Thursday, January 26, 2012

Ouzel Falls

Everyone loves waterfalls-the hypnotic rush of flowing water, the brilliance of cascading water in the sun, etc.  Well I would say they just as beautiful, if not more so, in the winter.  Last week I hiked to a local waterfall spot called Ouzel Falls.  The water was still flowing, but was encased in a sheath of ice.  Check it out.

The ravine you walk through to get to the falls (well and up and over and down and around).  The rock itself is fascinating.

 Not the real thing, just a mini-waterfall on the way.  Still cool.

Looking down on the falls.

It is hard to tell since they are still photos, but you can see the water still flowing behind the outer shell of ice.  God doesn't freeze rivers for a reason they say (alluding to the fact that you can fly fish year round).

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Montana Winter vs. Michigan Winter

In the fall after I decided to accept the position at Lone Mountain and spend a winter out here, I was feeling a little intimidated by Montana winters.  People mentioned it got down to -40° and the wind was vicious.  Plus, it lasts from November until the end of April, with snowfall certainly possible in September and May or even June.  I was not sure I liked winter that much.

Well it turns out Michigan winters are way worse than Montana winters!  Let me explain.  Sure, it is colder out here on average-most days the temperature hits single digits at least at night-but it is a dry cold so you do not feel it as much.  It turns out -40° is very rare.  Lone Mountain Ranch is located in a small valley within the valley of Big Sky, and so is sheltered from the wind.  Most of the time when I walk to work it is cold-really cold-but very still and peaceful.

On the flip side, Michigan winters seem to be all about the howling wind-it does not help that Benton Harbor is on Lake Michigan-and wet snow blowing in your face.  Or freezing rain.  Humid cold gets through to your bones, while the cold out here is a little more gentle.  So far, I have not had to break out my Mad Bomber hat because it has not been that windy.  The five minute walk to work has never been the struggle into the howling mouth of Mother Nature that my walk to class in Holland was at times last year.  I can remember so many times when it would be snowing sideways and feeling like -10° for that half mile walk.

One point for Montana for having more gentle winters.  One point for Lake Michigan for being beautiful during the winter, even if it is harsh.

And another thing about the humidity-shoveling a foot of "cold smoke" as they call the dry powder that falls out here, is like shoveling feathers.  One foot of Michigan snow is like shoveling bricks.  I will always remember the first time I tore into some new snowfall around my car, exerting enough calculated force to toss a load of bricks, but getting feathers instead.  My shovel flew up and almost hit me in the face.

One point for Montana Cold Smoke, which I should also mention is a fantastic scotch ale brewed out here.  Beats the pants off Moose Drool in my opinion.

I also need to say something else about the cold: people out here do not mind it.  If you live here, you have accepted it.  In Michigan half of my friends and it seemed the general populace really did not enjoy winter.  To them, it was what stood between them and another summer of fun.  Sure, people here remark about the cold, but it is just that, a remark-"Wow, -5°, extra cold today."  Chit chat, small talk.  No one complains or whines, which is nice.  Out here, some people even like the winter better than the summer.

Michiganders do have it tougher than the people out here though: the sun actually shines here in the winter!  I would say it is has been sunny here three out of four days on average, whereas people in Michigan joke that the sun does not shine again until spring.  Sadly accurate.

One point for Montanans, for not complaining about but actually welcoming, begging for more snow.  One point for Michiganders for waiting 4 months for the sun to come out.  Sunshine really does make people happier.

Hurray for sunshine & blue sky, mountains, and beautiful, endless trails!

Who can blame them?  Once winter starts out here, it is here to stay, which means all of the great winter activities like downhill skiing, nordic skiing, skate skiing, and snowshoeing can be enjoyed from the end of November through at least the end of March.  Out here, you are surrounded by the endless playground that is the mountains.  Needless to say, the ski hills-well mountains-out here are a little more fun than the ones back in Michigan.

One point since mountains are greater than hills and two points for all of the sports you can do for a couple of months without the constant question of "Sure, I would love to do that this weekend, but will there be enough snow?"

In summary, Montana winters 6, Michigan winters 2.  Clear cut winner.

Now if you'll excuse me, I am off to ski a mountain.  Adios.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Made in Montana

Before I came to Montana, I was completely ignorant of the agricultural abundance of the state.  For me, Montana brought to mind ranches, wheat, and nothing else.  It is a state of contrasts between mountains and wide open spaces, and has a vicious northern climate.  Pretty hard to farm anything, right?


Over the past eight months or so, I have time and again been proven wrong and amazed at the diversity of produce this state has to offer.  A short growing season limits production of some crops, and especially fruits-it can frost late August or early September-but hardy wheat thrives here.  In the grocery stores you can buy all matter of locally produced grains.  Bread baked in Bozeman uses grains from Bozeman.  My morning oatmeal is Montana grown.  Gotta love it.

'Big sky' country, as it is called, is also well-suited for raising beef, lamb, and bison with all of the open grazing land.  At the Bozeman Coop, an oasis of Montana and local products, there are many products from bison, beef, pork, lamb, and chicken.  There are also locally produced eggs, butter, milk, and cheese.  Pretty much any product you would want.

Last week I bought some local farm fresh eggs laid by free range, antibiotic-free chickens.  They came in a regular container, but were all manner of sizes and colors, from white to tan with brown speckles to a deep brown.  I cooked some up alongside some generic store eggs that were also "fresh eggs" and "extra large" according to the packaging.  Here is the result.

The ones on the left are generic, while the ones on the right are the free range local eggs.  Beautiful.  They were richer, lighter, and fluffier than the generics.  That is what eggs should look like.  I am fairly certain the generic eggs were from a factory farm where the chickens hardly ever saw the light of day or got to forage for food in green pasture.  You know, the natural things chickens want to do.  Nutritional studies also show that healthier chickens-free range ones that are not fed antibiotics-are better for you.  Here is a good article on pastured chickens vs. factory farm.  Win win win win.

Here's to buying local-for the local economy, for the welfare of animals, and for a superior product with eggcellent taste.  Yum.

Monday, January 2, 2012

2012 Update

OK, I am back from my hiatus and plan on posting a little more often.  The past two weeks have been 70+ hours in the restaurant with the busy holiday season, leaving little in the way of free time.  New Years Eve was the icing on the cake: 6am till midnight.

Instead of a hangover on New Years, I woke up at 5am to go in and start inventory.  Our accountants wanted us to count all of our alcohol after we closed at 2am and before we opened for the new year at 7am.  Needless to say that did not happen.  We started inventory at 6am and entered it into the computer by the afternoon.  Blah.

Anyway, now it is a new year, and I hope to work less, get outside more, finish some projects-brewing beer & cider, my snowshoes, and getting back to reading.

Here are some pictures to give you an idea of the my surroundings and where I spend those 70-some hours.  The first couple are from skiing with the fam.

You can't beat views like this.  Here are a couple from downhill skiing at Big Sky.  Check out how far away the lodge is, the tiny square speck at the bottom.

 Here's the dining room.  Needless to say the chandeliers are absolutely baller.  Keeping to the western theme we have no fewer than 4 animals on the walls in the lodge: a moose (Fran├žois), a famous steer from the Bozeman Stampede (Bessie), a bighorn sheep (Carl), and a bison from Ted Turner's ranch (Phil).

Here is our saloon, complete with a copper-top bar.

Here is the view enjoy on a daily basis from our dining room.  Beats any corner office, eh?  The sunrise over the mountains is killer.