Thursday, August 31, 2017

North Unit, Theodore Roosevelt National Park

The sun is round. I ring with life, and the mountains ring, and when I can hear it, there is a ringing that we share. I understand all this, not in my mind, but in my heart, knowing how meaningless it is to try to capture what cannot be expressed, knowing that mere words will remain when I read it all again, another day. 
Peter Matthiessen

Dawn, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Unit
October 2012 photos by Lillian Crook

Dawn, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Unit, October 2013, 
by Lillian Crook

Everyone I see these days asks me if I saw the solar eclipse and we eagerly share our experience with one another.  Last night I looked at the moon over my backyard with different eyes than ever before.  What glorious orbs in this universe!

On the top of the list of "glorious": the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt Park is one of the most glorious places in North Dakota, if not the most.  I've stood on the rim of the canyon there, at River Bend Overlook, with my father, and he has said, with some authority, that it is as beautiful there as the Grand Canyon.

I've camped there fifty times or more.  I've hiked all of the trails and bushwacked plenty of my own trails. The solitude is one of the elements that make it special, even more so than the more frequently visited South Unit.  It is off the beaten path, off the interstate.

Juniper Campground is very peaceful, and the scenic drive is chock-a-block full of stupendous views, wildlife, prairie vegetation, and stellar examples of the geological forces that shape the Bad Lands.

The conservation group I founded, Badlands Conservation Alliance, keeps a close watch on this place, along with the Dakota Prairie Grasslands as a whole.  The North Unit is an important refuge for North Dakotans, and all visitors.

So it is with consternation that I absorb the news that yet another oil & gas lease sale is proposed that will impact the boundary of this relatively small place. You can read more about that proposal here.

I'm also furious about the NDDOT proposal to build a new bridge, replacing the Long X bridge on Highway 85, right up against the North Unit.  The sound of only the birds and the cottonwood leaves stirring will be invaded by the maddening hum of a bridge.  NDDOT could do it differently, and many excellent suggestions have been made to them, by BCA, and others, to preserve this treasure.  The evidence to date is that they are ignoring this input.  Watch for notices about public meetings to come this fall and attend these meetings, to let them know that you also are concerned and to tell them that they must do better. Call or write NDDOT and request that they schedule one of the upcoming hearings in Bismarck.

Another action item you can choose is to become a member of BCA.  This is easily done on the website.  Another tiny, ridiculously easy thing you can do is to share this blog posting widely, with the knowledge that each voice speaking for TRNP makes a difference.

Full moon setting, Dawn, Autumn Cottonwood, TRNP North Unit
by Lillian Crook

Cause, folks, when it is gone, it is gone.  Poof.  How will we explain to future generations that we just let it go without a word of protest?

Dawn, North Unit Campsite, October 2012, by Lillian Crook

Fog on the Little Missouri River, TRNP North Unit
 October 2012, by Lillian Crook

Full moon, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Unit
by Lillian Crook

Achenbach Trail, TRNP North Unit
by Lillian Crook

Jim Fuglie on the Achenbach Trail, TRNP North Unit
by Lillian Crook

Thirty-foot pour-off causing a detour on a bushwacking hike
Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit Wilderness area
October 2012 by Lillian Crook

Mountain lion print?, TRNP North Unit by Lillian Crook

Jim Fuglie, bushwacking in the North Unit Wilderness area
October 2012 by Lillian Crook

Finally, back to the Little Missouri River TRNP North Unit
October 2012 by Lillian Crook

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

"Steamboats in Dakota Territory" : a book review

Steamboats in Dakota Territory: Transforming the Northern Plains. Tracy Potter. The History Press, 2017, 140 pages.

I can think of no one more qualified to enlighten readers on the history of steamboats in Dakota land than Tracy Potter, of Bismarck, the author of the book Sheheke: Mandan Indian Diplomat.  Potter is deeply read in history and his work leading the Fort Abraham Lincoln Foundation steeped him in the background for this volume.
He sets the scene in his introduction and the initial chapters, describing the world of the Native Peoples as well as early explorers and trappers, who used the Missouri River for their travels.   Then, the steamboats began to arrive: “Steamboats’ speed and power transformed a region and forever affected relations between the United State and the several Indian nations of Dakota….Steamboats provided a distinct and overt technological advantage to the American. They carried large loads—of trade goods, men, guns and cannon. They were impressive, useful and an object of considerable skepticism among the Indians.”

Prior to reading this book, I knew only the most rudimentary facts about this colorful chapter of history and its impact on the development of the area.   Potter’s extensive research and the book’s bibliography are appreciated.
Potter tells the tales of Kenneth McKenzie and Grant Marsh, and of steamboats Yellow Stone, Spread Eagle, and the famous Far West, the steamboat forever linked to the Battle of the Little Bighorn. He also highlights the steamboats of the Red River and Devils Lake and describes the deeply sad story of the steamboats role in the spread of smallpox.  

The photographs that illustrate this volume help the reader imagine a time period when the banks of the Missouri at Bismarck and Pierre were bustling with steamboats, their crew and passengers, and the economic activity they drove.  “For the non-Indians involved with steamboats, they provided relatively rapid and generally safe transportation, commerce and communication. Steamboats stimulated the growth of cities, and as settlements increased in number and size, the boats stitched the region together….For the twenty-first-century reader, most of all what steamboats provided were stories.”

The book is available at the Fort Lincoln Commissary, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.

Pick up this book, sit back, and enjoy the stories. 

This book review was published in The Bismarck Tribune, August 30, 2017

Other photographs are from Steamboat Park, Bismarck, ND

Monday, August 28, 2017

Rain at Red Oak House

Over an inch of rain in the gauge when we returned from Colorado and some showers this week reminded us that it still can rain in this country, and for this we give thanks.

I spent Saturday afternoon sitting on the patio, nursing my knee injury and reading a book that I'm reviewing, but I eventually retreated to the house, to listen to Prairie Home Companion and catch up on some work on my laptop.

Jim dug half of the Pontiac Red potatoes and he cooked two for supper, along with broccoli, accompanied by grilled steaks from our brother-in-law.  The broccoli has been abundant, from a few small plants we bought last spring from Cottontail Greenhouse south of Mandan.

The freezer is almost full and just needs an infusion of walleye from the fall Missouri River bite and some pheasants and goose.  Then, it is Bring on the Dakota winter!   My sister gifted us with some of her beautiful garlic, to supplement our pitiful harvest.

I'm not sure why, but I've put the autumn decor out early this year.  Perhaps it is a sign of weariness of this hot and dry summer and readiness for the glorious cool and blue days of September in North Dakota. Perhaps my cue is the arrival of the chrysanthemums.  Listening to Jim and Jeff talk about the fall bite on the river puts me in the mood, for certain.  None of us particularly like hot weather.

Jim is coaxing hundreds of green tomatoes to ripen, in the face of soon-to-come frost.  He applied fertilizer to hasten the process as per the advice of my Aunt Frances and he is severely pruning the plants too. Hopefully, this week's return to high 80s will do its magic.

A couple of late daylilies have peeked out, the last of this season.  Soon enough it will be time to cut back all of the foliage to prepare for winter.  But for now, we enjoy the fruits of our labor and I hope you do as well.
Droopy Drawers Daylily

Strawberry Cream Cupcake

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Red Oak House Garden notes no. 28

Home now, to return to garden harvest, after a week in which we neglected it for some folks festival fun.  I noticed that this is my first of garden notes for August, a sign that my flowers peaked earlier this season.  There are just a few daylily blossoms here and there and I await the emergence of the chrysanthemums. Meanwhile, the bittersweet berries are beginning to turn orange.

This limelight hydrangea also bridges the gap and the sedum is showing autumn color.

Jim harvested the Yukon Gold potato crop and the carrots (he dug these early because a renegade rabbit had gotten into the fenced area whilst we were traveling).  He keeps saying this is his best garden ever and we are grateful for chicken wire.

I think I heard Jim tell someone we have harvested more than 400 tomatoes at this point.

Here is our pitiful harvest of purple-hulled peas. We used year-old seed and should know better. Better luck next year, we hope.

I'm healing from a nasty fall that seriously injured my knee, whilst in Colorado so the garden work will have to be light for me for now.  Jim promises he'll do some of the digging.  I don't do "laid up" well.

The red-breasted nuthatches are darting about in the blue spruce trees calling their quiet and rasping autumn song.  The cool days and open windows are a blessing.

On our table last night, for a gathering of friends: walleye, rosemary garlic roasted potatoes, creamed cucumbers, tomatoes, beans, Prosecco, and yellow tomato lime sorbet.  Cheers!

Friday, August 25, 2017

Bison Dreams

I had such a riveting dream last night.  I was at the Theodore Roosevelt Symposium, with Jim.  A baby bison wandered into the crowd, and I picked it up in my arms, trying to figure out how to rescue it.  Knowing that it would not survive without a mother on which to nurse, I was perplexed.  I tried to find my friend Valerie Naylor to help me.  Then, my alarm clock went off.

Baby bison photograph I took in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, 2011

Bison are my power animals.

Another dream, one night, alone in a motel room, about twelve years ago.  It was very vivid.  A bison was breaking in the door to my room.  I mulled over this dream for a very long time and saw it as a message for some difficult decisions with which I was grappling.

"Some things aren't visible until you're truly ready to see them." Rza

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Up Above My Head, I Hear Music in the Air

Gentle reader, you might recall that we just attended the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival in Lyons, Colorado with some of our best chums.  It was a fabulous sojourn, filled with the anticipation of the total solar eclipse.

By and large, these festivals, particularly the ones hosted by Planet Bluegrass, are filled with blissful vibes and fascinating diversity--oh, and fabulous music.  Just the people-watching alone can keep one distracted from the cares of the world.  This was time spent with five of the best friends for which a woman could hope.

As we drove, we listened to the music that was on the festival billing.

Upon arrival, our party enjoyed a brief tour of the charming town of Lyons, in the foothills of the Rockies, followed by pizza and beer and lots of laughs.

It is very difficult to adequately capture the natural and human-made beauty of Lyons, filled with buildings built out of the local red stone, accompanied by peaceful public spaces and interesting sculptures, but here are a few snapshots.

Our favorite was the adorable bear family that greeted us to the festival grounds.  Wristbands on, we were all set for day one of three days of great music!

But, first, three of us drove back up from our lodgings in Longmont in order to stand in the line for numbers for the tarp run.  I scored what seemed to me to be a high number, 123, and it turned out to be the best number we got in the subsequent nights.

The next morning, Jeff and Ken secured a great location for us, and we settled in for some tunes.  Each morning, I savored the fresh cold-brewed turmeric coffee with cashew milk, and afternoons were for ginger-brewed ice tea.

The Colorado sun grew hot, and we wandered around the grounds to buy beverages, food, and merchandise.  Everyone filtered down to the river now and then for some shade and cold, freshing mountain water.  The festival also includes lots of activities for children, interesting art, and, huge bonus, REAL BATHROOMS!  The festival grounds are on the location of an old farm, the remnant silo bearing silent witness to this history.

Festival fashion is very western US outdoor wear, with tons of interesting T-shirts and a wide array of hats to shield festivarians from the bright Colorado sun.  I noted that there is very little of the outlandish costuming that we see at the Winnipeg Folk Festival and somewhat less diversity in the crowd.  However, the musical acts were diverse.  Planet Bluegrass has its act together.

These flags bear the names of each of the 14K+ Colorado mountain peaks.  Longmont Peak is the closest.

While we lounged on our tarps, two ravens flew by over the canyon walls of the St. Vrain River.

It was mesmerizing to watch this guy quietly build these stone cairns in the river, and then to watch the tubers dodge it as they careened by.  There were many frolicking folks of all ages.

Debi Rogers took this snapshots of two pals with their Bloody Marys

Mary Gauthier was a late-entry performer in the Wildflower Pavilion, there for the weeklong song school. She was very passionate and with her we all sang "This Land is Your Land".

We took turns decorating our personal tarp and slice of heaven for these three days.  The weather was hot and we were mostly off-the-grid. The chill festival vibe populated by extremely polite people added to the joy. I ate my fill of Asian dumplings each night for supper from a Boulder, Colorado-based food booth.

The performance I most anticipated was Rhiannon Giddens, a favorite of mine.  She was a showstopper, and on the first night, everything I had hoped for and more.   I can say with all confidence that there were conversion emotions throughout this musical experience.  She sang songs of justice and love, with passion and grace, and told meaningful, heartfelt stories in her intros. Here is just one video of her singing one of her many songs I love.  Give her a listen and watch for her to win some awards for her album "Freedom Highway".

What lucky and happy children I witnessed here and there.

Climbing is a favorite activity in this area and they start 'em young.

Jim and I enjoyed the black raspberry dark chocolate chip ice cream each day.

Festival camping is not for us, but it was sure fun to look at the creative camps. Leave No Trace holds a contest in their booth for sustainable festivation camping and these folks are CLEVER.

I used some of my tarp time to catch up on my reading, including the eclipse book, and my husband enjoyed The Denver Post.   We were relieved when the sun began to set behind the huge cottonwood trees in the tarp area, shade that everyone has been hugging all day.  I heard a flock of cedar waxwings in the trees bordering the grounds.

When the sun disappeared, everyone got out their fleece jackets.

On the last night, Rachel Price's voice, anchoring Lake Street Diver, soared through the canyon.

The festival was closed late Sunday night by the talented Dave Rawlings Machine.  Rawlings and Gillian Welch met all of my expectations and were a very close second for my favorite performance.  Their new album, "Poor David's Almanack" is most excellent! The set was wickedly good and included my personal favorite "Short-Haired Woman Blues".

Our route home included another night at the historic Franklin Hotel in Deadwood, built in 1903 (Theodore Roosevelt slept here) and a drive filled with talk of attending another festival in upcoming years, listening to new musical discoveries like Elephant Revival.

If you've never checked out the groovy vibes of roots music, AKA, Americana, I urge you to do so pronto.  Find your bliss!

Back: Jim and Lillian
Front: Jeff Weispfenning, Debi & Ken Rogers, Linda Weispfenning