal.”

“The punishing and unrelenting cold continued into March. On March 3, the low temperature tanked to a bone-chilling minus-32 in Great Falls. Combined with a high of minus-8, the day finished a whopping 50 degrees below normal. The city concluded its longest stretch on record below freezing on March 7.”

So sure, our weather sucked this winter — but the frozen souls in Great Falls had it much, much worse.  Imagine a March day where temperatures were 50 degrees below normal, or a nearly two-week stretch where the temperature didn’t rise above zero, even once.

It will make hitting 70 today all the sweeter.

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The Trip To Goat Haunt

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On Sunday we took a boat trip to Goat Haunt, Montana.  The ship left from the dock at the village of Watertown, Alberta, and followed Upper Watertown Lake due south.

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On the voyage, we cruised past some magnificent scenery, crossed the U.S.-Canadian border — helpfully marked by a pair of obelisks and a cut line in the dense pine forests — and were amused by the antics of some Asian millennials who took more selfies than photos of the breathtaking surroundings.  If the kids ever take a look at their hundreds of selfies — which I doubt — Kish and I will be prominently featured.

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Our guide explained that the cruise’s stopping point on the American side is called Goat Haunt not because spectral goats are found there, but because “haunt” originally was synonymous with “hang out,” and lots of mountain goats are found on the surrounding peaks.  The U.S. park ranger facility at Goat Haunt has ten permanent residents, but great views.

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Free-Range Cattle


On the access road from U.S Route 89 to the Chief Mountain border crossing, the cattle aren’t fenced in.  They’re called range cattle, and you see them all along the roadside, munching on the plants in the ditches.  Well, this is the land of the free, after all.  

This mini-herd was getting ready to follow its steely-eyed leader to the other side of the road.

Crossing The Border


Yesterday we crossed the world’s longest unguarded border — that is, the one between the U.S and Canada — at the Chief Mountain border station in western Montana, next Glacier National Park.  It may be the smallest border crossing, too — there’s only one guard hut, staffed by a very friendly Canadian.  But on the Alberta side it does have a nice little peace park sign, complete with the American and Canadian flags.

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Buck Back Gack

We had our annual Buck Back draft the other day, and I think I gagged big time.

Long-time readers may recall that I play in an alternative approach to NCAA pools called the Buck Back.  Rather than trying to forecast the results of every game, eight of us put in eight bucks each, select eight teams in a serpentine draft, and then get $1 — i.e., a buck back — every time one of our teams wins. The Buck Back during March Madness is now a time-honored tradition.

This year the draft was the hardest ever, because it’s impossible to have great confidence that any team is going to do well in the tournament.  Every school has struggled at some point during the season, and every team has weaknesses.

I drafted fourth, and I look at my teams and wonder whether I’ll win even a few games, much less break even.  My first pick was Indiana, which stumbled to the finish line, and my second pick was Michigan, which also struggled in the last half of the season.  Both have talented players, but which teams will show up — the early season world-beaters, or the battered squads that limped home?  My third-round pick was Memphis, which plays in one of the weakest conferences in the country, and my fourth selection was Wichita State, which has to start the Tournament against a tough Pitt team.  My later round picks — San Diego State, Cincinnati, Montana, and Iona — all are question marks.

So I sit, waiting for the Big Dance to start in earnest tomorrow, and I wonder whether my entire Buck Back draft was a choke.  I’ll bet I’m not the only one who feels that way — and I can’t wait for the Tournament to start.

An American Scene

So much of our vast country remains wilderness.  You can be only a few minutes outside a town, pull off the road, take a few steps down a trail, and suddenly find yourself in near-virgin wilderness.

This is especially true in the west.  The photo above was taken just a minute or two outside Red Lodge, Montana, where we came upon this vista of bracingly cold rushing water, dark, cool shade under the green trees, and deep quiet on a hot summer day.

An American Scene

An American Scene

An American Scene

An American Scene

An American Scene

An American Scene

An American Scene

An American Scene

An American Scene

This photo was taken as we walked down the street in Red Lodge, Montana during our trip west some years ago, but it could have been taken just about anywhere in America’s heartland on a day in the high summer.  It has the common elements of a brilliant blue sky, green grass, a barn, and a grain elevator reflecting the sky like a finely polished mirror.

Americans like to take road trips during the summer, and part of the attraction is the chance to stumble upon beautiful everyday scenes like this, which can be found just about anywhere in this land of ours.