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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Great Horned Owl Nest Building by Human Hands at Red Oak House

We're birders.  We have a lovely and large city lot which is roughly in a pie shape with the bulk of it being the back yard and a number of mature trees including three large blue spruce, two smaller blue spruce, two Ponderosa pine trees, a clump of aspen trees, several crapapple trees, a Burr Oak tree, a birch tree, a large green ash tree, and the largest Red Oak tree in Bismarck/Mandan (an unusual species to central North Dakota, transplanted by Dr. Smeenk and his family all those years ago from Minnesota as a sapling, now about 50 feet tall -- hence The Red Oak House we call our home).

We get lots of bird activity here in the center of town on the Missouri River and we encourage this with feeders.  Sharp-shinned hawks perch in the blue spruce and wreak havoc on the feeders -- a carnivorous accipiter species of hawk that feast on hapless songbirds.  I also regularly hear eastern screech owls and we have a house wren home mounted on the fence bordering our back patio, a source of great joy in the summer months here in North Dakota.

Like so many, I find owls to be a particularly interesting species and thrill to see them perched in our trees.  Our friend Dr. Alan Van Norman is perhaps the foremost expert in Bismarck on owls.  The other day I mentioned to him that I had great horned owls regularly perched in my trees and he could come and photograph them and his retort was "you should place a basket in your tree to get them to nest in your yard."   Well, that was a terrific idea in my mind so I brought it up with my friend Mike Jacobs, one of North Dakota's best birders and we brainstormed.  Following that lunch conversation, I researched this, found some information, and hatched a plan to build my own.

A trip to Hardware Hank and I was all set.  Only my partner-in-crime AKA my husband is laid up with a bad back so I needed to enlist some other helpers.   Luckily our great friends Jeff and Linda Weispfenning are also retired and up for the adventure.   They showed up today and we went to constructing nests.   Jeff had decided against putting one into his trees for various reasons including that they had nesting Cooper's Hawks last year and wanted to give the hawks "right of first refusal".

About halfway through this process, Mike Jacobs showed up, and we were happy to entertain him with our labors.  I filled mine with sticks and twigs I'd gathered last fall for our kindling box.  Shown here are Mike's nest without the twigs as well as the extra one we made for another friend, Clay Jenkinson.

Now it was time to place the nest in the tall green ash tree in the backyard where I regularly see the owls perch.   Jeff got the ladder placed really tight against the tree and up I went, nest in hand, while Jim and Linda stood by as witnesses.  Fortunately I do yoga, so I have good balance and I'm okay on a ladder so long as someone is holding it firm down below and I am careful about not looking down too much.  I wedged that nest into the crook of some branches and then wired it to the branches in about six places to secure it from the howling Dakota winds we get on regular occasion.  There were some jokes about the deep snow being something I would bounce on if I fell off the ladder, but all's well that end's well.  Mission accomplished.   Now I wait for the owls and hope I didn't get it up this year too late for their nesting which has already begun.  I'm hoping to not only observe the owl family, but also benefit from the predation of rabbits in my garden.  Certainly my neighbors wonder what the hell we were up to today, and they might be grateful that we're not out there cussing at the rabbits so damned much.  I'll keep you posted.

Jon Stewart's latest

Jon Stewart's latest on The Late Show

Monday, February 27, 2017

Chelsea's new IT equipment and her gift to her Grandma

To close the circle on my GoFundMe campaign for my daughter's Chelsea's new IT fund, here is the final chapter. 

Her new laptop and printer are up and running. She also had enough money for new speakers, a charger for her new camera, a new Kindle and a few miscellaneous things like spare ink and a couple of shirts for her new parttime job at the Dollar Store. Finally, she paid it forward by gifting her 84-year-old Gram, Marian Crook, with her old laptop, Gram's very first computer. All in all, a heartwarming story. Thank you again from the bottom of my heart friends, for your generosity, and for renewing our belief that there are good hearts all around us in this life.
 Note Chelsea's new T-Shirt I bought her that says "Meanwhile she Purrsisted".  I love her smile and her cozy apartment.  p.s.  We did some cleaning while I was there.  I took Lizzie with me and she cruised around harvesting some crumbs off the floor before she settled into a spot where she felt comfortable to crash.
Marian Crook with her new gmail account in her Edgewood Vista Mandan apartment.   Like a kid with a new toy or a teenager with a new tool.  Baby steps.   Eventually we'll get her on Facebook.  

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Missouri River at Bismarck

Late winter Missouri River Bismarck

My Grandma Lillie's Quilt and My Mother's Bedroom Furniture

In the smaller bedroom of our master bedroom suite at Red Oak House, in the winter, I have as a coverlet the quilt made by my namesake, my Grandma Lillie, probably sometime in the mid 1960s.  My mother, Marian, can still tell me about each piece of fabrics' original use, the dresses and aprons and shirts, which were re-purposed by my frugal grandmother into this quilt.  The bedroom furniture was a gift from her parents to my mother when she turned sixteen.  I've refinished it.  Quality pieces last many lifetimes.  I think I sleep better on long North Dakota winter nights under this quilt.  I love the color yellow.  On the walls seen in this picture are the posters of noted North Dakota artist Walter Piehl for a real mix of early twentieth century and late twentieth century North Dakota arts.  The book of daily Tao meditations was a gift from a great friend Steve Robbins, of Kansas.

 In this picture Lizzie, our endlessly amusing Springer Spaniel, snores away on the floor rug, a frequent barrier to our to-ing and fro-ing.   She's had a rather boring winter so far and doesn't give one wit about Tao meditations or quilts, but when we leave her home alone, she does like to jump up on the bed and take a nap, so I try to remember to close the doors to this room when I leave.  If there is a reincarnation, I want to come back as Jim's Springer Spaniel.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Dylanfest West

At Dylanfest West with lots of good friends for the perfect antidote to cabin fever.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Bullion Butte from the High Plains Reader

Bullion Butte Wins Another One

Garrison's offering from yesterday "Blessed are the Winners"

Blessed are the Winners

Next 25 years in North Dakota

Last night our old friend Mike Jacobs was over to dine.  The three of us talked about our dreams for the next 25 years in North Dakota.

Here is our list:

  • ·         60,000 more acres of wilderness
  • ·         Healthy wetland environments large enough to sustain a full complement of wetlands and grasslands birds with nesting habitats
  • ·         Spaces quiet enough that you can hear Sprague’s Pipits
  • ·         A grasslands national park similar to the Canadian Grasslands National Park (Des Lacs and Lostwood knit together would be a great grasslands national park)
  • ·         Enough funding so that every time an oil well goes out of production the state would buy the land and do nothing with it so that it eventually becomes wildlife habitat
  • ·         Wetlands are key
  • ·         Wrong to manage for a particular species but how ever habitat exists it would support multiple species
  • ·         All oil wells gone
  • ·         Unified North Dakota University System
  • ·         One library card for all
  • ·         Mike would like to know that if he wanted to see an antelope on any given afternoon he’d be able to see one
  • ·         Would like to be able to find burrowing owls
  • ·         J. Clark Sayler is as precious a place as it is now
  • ·         A meaningful International Peace Garden as a place where there is real engagement about peace and justice, where peace is more important than flowers
  • ·         VA healthcare and long term care in all cities of more than 15,000
  • ·         Expanded Elkhorn Ranch with national monument status
  • More Democrats in the legislature

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Vanderbilt University

I hold a Master's Degree in Library Science from Vanderbilt University, earned in 1985.  What a great time in my life that was and I'm very proud of my alma mater, one of the finest institutions of higher learning in the United States, located in colorful Nashville, Tennessee.   One of my lifelong friendships was forged there and I treasure her, Pamela Jean Estes, of Arkansas and France and Boston.  Life is better when our paths cross with wonderful, inspirational, life-affirming people and Pam and her exceptional parents, Bonnie and Jack Estes, are those people to me.  Prior to their retirement, Jack was a French professor and Bonnie a social studies teacher.  They treated me like family, and generously taught me many life lessons.  Pam holds masters degrees in music, library science, and theology and has devoted her life to teaching and her ministry in Arkansas.   Reading books, exploring the world, and having fun are also top contenders for our mutual interests.  When my elderly paternal grandmother, Lena Belle Ellis, was hospitalized in far away Memphis, Tn, Pam would always visit her when she would be visiting her parishioners, and when I flew to Tennessee for Mama Crook's funeral, Pam met me there, helping me to bury my beloved elder.

I wasn't able to travel to Nashville for my graduation ceremony but one of my kind professors, Dr. Michael Rothacker, nabbed one of the program booklets for me and mailed it to me in North Dakota with a lovely handwritten note and I still have this in my keepsakes, along with memories of sitting on the lawn in front of the Peabody buildings sipping sherry with him and watching the renegade squirrels. We worked hard (I was a graduate assistant librarian at the Education Library), studied hard and played hard and always found time to read the Nashville Tennessean every single day before class or a shift at the reference desk.  Thank you Vanderbilt University!

Find Your Park

Although it is so very difficult to choose, I'd have to say that Theodore Roosevelt National Park is MY park.  Blessed I am to live nearby.  How I hope that people grasp what an important place it is to North Dakota, and to our nation.  My children love it too, and I've taken them there countless times in their young lives.

All we needed for yesterday's excursion was a couple of water bottles and our binoculars and cameras.  It was 55 degrees in February, the ice is out on the Little Missouri River, there were very few other visitors, and we saw plenty of wildlife including bison and prairie dogs and a magpie and golden eagle.  Chelsea's favorite, wild horses, were here & there as well.  She took some good photographs.  If you are interested in her photography, you can find her Facebook page at Chelsea Sorenson Photos, including some of her photos from yesterday's excursion.

Meanwhile, here are a few of mine.  We made the best of a midwinter thaw here in Dakotaland and even got to squeeze in lunch in Belfield with my nephew and brother-in-law, Michael and Craig McLaughlin.  Life is good.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Sunday, February 19, 2017


Have I mentioned how much better it is too cook with our new gas range?

Friday, February 17, 2017

John Muir

My pace at cataloging our book collection is glacial and I'm eager to finish so I can go back to reading the unread ones laying about the house, to not mention the new ones that come through the door on regular basis.  Today I'm inspired by the joy of touching the John Muir books.  His research and writings on glaciers....well, I think you, gentle reader, get the connection.  When I stop to blog, I'm not making progress on the project so enough for today on that!

Thomas Friedman

A great thinker Thomas Friedman, and excellent writer too.

What Trump Is Doing Is Not O.K.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017


Ok So I've heard the mansplaining but this one today I read I like: manterrupting

February Thaw

Like any good North Dakotan I used this welcome February thaw to wash some windows outdoors.  I have some big ones that bring welcome sunshine into the house here in this far northern latitude.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Stephen Colbert, again and again and again

Like I said, style and grace and humor.

Stephen Colbert’s anti-Trump experiment is starting to work

The ongoing chronicles of Lizzie our Springer Spaniel

Today I finally get Lizzie to do something really useful around Red Oak House.
Need something to keep me laughing!  Hope my readers are equally entertained.   That is if I have any readers.  

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Interesting maps and analysis

How Republicans went from the party of Lincoln to the party of Trump, in 13 maps

Daughter Dog Date

Daughter Dog Date

Trump and Consequences

"The election had taught these kids that a large part of their country no longer holds political candidates to the standards of behavior enforced by their own high school." Vanity Fair Feb 2017 pg. 61 "Trump and Consequences"

So my husband had back surgery

So our pre-surgical experience two days ago was pretty entertaining. My husband's nurse was one of his sister Jill's classmates so he was treated like Hettinger royalty (she was pretty funny herself) and we traded stories of old friends. Then Eve Suchy popped in too (surgical nurse for a different patient). Then the incomparable Jill Wiese came over and visited with us to pass the time from our 1:30 arrival until they finally took him away at 7:30 p.m. for his date with our friend the neurosurgeon Dr. Van Norman!! We live in a great town. Thanks everyone. Jokes were cracked by all parties (well, except for the surgeon) the entire time. When Jim woke up later in his room, he said to me "I didn't croak". Not that I ever thought he would. I had earlier FORBIDDEN him from any Last Supper jokes because those do tend to freak me out a little. I didn't need any more stress. Now if I could just teach the dog to vacuum, mop floors, clean bathrooms, and cook, LIFE WOULD BE GREAT. Fortunately it is winter here and we both have plenty of reading to catch up on.

Friday, February 10, 2017

My friend Jan Swenson, Executive Director, Badlands Conservation Alliance, wins a well-deserved award

Surprise award last night.  So much deserved I cannot put it into words.  My only regret is that I was not there to witness it.

Jan Swenson, Executive Director of Badlands Conservation Alliance, I am so proud to call you friend.  The first non-wildlife professional to receive the award in the history of the organization.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017


My husband is making noodles

Brushing up on Spanish

Brushing up my old Spanish, which is extremely rusty.   I had to laugh when I took the five minute pre-test.

Starting with the basics


The optics. The optics.  The optics.   CORETTA SCOTT KING!!!!  No words but the evidence.


I'm pretty sure I invented a new word today: mysogomissive. I googled it to be sure.   Maybe it'll go viral.  

Tuesday, February 7, 2017


How is it that I always run out of time at the wrong moment? Gotta laugh. Oh well.  At least I don't have to go to France to get a refill.


Won't be doing any canoeing anytime soon! That little yellow spot is our canoe in a drift.

February morning art

February morning art at Red Oak House

Monday, February 6, 2017


Formerly known as Edwinton.

Square Butte of which there are many

One of the many Square Buttes in the world. It's true. Look it up people! This particular one in North Dakota on the west bank of the "mighty and heretofore endless Missouri River".

My first copy of Sibley Guide to Birds

My first hard copy of Sibley Guide to Birds. Yes I now also have good apps on my phone but there is nothing quite like one's cherished field guides and real life knowledge and David Sibley's art.

Winter cottonwood and lichen

A warm welcome

A warm welcome at Cross Ranch VC

Oh Lord

Janis Joplin "Mercedes Benz"


Apply "Dunbar's Number" to the number of people you would like to take a canoe trip with on the Little Missouri River and you will find serenity in life.

Dig Deep

Dig Deep

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Church key, February 4, 2017

I made a fascinating archeological discovery in my house today. We are the third family who has lived in this house. Since we've owned it, I've cleaned and painted every square inch over time. Today I was fighting with a bottom drawer in the kitchen that wouldn't push in and so I pulled the son of a bitch all the way out and looked behind it to see what was the cause of this problem. Found a couple of mailing envelopes (with your name on them Tim Kingstad) that have been lurking back there all this time and had finally fallen just into the right position to create the barrier and, lo and behold, on the floor underneath all of it this! An antique church key. Probably belonged to Dr. Smeenk and his family but Tim if this is a family heirloom and you want it back you know how to get in touch. Isn't life fascinating. If you are my friend and you like to drink from bottles that require a church key to open, be sure & request this next time we are hosting. Oh, bring the bottle with you just to be on the safe side. I'll supply the church key. Cheers

p.s. some lovely people from Wilton, ND bought our old electric stove. Came and hold it away. Although we have cooked many a meal on it, I won't miss it at all.

Last Child in the Woods

Last Child in the Woods

Sometimes my old siblings and I wonder if we raised our children with too much Disney and Harry Potter and not enough hikes and camping.

Alice Roosevelt Longworth

Here's something I'm wondering just this moment as I type this. What would Alice Roosevelt Longworth be saying if she were still alive? INQUIRING MINDS WANT TO KNOW.

A Great book and inspiring read

A new book Communicating Better with People on the Autism Spectrum

A new book arrived today.  Much of what the young writer writes I knew but it is an interesting perspective, 95 pages, easily digestable and I hope the people in my life who care find the time to enlighten themselves before they speak or act.

Communicating Better with People on the Autism Spectrum by Paddy-Joe Moran 2016 Jessica Kingsley Publishers (London and Philadelphia)

I've highlighted through it in a flash and will be routing it to the people in my close circle who care.

Dunbar's number

"As constant use of social media has become the new normal, however, people have started challenging the continued relevance of Dunbar’s number: Isn’t it easier to have more friends when we have Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to help us to cultivate and maintain them? Some, like the University of California, Berkeley, professor Morten Hansen, have pointed out that social media has facilitated more effective collaborations. Our real-world friends tend to know the same people that we do, but, in the online world, we can expand our networks strategically, leading to better business outcomes. Yet, when researchers tried to determine whether virtual networks increase our strong ties as well as our weak ones (the ones that Hansen had focussed on), they found that, for now, the essential Dunbar number, a hundred and fifty, has remained constant."

Friday, February 3, 2017

Captain Huffman

Captain Huffman is our family ghost.  Dates from 8 mm film my dad shot in the Korean War.


Google Earth is indeed a cool thing. I'm right now on my laptop looking at the Island of Okinawa where we lived. Of course my parents remember our address. My Mom can say it without hesitation. Many buildings and development have been added since our time. We children were downright feral and roamed our area of the island all day long. It is a freaking miracle we weren't bitten by a habu.

602 Goya Buru


I used to think it was important just how laundry was folded. Then I got older, wiser, married and had kids!

Bullion Butte wins another one by Jim Fuglie

Bullion Butte Wins Another One February 2, 2017
By Jim Fuglie
There was a big dust-up about 5 years ago over the North Dakota State Land Board’s decision to offer, for lease, the right to drill for oil on the west side of one of southwest North Dakota’s major landmarks, Bullion Butte. The butte and some of the acreage around it are mostly owned by the U.S. Forest Service, and the area has been off limits to development since about 1977, and closed to even access by vehicles since 2001, when the Forest Service set it aside as one of five “roadless areas” of the Bad Lands, areas suitable for designation as official Wilderness under the Federal Wilderness Act of 1964.
Bullion Butte is one of North Dakota’s true treasures. It is absolutely my single favorite place in North Dakota. I have hiked to the top of it a few dozen times. It’s harder work each year for these aging legs of mine (I haven’t missed many years since I first climbed it in 1976), and each time I do it now, I stand at the precipice on the northeast corner of the massive butte, looking down at the Little Missouri River, where I parked my car a couple of hours earlier, and shout at the top of my lungs, much to the amusement of my climbing mates, whoever they happen to be, “I am now the oldest person to ever climb Bullion Butte!” I’ve never climbed it with anyone older than me, so there’s no one to challenge me, and my most frequent climbing companion, Mike Jacobs, who’s two months younger than me, says he just can’t wat until I die so he can go up there one last time and stake the claim for himself. I hope it’s a long wait.
It’s not the highest butte in North Dakota—White Butte, about 20 miles south of Bullion, claims that honor, by about 150 feet—but it’s in the top 5, and the land area on top probably makes it the largest. It’s easily 500 acres of flat prairie grasslands, and when you’re standing in the middle of it, away from the edges, you get the illusion you’re just out walking on the North Dakota prairie. Which you are, except the rest of the prairie is about a thousand feet lower.)
Mike (or my wife Lillian, or whoever else is with me) and I usually circumnavigate it, which takes a couple of hours, overlooking southwest North Dakota in every direction—you can see Black Butte to the southeast, Pretty Butte southwest, Sentinel Butte northwest, and the Rainy Buttes to the east, all great in their own right, and all in that “top ten” category of highest buttes in the state. I’m pretty sure you can also see both South Dakota and Montana from various points, but claiming Canada would be a stretch.
We almost always stop on the northwest face for a short rest and a sandwich or an orange before making the trek back down to the river, which takes an hour or more, depending on how often we dawdle along the way. Usually a cold beer awaits in the cooler, and on some hot summer days, we’ve been known to just plop right down in the shallow Little Missouri River and savor that.
Anyway, back to matters at hand. Bullion Butte and about 9,000 acres surrounding it, are part of the Prairie Legacy Wilderness proposal, a plan to designate those last 60,000 acres of roadless areas in the Bad Lands as official Wilderness, preserving it as it is, forever. Not much has changed up there, or on the rest of the roadless acres—but the other 95 percent of the million acres of National Grasslands (we know them better as our Bad Lands) are open for oil and gas development, and that’s happening.
Those five small areas, thoe 60,000 acres, that I think were finally and officially set aside by President Bill Clinton in a plan written in the final days of his administration, remain roadless, and “suitable for wilderness” today. No oil development. One of the little problems with the way that roadless area plan was written, though, is that there are some “inholdings” inside some of these areas, land owned by someone else, surrounded by Forest Service land, and one of these inholdings is a section of land on Bullion Butte, owned by the state of North Dakota’s Trust Lands Department and managed by the State Land Board. North Dakota’s trust lands—about 3 million acres scattered across the state—were given to us at statehood to provide income to support our state’s public education system. Most of us know them as “school sections.” One of those school sections, all 640 acres, just happens to be part of Bullion Butte.
Probably in 1889, at statehood, nobody gave much thought to the idea there might be billions of dollars worth of oil under them, and that someday, somebody might figure out a way to get it out of the ground. And make a whole bunch of money for our state’s schools. But somewhere along the line, some foresighted state employee or legislator devised a way to make that happen. It happens by the state leasing the rights to the minerals under those school sections to somebody with an oil drilling rig, letting that somebody bring the oil up, sell it, and give the state a percentage of the money. I think the state gets the royalties from one of every six barrels, but I’m not sure—in any case it’s been a lot of money during the Bakken Boom.
The way it works is, somebody with an oil drilling rig goes through the records in county court houses and when they spot a section of land that might just have oil under it, they “nominate” it for lease at the Trust Land Department’s next quarterly lease sale. The Trust Lands Department puts out a list a few months before the sale so that other people with drilling rigs can take a look at it and decide if they want to bid on it at an auction.
That’s what happened in early 2012. A leasing company on hire by oil giant Chesapeake Energy Corporation nominated Section 24 in Township 137, Range 103, in Billings County, North Dakota, for lease at the next auction. That’s the school section on Bullion Butte, in the middle of the Forest Service’s roadless area, and if Chesapeake had leased it and decided to drill an oil well there, it would have pretty much eliminated the scenic, wildlife and cultural value of Bullion Butte, which has been protected from development since statehood.
Luckily, North Dakota has residents who care about things like this, and one of them, Mike McEnroe, who’s a member of a number of conservation organizations, including the Badlands Conservation Alliance (BCA), went looking through the list of sections nominated for lease one day back in 2012 and spotted the Bullion Butte section. McEnroe and Jan Swenson, Executive Director of BCA, went and talked to the Trust Lands people, and also to the news media, and the end result was, there was so much bad publicity about this happening that Chesapeake ended up withdrawing its nomination and went slinking off into the Bad Lands with its tail between its legs. A victory for BCA. And Bullion Butte. And the Bad Lands.
Well, fast forward five years. I was at a meeting with McEnroe and Swenson and a few other BCA members a couple weeks ago and Jan said “Guess what, guys. There’s a Trust Lands mineral lease auction at the end of the month, and Section 24 is back on the list—somebody nominated it.”
A short discussion ensued, and I said that since I had written a few stories about it for my blog 5 years ago, maybe I’d do another one now. So I went home and called my (by now through sheer continuous contact about stuff at his office) friend Drew Combs, who’s head of the Minerals Management Division of the Trust Lands Department and said “Drew, I was talking with some members of the Badlands Conservation Alliance yesterday and they mentioned that school section on the side of Bullion Butte is up for lease again.”
I could tell by the long pause on the other end of the line (do phones even have “lines” any more?) that this one had slipped by him. We had a brief conversation about what had happened five years ago and he said “I’ll get back to you.”
That was the morning of January 5. By the end of the day, the president of the company that had nominated the parcel for lease told Drew Combs he’d like to withdraw the nomination. I’m pretty sure Drew told him about the bad publicity Chesapeake had gotten five years ago, and this guy wanted none of that. Hats off to a great state employee, Drew Combs. And to a great conservation organization, the Badlands Conservation Alliance. Anyone who’s ever climbed Bullion Butte, or just admired it from a distance, or from a canoe as they floated by, knows how important these two victories are. Check out BCA’s website——it has a place where you can become a member.


Beautiful movie.  LION

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Fools a proverb

"Fools rush in where angels fear to tread".  A proverb

Meaning "Fools Rush in Where Angels Fear to Tread"

This is what my Aunt Junette frequently says when we praise her for the hard work she did in co-writing The Slope Saga.

Screwed the pooch

"Screwed the pooch"

A new phrase I shall be using fairly frequently in polite company I predict. February is welcome. Gives me time to catch up on indoor projects.