• Reflections on Montana

    Sent by Shirley Underwood, CDR, USN (Ret.), Ft. Belvoir, Virginia

    Ever since my childhood in Havre, Montana, I have always viewed the outline of my state map as the personification of an old man with a craggy side and a soft side, reflected in the topography of the state, i.e., the Rockies in the west and the prairies in the east. To share this interpretation with other Montanans, I have written a poem.

    I was born in Helena, raised in Havre, and graduated from the University of Missoula in 1957. I am a former English teacher and after having spent 20 years in the U.S. Navy, I retired as a Commander in 1978. I now reside in Ft. Belvoir, Va., where I continue to write. My article, “Reconciling, A mother-and-child reunion”, was published in the Montana Magazine in the May-June issue of 1988.

    The photograph with the poem was made by Rachel J. Sarbaugh, while vacationing in Montana. The image was taken at sunrise at Lake McDonald in West Glacier National Park.

  • Big Sky Spotlight: Meet Koni Dole

    Big Sky Spotlight: Meet Koni Dole

    Photo by PAUL RUHTER

    It was the final game of the 2012 prep football season when Huntley Project High School’s Koni Dole suffered a compound fracture to his lower right leg.

    Putting a bone break that pierces muscle and skin back in place is a delicate procedure, and one with which orthopedic surgeons are frequently confronted.

    Never a routine procedure nor predictable of outcome, Dole’s leg developed “compartment syndrome,” which left him with a choice most people – let alone a teenager with aspirations of a collegiate football career – would find daunting: a useless foot for the rest of his life or amputation.

    Dole reasoned that his “best chance of coming back” was to accept the loss of his lower right leg and move forward.
    Two months after amputation, he was on the wrestling mat for the Red Devils.

    When the 2013 football season opened, Dole was on the field. Fitted with a blade-runner, Dole started the game as a fullback on offense and a lineman on defense. He scored two touchdowns in a 45-0 victory over Joliet. In August, he will join the Montana State University Bobcats football team as a preferred walk-on.

    With a pair of very intense brown eyes, Dole is the walking definition of focused. In a private interview after a strenuous workout accompanied by his best friend, Tanner Miller, Dole described his thought processes leading up to his decision that the way forward was to cut back his damaged leg.

    “I was stuck in bed for a week,” he said. “Everything was OK. One day my parents (Nancy and Fualelei Andy Dole) came into the room. They were upset. There was a look on their faces.

    “Everything that controls the foot was gone. I had a non-functioning foot. It was depressing. I had worked my (butt) off. I had goals. But the choice lit a fire in me. Actions speak louder than words, so I had to accept it. It was my best chance of coming back.”

    Coincidently, one of Dole’s heroes is the South African Olympian, Oscar Pistorius, who ran in the 400-meter semi-finals in the 2012 London Games. Nicknamed the “Blade Runner” because of the two prosthetic devices he wore, Pistorius’s athletic efforts were an inspiration to Dole.

    He, too, would run again on the football field.

    The day after the amputation, the team came in to visit.

    “I told them I was OK,” Dole said. “There were tears. It was very emotional.”

    “The first three months were depressing,” he said.

    To say nothing of the pain.

    Yet there were uplifting moments and he moved quickly to be fitted with a prosthesis. Jay Murray at Treasure State Orthotics and Pro was there to help.

    “He was the perfect guy for me,” Dole said.

    Dole and Murray wanted to get on with the construction and fitting of a prosthesis, Dole said, but “the doctors said we should wait. I wanted to do it now, the doctors were trying to hold me back. They were going by the book. I did some research and felt I had a chance. It was the only way forward. I knew it was not going to be easy.”

    The pervasive attitude of the young man is governed by the command: “I can do it.”

    Two months out of surgery, Dole was wrestling for his high school team minus the artificial limb as competition rules prohibit them.

    “I wanted people to know how hard I worked,” he said.

    Lifting weights for hours was an almost daily routine.

    High school sports in rural Montana are the social identity of many of its residents. This is especially true of Class B and C divisions.

    Dole was quick to respond to a question about which three words describe Montana. With no hesitation, he rattled-off, “close-knit communities.”

    That was demonstrated specifically as a local fundraising effort on his behalf provided the $30,000 needed for the high-tech athletic prosthesis.

    Dole graduates in May from Huntley Project High School. August will find him at MSU in Bozeman with the Bobcat football team as a preferred walk-on, which means he is part of the team, but with no scholarship money.

    He sees himself as possibly playing at linebacker. The six-foot, 208-pound athlete bench presses 315 pounds and runs the 40-yard dash at 4.8 seconds.

    “That was before surgery. I’m just as fast now.”

    Where do you go to relax, escape?
    The weight room or football field to run.

    Three words that describe Montana.
    Close-knit communities.

  • Farmers Markets Montana Magazine

    Portfolio: Montana’s farmers markets off the good stuff

    Photography of LYNN DONALDSON

    A unique slice of Montana life begins awaken each spring after the seeds have sprouted and the trees’ buds have flowered and began to fruit.

    Goods of all kinds are gathered, cleaned, sorted and readied in crates and barrels.

    Tables and tents pop up along Main Streets, which become a special place to show off and sell local bounty and novel creations that have been grown and made in Montana.

    The concept of growing, making and selling homemade products in a farmers market setting has never more alive and well.

    In fact, the farmers markets page on the Montana Department of Agriculture’s website says that farmers markets play a valuable role in promoting healthy local economies.

    To view the entire Montana’s Farmers Markets photo portfolio, find this issue on newsstands now. To read more about Montana all year, subscribe now.

  • Bad Luck Way Montana Magazine

    Montana Book Reviews: Premium Page Turners



    A jungle fighter pilot’s refreshingly real and personal look at the Vietnam War, a debut mystery novel featuring a fiery heroine and a thought-provoking ranch life memoir from the Madison Valley. Montana Magazine contributor Doug Mitchell reviews a handful of books based in or about Montana. Below, read an author Q&A with Badluck Way author Bryce Andrews.


    Jungle Fighter Pilots

    By Bernie Hale

    PC Publishing, Kernersville, North Carolina, 2012

    In his book Jungle Fighter Pilots, Missoula Sentinel High School (1963) and University of Montana (1967) graduate Bernie Hale shares an amazingly readable story about his personal experiences as a U.S. Air Force pilot during the Vietnam War. I opened the pages of this book expecting a challenging, somewhat dark memoir about one of America’s most difficult conflicts. What I found instead was a remarkably refreshing, straightforward book that reads more like a travelogue than a war story. That said, this is one unusual travelogue.

    While Hale humbly describes his service as a compilation of day-to-day activities, it is impossible for the reader not to shake his or her head at the incredible courage and heroism displayed by Hale and his colleagues. If you are like me, when you think “Air Force pilot” you picture a sleek jet with high tech instruments flown by guys nicknamed “Iceman” and “Maverick.” The reality for Hale was a bit different. Hale and his fellow “jungle fighter pilots” flew single engine Cessnas with a top speed of somewhere around 90 miles per hour. With this, Hale and his fellow “Tums” led fighter missions day after day in enemy territory during the heat of the conflict.

    I found the book to be charming and compelling. It’s not going to win any literary prizes, but I don’t think that was the author’s goal. His personal story of the Vietnam War he fought is told without political commentary or personal angst. It is a clear-eyed reflection on a unique time in military history and I’m glad I came across it.



    By Gwen Florio

    The Permanent Press, Sag Harbor, New York, 2013

    This book had me at “hello.” The combination of a strong female heroine, its Montana setting, and the hold-on-to-your-seat pacing is, for me, a recipe for a long and enjoyable weekend of reading. I had the chance to run into the author, Gwen Florio, from time to time during her time as a reporter for the Missoulian and am not at all surprised by the quality of her writing in this book, which is her first novel.

    Set in the north central part of the state, Montanais a novel that transports the reader into a Montana that can only be depicted by someone as familiar with the state as Florio. Add to this the author’s ability to use descriptive language to paint a literary picture and Florio has given us a real treasure.

    An example of the quality of the writing is shown with this line about the heroine, Lola Wicks, experiencing her first Montana wildfire up close: “Lola’s lungs burned. She couldn’t see the fire anymore, but she heard it, the stiff swish of taffeta rubbing against itself. Smoke drifted in shreds, obscuring and then revealing the trail.” Great stuff.

    In Montana we meet hard edged journalist Wicks who has reluctantly come to Montana to visit a fellow journalist, Mary Alice Carr. When Lola finds her friend dead of a gunshot wound, the game is on. But that’s all you will get from me. The rest is beyond my limited abilities to describe.  Suffice it to say, this book is well worth adding to your summer reading list.

    I have read a lot of mystery fiction and I think Florio has the chops to be a member of that elite group of authors. Her writing is strong, her characters rich and her ability to describe a sense of place is extraordinary.


    Badluck Way

    By Bryce Andrews

    Atria Books, New York, New York, 2013

    One can hardly pick up a Montana newspaper without reading about the current policy debates about wolves, wildlife, ranching, land development, conservation and out-of-state land owners. The opinions on these issues are varied, valid and voiced with confidence and conviction.

    In Badluck Way author and ranch hand Bryce Andrews moves the debate from policy to practice as he shares with us his year working on the Sun Ranch in the magnificent Madison Valley. In doing so, Andrews challenges us to see these debates differently because, as is often the case, the reality of a real-life decision is very different than an intellectual one.

    But to describe Andrews’ book as a useful and interesting academics-meets-real-life story is to significantly diminish the accomplishments of this first book from a very gifted writer.

    Badluck Way is a beautifully written book that had me marking page after page filled with quotes to which I wanted to be sure to return. I’ve been blessed to spend some time in the wild lands of Montana in general and in the Madison Valley in particular, and I found Andrews’ descriptions to be evocative of the Montana I know. For example, when he writes about waiting out a storm: “We let the fire die when the storm broke, and rode together toward the higher pastures and the barn. Every tree was dripping and the creeks had swollen. It occurred to me that I had achieved a rare thing: I was living at the center of my heart’s geography. And I knew it.”

    Andrews also uses an interesting format throughout the book where he inserts a few italicized mini-chapters as seen through the eyes of the wolves that make their home on and near the ranch. In a sense, the wolves are as much or more a part of this story as Andrews himself. Again, the language he uses is beautiful as he envisions the wolves courting ritual this way: “They orbited each other, sniffing at tracks and keeping a safe distance. They courted across half a dozen drainages and bounced howls off the bottom of the moon.”

    But Badluck Way is more than just a beautifully written book about the American West. The conflict the author has between his personal viewpoint and the realities of ranch life, particularly as they involve the iconic wolf, provides a raw tension that makes this very good book a truly great one.


    Like any good work of nonfiction, Badluck Way raised more questions than it answered so I tracked down the author and asked him some of those questions.


    MM:  First, congratulations on a very successful first book. When did you realize your year on the Sun Ranch was a book in the making?

    Bryce Andrews: I took notes while working on the Sun. Though I was immersed in the chaotic hustle of summer ranch work, and had little time or energy for creative pursuits, I was aware that I was living a rare story. From the beginning, I felt that it was important to record the story and landscape as best I could.

    Still, most notes don’t see the light of day as a book, no matter what sort of story they record. Badluck Way really began to take shape while I was working on a graduate degree in the University of Montana’s Environmental Studies program. In that program, with the guidance of good teachers like Phil Condon, I started to believe that my notes and essays could come together as a narrative.

    MM:  Badluck Way is beautifully written and you have a clear interest in and skillful hand with words, can you trace from where your interest in the written word originated?

    BA:  I love good stories, and the way that language caroms through the mind. A passion for words, meaning, and the connection that can arise between a speaker and his audience has been with me for a very long time. Early on, stories offered me a chance to be closer to people I cared about. Regardless of whether I was talking or listening, it felt good to share an experience with somebody. Although I was raised around visual art – my dad ran an art museum, and my mom is a photographer – I always felt like storytelling was the most intimate form of communication.

    I also struggle to remember things, even important ones, unless I put them in print. The fear of losing my most important stories is what drives me to write them down.

    MM:  When people unfamiliar with your book ask you what it is about, what do you say?

    BA:  Sometimes I just say that the book is about wolves and cattle, but that’s certainly not the whole of it. At its heart, Badluck Way is about making a living on the ragged edge of man’s range. It is about the work of ranching, and how that work forces a person to participate in—rather than simply observe – the mortal drama of the natural world.

    Badluck Way is about the beauty and brutality of truly wild places, and the fact that precious few such places remain. I hope the book makes people think about how we’re treating the land that sustain us all, and how we ought to occupy the big, arid, and increasingly crowded landscape of the contemporary West.

    MM:  The book is full of personal discovery and the many conundrums facing the increasing friction if you will between wildlife and man. If you had a magic wand, what would you do to create a more harmonious co-existence?

    BA:  Thanks for promoting me to the role of benevolent, omnipotent despot. If the goal is to live well and harmoniously with the natural world – which I think it should be – I’d start by waving my magic wand in the following two directions:

    First, I’d strip away certain accumulated layers of myth and prejudice, and challenge people to see wild creatures for what they truly are. Wolves, for instance, live bloody lives. They are smart, social creatures, but they kill for a living. Where our world brushes against theirs, we should always expect some trouble, some loss, and some violence. We can work to minimize this friction, of course, but we should accept and embrace the difficult parts of coexisting with the wild.

    Second, I’d compel every inhabitant of our region to think deeply about his or her relationship to wild, open space, and the importance of sharing that space – a word used here in the physical, emotional, and social senses – with wild animals. We talk a lot about open space and wilderness in the West. We legislate for or against it, bicker over it, but seldom stop to think about how deeply it defines us. I do not think I’m alone in drawing sanity, strength, and hope from wild things and wild places. Sanity, strength, and hope are the largesse of an intact landscape. I think it’s important to remember that when we lose a cow, or a sheep, or sleep because the pack is harrying the herd.

    MM:  In the first half or so of the book you write short pieces in italics from the wolf’s perspective, but they abruptly end when the shooting happens. Was that intentional?

    BA:  I suppose so. I had to go on living without the wolf after that day, and thought it was important for the reader to have a similar experience.

    MM:  At one point in the book you say that “Often I was tempted to construe ranching as nothing more than a protracted act of violence.” With a few years in the rear view mirror since your experience on the Sun Ranch, how has your opinion evolved as you continue conservation ranching on the Dry Cottonwood Creek Ranch?

    BA:  Ranching is the running sum between increase and destruction, and my years at Dry Cottonwood taught me how easily the different parts of that equation can slip in and out of focus. If I’m sure of anything, though, it’s the fact that nothing ruins the land for wildlife and livestock as quickly or finally as irresponsible development. Though I’m still relatively young, I’ve witnessed the fragmentation of many of my favorite places.

    Ranchers make mistakes. Livestock, especially if poorly managed, can wreak havoc on native species and the natural world. However, so long as the land stays open and undeveloped, we have great cause for hope in the West.

    In ranching, I see a rare and valuable way of making a living from the land without wholly destroying the order of natural world. Doing this in perpetuity is our great collective challenge, and our best hope for sustainable inhabitation of the American West.

    MM:  You share with us as readers that you spent the long winter hours on the ranch reading. What kind of books might we find in your personal bookshelf?

    BA:  My bookshelves are crammed, bowed, and poorly organized. On them, you’ll find texts like the following: Aldo Leopold, Sand County Almanac; Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines; Paul Shephard, Coming Home to the Pleistocene; Loren Eiseley, The Unexpected Universe; David Quammen, Monster of God; Hugh Brody, Maps and Dreams; Debra Magpie Earling, Perma Red; Charles Bowden, Blue Desert; and M.Wylie Blanchet, The Curve of Time.

    MM:  Last, I can’t help but ask about Number 512. You seem to have a particular connection with this heifer, what was it?

    BA:  I don’t know that I ever felt a close connection with 512, at least not the sort of bond I’ve developed with good horses or the occasional exceptional bull. But I did respect the sheer orneriness of that heifer. Down deep, I liked the fact that her desires were non-negotiable. I admired 512 for her intractability and because she stood out as an individual. She shattered my perception of the herd as a homogenous unit, and stood as living, charging, bawling proof that a cow was more than a walking stack of steaks.

  • Dig and Preserve Montana Magazine

    Dig and Preserve: Project aims to restore buried Indian reservation



    Just because you can’t see it anymore, doesn’t necessarily mean that significant information isn’t still there.

    Nowhere is that better illustrated than at the site of the second Crow Agency in Stillwater County. Known by various names, including Absaroka Agency, the spot was occupied from 1875 to 1884 but completely disappeared from Montana’s landscape by the second decade of the 20th century.

    The agency played an important role in the Centennial Campaign of 1876 when Colonel John Gibbon hired 23 Crow scouts there that summer to assist the U.S. Army in the war against the Lakota and Northern Cheyenne Indians.

    To the Crow people, the agency represents something far different – the difficult and painful transition the tribe made from the self-sufficient days when they followed the bison herds to a more sedentary life on the reservation and dependence on the federal government for food and other necessities.


    To read the rest of feature on the Second Crow Agency, find this issue on newsstands now. To read more about Montana all year, subscribe now.

  • Giant Springs State Park Montana Magazine

    Giant Springs State Park: Snowmelt to springs



    The water defines the phrase “clear as glass.”

    Giant Springs bubbles up into a pool so transparent that it mesmerizes all who see it. Underwater foliage catches shafts of sunlight, flashing brilliant green. Ducks paddle the surface, their webbed feet visible as if through glass. As the spring burbles over the pool’s lip into the muddy Missouri River, the two waters remain distinct as they flow east.

    Giant Springs is the largest springs in the state. It warms the air in the frost of winter and cools it in the sizzle of summer. The mesmerizing water of the springs is the headlining feature in the 675-acre Giant Springs State Park, which manages property on both sides of the Missouri River in Great Falls.

    “The beauty of the springs with the river backdrop and the mountains is just gorgeous,” said Jason Pignanelli, manager of Giant Springs State Park. “In winter, the springs create a mist that coats the trees to make ice sculptures. In summer, the green of the pool and trees is striking.”


    To read the rest of feature on Giant Springs State Park, find this issue on newsstands now. To read more about Montana all year, subscribe now.

  • Montana State Parks Montana Magazome

    Montana’s state parks: 75 years, 54 parks and growing



    The Montana State Parks system came into existence 75 years ago on Feb. 23, 1939, when the Montana Legislature passed a law creating the Montana State Parks Commission to conserve “the scenic, historic, archaeological, scientific and recreational resources of the state.”

    However, during the first couple of decades of its existence, the commission did little to advance state parks in Montana.

    “State Parks in Montana started 75 years ago but it had languished to say the least,” said Ron Holliday, who served as Montana State Parks director from 1976-83. “It was a branch of the Highway Department, and it was truly a stepchild.”

    Montana State Parks saw a major expansion when the parks department moved and became part of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, now Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

    The Lewis and Clark Caverns can be given credit for sparking the passage of the initial legislation to create a state parks commission. The bill was passed after the federal government asked Montana to take over management of the Lewis and Clark Caverns, which President Theodore Roosevelt declared a national monument in 1906.


    Want to know more about the parks featured in Kristen and Erin’s story? Explore the interactive map below and click to find out more about these parks: First People’s Buffalo State Park, Lewis and Clark Caverns, Bannack State Park, Madison Buffalo Jump State Park, Makoshika State Park, Milltown State Park, Smith River State Park, Medicine Rocks State Park, Painted Rocks State Park and Rosebud Battlefield State Park.


    To read the rest of feature on Montana State Parks, find this issue on newsstands now. To read more about Montana all year, subscribe now.

  • From Farms to Forks Montana Magazine

    Farm to Fork: Chefs support Montana producers, create delicious offers


    Photos by LYNN DONALDSON


    Like the rest of the country, the farm-to-table concept seems to have taken hold in Montana, and more than ever, restaurants across the state are supporting local producers. Here, several passionate chefs explain why the locavore movement is so important for the Treasure State.


    Montana Ale Works, Bozeman: Roth Jordan, chef/co-owner

    Eight years ago, when Roth Jordan started chefing at the high-volume Bozeman hotspot Montana Ale Works, local food was only trickling in.

    “It started with farmers and ranchers coming to the back door,” Jordan said.

    He appreciated their high quality products and would buy as much as he could, but it wasn’t enough to depend on.

    So he created a win-win situation: Montana Ale Works loaned a local organic producer $10,000 to buy a root vegetable harvester. The restaurant was paid back in carrots.

    “We called it ‘Cash for Carrots,’ ” Jordan said. “It reduced the farm’s manual labor, enabling them to plant an additional seven acres, and we got a steady stream of produce.”

    A year later, Montana Ale Works invested in that farm’s greenhouse to get more greens in return.


    University of Montana Dining, Missoula: Director Mark LoParco and Chef Patrick Brown

    In 2003, a group of University of Montana students created a local food event as a class project. It was so popular that it prompted UM Dining Director Mark LoParco to look into the use of local foods throughout the university. Today, under his guidance and implemented by Executive Chef Patrick Brown, UM has one of the most successful Farm to College programs in the country – a model that other institutional settings are encouraged to use.

    “Local for us is the whole state of Montana because of the volume of food we require,” LoParco explains, noting that along with a student population of 15,000, they also feed faculty, staff and visitors.  “Out of the $3 million we spend on food, $800,000 is spent in Montana.”


    To read the rest of the Farm to Fork chef profiles, find this issue on newsstands now. To read more about Montana all year, subscribe now.

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