Summer’s Last Gasps!

A handsome ruffed grouse, first grouse of the season.

It just doesn’t seem fair. We were barely into the second week of October and we had our second major winter storm of the season. 

I won’t complain too much, however, as we haven’t gotten a four-foot snowfall, such as what slammed Browning in the September storm, though single digit low temps in early October does seem kind of unreasonable.

It’s not that snow in October is particularly unusual, or any other month, for that matter. In the 31 years we’ve lived in Butte, Montana, July is the only month in which we haven’t had a significant snowfall. It comes with the territory, when we consider that we live in a mountain valley, well above a mile above sea level.

Fortunately, we had lots of warnings from weather forecasters for both of those storms and we had time to prepare for dealing with the inconveniences of snow and cold.

At times, my wife and I both felt a bit like the 7th grader who suddenly realizes that school starts on Monday and there’s just one weekend left in the summer vacation. 

The first item on my agenda was to get in another hunt for ruffed grouse before the mountainsides got slammed with a foot or two of new snow.

It wasn’t one of those crisp, sunny days for my walk in the aspens. In fact, it was one of those chilly, gray days, with light snow falling. There were still patches of snow from the September storm, and the mountaintops were still white from that storm.

A highlight of the walk was spotting a couple moose ghosting through the trees along the top of a high ridge. 

A funny thing happened on our walk, however. This time I came home with a ruffed grouse, for a change. This was a handsome full-grown grouse with an intact set of tail feathers. Ruffed grouse are about the finest-eating upland birds on the planet, so we’re looking forward to a future dinner. This was the only grouse we put up on our walk, but it made the trip worthwhile.

The next few days were much nicer and I took advantage of them. I harvested the last of the garden, pulling carrots and potatoes. Then I dug up the garden, harvesting a bumper crop of aspen roots. I had already harvested tomatoes and chile peppers before the first snow event.

All that work meant I needed some rewards, so the next day started with a couple hours of tennis at the wonderful new tennis courts at Stodden Park. It was chilly when we started but by noon it was warm enough for most of us to shed a couple layers.

Early fall colors on the Big Hole River.

An hour later I was off to the Big Hole River for one last bit of fly-fishing. I’ll confess that I didn’t catch anything or even have any hint that any fish were there to disturb my enjoyment of the afternoon. My Lab, Kiri, enjoyed swimming in the icy water and then found a perch on a rock where she could watch the river flow by. 

The last “dog on a rock” photo for 2019.

We spent the next day getting ready for another snowstorm. With the prediction of seriously cold weather, my wife and I decided we needed to harvest our apple tree. Our apples really could have used some more warm weather to sweeten up some more, but the predicted cold would ruin the fruit. We had a bumper crop of apples this year and it was fun to harvest the bounty and be able to share some with neighbors.

Both of us recalled, with a smile, a former next-door neighbor who leaned against the fence ridiculing us, years ago, as we worked at planting our tree. “Haw, haw, haw,” he chortled, “I just love to see people move to Butte and then plant fruit trees.”

Maybe Butte, Montana isn’t the best place in the world to plant an orchard, but we still enjoyed apple pies and apple crisp as we watched Arctic winds whip up our October snow.

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