Boulders and Ash (Spring Break part 2)

I’m not sure I mentioned this back in August, but my folks live in Pine Creek in Paradise Valley just a bit south of Livingston Montana. This is relevant because there was a fire. I followed the fire through news reports looking at online maps and comparing what I read in the news to what I knew from personally from growing up in the area.

I knew my folks were fine, and staying with one of my brothers in Bozeman. My mom called everybody to let us know they had been safely evacuated. When I was born we lived in a small two bedroom faux log cabin. When I was three or so it was struck by lightning and caught fire. The damage was really pretty superficial but the house was very small and my youngest sister must have been sixteen at the time and with me, it just wasn’t enough anyway. So my father with the help of many of the handy people in my family, my brothers and sisters from both sides of the family and their friends and associates. This little cabin we lived in was built up into a three story A frame house.

That was more than 30 years ago. It has an old cedar shake roof and trees crowding up on it on three sides. My father says when they evacuated, he wouldn’t have given a dime for the house. There was no way anybody could conceive that it would survive. The more I followed the news and tracked on a map which places had been confirmed to have burned, the less I thought it possible.

I was given hope that none of the pictures of burning buildings I saw where my folks house though. It’s kind of an iconic place for the community now. When people relatively familiar with the area ask me specifically where I grew up they always say “Oh, yeah, I know that place.” when I tell them. If it caught fire, due to the A frame style and deep porches on the front of the house it would likely go up spectacularly; and with the 8″x24″ beams ribbing the house it would leave a dramatic skeleton behind as well. I was certain it must have burnt but was surprised not to see any pictures of it.

By a minor miracle, or whatever you prefer to call it a slurry place flew over moments before it would have gone up and it’s fine.

mailboxesThe mail box burned down. The one you can read the numbers on is actually the neighbors, theirs is the one on its side.

So, yeah feeling pretty lucky about that.  The place across the street didn’t do as well. Their basketball hoop was untouched though, unfortunately I didn’t find a picture of that.

Oh also some of the chickens were okay.

That was months ago though. Ive been back twice since. We went over for Christmas, I didn’t think to take any pictures then, but that was the first time I’d seen Pine Creek since the fire. So much was gone it was unbelievable.

For the first time in my life my folks had a view. The drive to their house was always magnificent. The Absoroka Mountains are gorgeous, and they are to me the quintessential mountains. When somebody talks to me about mountains I see this.

Now you can see that mountain on the right from my folks dining room table. The only thing you used to see from the dining room table was trees. They were nice trees, but very thick.

I was hoping over spring break to find some morels. They come out after fires, Montana has a lot of them, I’m told, and few if any deadly false morels. I could be wrong about that, I’m interested in mycology but not well versed in it.

We got there and the kids wanted to look around. It was later than we had anticipated so the mushroom hunt would have to wait for the next day. We looked around the house instead. I took m daughter upstairs to look for bats, they often nest in the peak of the third floor porch. On this occasion there was nothing, not even droppings. I don’t remember there ever not being bat droppings up there. but then I saw this and thought it explained the lack of bat crap pretty eloquently.If you aren’t familiar enough with them to recognize this, it is an owl pellet. Maybe we’ll dissect it one of these days.

Out on the back patio, the lichen had just gone nuts. There has always been a few spots of lichen out there, but never anything like this. It makes me wonder if there isn’t some kind of relationship between wild fire and lichen. It’s easy to connect anything slightly unusual to the fire right now, whether that’s accurate or not.

There was a magnificent raptor of some kind flying around all weekend. There may have been more than one I don’t know, and I was never quite quick enough on the draw to catch a picture of it. It kind of felt like LARPing a game of Pokémon Snap.

The only animal we saw at my folks house that night was a rabbit that appears to live under the shrubs next to the road. He came out to munch on something in the front yard, then stopped for a few minutes to watch the sun set. That’s how I choose to interpret his stopping in the yard and staring at the sun until it set anyway. I guess there could be less anthropomorphic answers, but I don’t know what they would be.

The next morning I was going to take the kids across the road for the promised mushroom hunt. I pulled out my iPhone and found a picture of some morel mushrooms to show the kids what we were going to be looking for and they were both pretty excited to be going.

Until I actually started making the necessary, or as I saw them necessary preparations. First off obviously we needed a bucket, no problem. Then we put on our shoes, good so far. Then I told the kids that they could make as much noise as they wanted while we were walking around, Yay! Then I got the can of bear spray and started to give the kids the “if we see a bear” speech, wait, what?

That was apparently a deal breaker for my son. I was a little surprised by that given that my kids know that there are bears near Grampa and Grandma’s house. So he didn’t go. My daughter on the other hand couldn’t wait to go out and science the crap out of those woods. So just her and I went. I turned the volume all the way up on my iPhone and blasted sea shanties into the woods as we walked. (Don’t judge me.)

The neighbors, who knew we would be out looking for mushrooms, recently had most of the dead trees cut from their property. That made sense to me the were dangerous and somebody might get hurt. What doesn’t make sense to me are the trees like this one. It’s clearly dead and burned out, there is no hope that it might live. It leans kind of precariously. (towards me as I took this picture actually.) This wasn’t the only one like this. I almost wonder if they never bothered to actually look around their property when trying to decide which trees to keep.

I haven’t made a secret of this, but I kind of hate geology. Sorry if you don’t but it just doesn’t twiddle my dials. However The area around my folks place has some of the most iron rich rocks, I’ve ever seen.

I wonder what shattered all these boulders, there are many just like this one. I assume it was the heat of the fire, or more likely the subsequent cooling. Something about that doesn’t sound right to me.

I don’t generally allow pictures of my kids online, this one is probably okay. What I’m showing here is the birch trees in the background. When I saw them I thought perhaps for some reason the birch trees might be a little fire resistant. the answer is of course no.

These birch trees upon closer inspection have no bark from about 4′-6′ up from the ground. Another baffling why didn’t they cut these down moment for us.

My daughter noticed this one or I suppose I should say three. There are three distinct trees here complete with bark in the center. My guess is when these trees were standing it was indistinguishable from a single tree.

On one hand I wanted to count the rings, on the other hand that would have bored the ever living crap out of my daughter. She loves science but that love does have limits.

We found a deer skeleton. Given how intact the skeleton is and the presence of bears in the area I have to suppose that this deer probably died in the fire. It was a pretty stark reminder of what happened here, and how fortunate it was that nobody died.

Especially combined with the small pile of our neighbors possessions that managed to make it through the fire.

Then we went home, and had a lovely afternoon with all my maternal brothers and sisters.

1 Comment

  1. The pictures are pretty amazing. I’m glad that their house made it out unscathed. Also? Totally awesome that your daughter loves science!

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