Yellowstone

We just finished the three seasons of Yellowstone, a drama about the grossly dysfunctional Dutton clan. The Duttons fight with each other and everybody else who is trying to take away or break apart their beautiful and enormous ranch, Yellowstone, located close to the national park of the same name. Kevin Costner plays John Dutton, the tough, gravel-voiced head of the family who is both hated and revered and who always seems to have a plan to hold the ranch together.

This is a show that seemed to take a while to find its legs, but eventually it sank its teeth into us at some point in season two. The Dutton family back story is filled with death and horror, and all of the members — father John, kids Cayce, Beth, and Jamie, and head hand Rip Wheeler and his cowboy crew — have a terrible dark side. They look good riding horses, wearing cowboy hats, and standing in front of some of the most stunning countryside you’re likely to find in America, but they’re also ready to ruin you or kill you at the drop of a Stetson. If watching people get shot or hung bothers you, this is not the show for you.

In fact, after a few episodes you’ll wonder just how many dead bodies are buried in those magnificent meadows and mountainsides, and whether every person in Montana is a soulless killer. And nobody seems all that troubled by casual murders, either, including normal law enforcement and the livestock police that the Dutton clan controls. Add in the fact that some members of the family hate each other with a withering contempt, a neighboring Native American community would love to take the Yellowstone ranch and return it to the way it was before the Duttons took it 150 years ago, and greedy developers and fellow ranchers who don’t mind pushing the legal envelope themselves want desperately to turn that gorgeous countryside into Casino McMansionland, and you’ve got a pretty combustible mix.

Kevin Costner is good as the formidable head of the family — you might call him Don Vito Dutton — who shows his tender side in his interaction with his grandson Tate but won’t hesitate to do what is necessary to preserve the family legacy. Other characters also show their tender sides from time to time, but don’t let that fool you — the next death is only moments away. Our favorite characters are the ever-wide-eyed Tate, played by Brecken Merrill, who is the only true innocent in the whole show, and Beth, played by Kelly Reilly, the outrageous, insult-ready, tough-as-nails daughter who will stop at nothing to protect her Dad, but who is wrestling with her own set of demons.

We’re looking forward to season four and more exposure to that beautiful Montana scenery. Yellowstone makes us want to get back to Big Sky Country in person, but if we go we’ll be bringing along our own bulletproof vests–and we’re not going to be stopping on any dusty roads, either.

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.

The Trip To Goat Haunt

IMG_20160703_125610

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.

IMG_20160703_134510

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.

IMG_20160703_124504

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.

IMG_20160703_131222

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.

IMG_1474-1

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.

Vacation Time: The Western Swing (Part V)

We left Cody, Wyoming in the morning for a short and leisurely drive to Red Lodge, Montana — one of our shortest drives of the entire trip.  It was a beautiful summer day, with a bright blue sky and high white clouds.  As we drove we encountered, yet again, the spectacular western vistas that had become an expected part of our drives.

Red Lodge is a former mining town that I had never heard of before I started doing the planning for the trip.  I was interested in going there because Red Lodge is home to the Pollard Hotel, an historic hotel built in 1893 that was recently refurbished.  When we got to Red Lodge, it was as if the whole town had been encased in amber in, say, 1920.  The Pollard exuded history and turn-of-the-century class.

After we checked in we drove out of town to find a place to explore the countryside, which has a dramatically different look and feel than the dusty landscapes of Wyoming and South Dakota.  Red Lodge is nestled in the piney high country, and we found a perfect spot with a rushing stream, a walking path that wound through cool pine forested countryside, and interesting rock formations.  It felt good to get out of the car and do some hiking, and even though it was a beautiful spot with national park-quality scenery there was no one else there.  The moment made me feel, for a short time anyway, like a settler moving through virgin countryside in the 1880s.

After our hike we returned to Red Lodge, had a fine dinner at the Pollard Hotel, and explored the town.  Kish and the boys found a fine candy store and loaded up on all kinds of unusual “penny candy,” which helped fortify them for the next day’s drive.  And it was a long drive — our longest of the trip, I think — that took us from Red Lodge, through Montana and the whole of North Dakota, ending in Fargo.  Kish and the boys, gorged on penny candy, dozed as we drove through the beautiful, open North Dakota countryside.  When we got to Fargo we didn’t seen any pregnant police officers or legs sticking out of wood chippers, but we did find a bar that served very welcome cold beer.

Vacation Time:  The Western Swing (Part IV)

Vacation Time:  The Western Swing (Part III)

Vacation Time:  The Western Swing (Part II)

Vacation Time:  The Western Swing (Part I)