Holy Waters Ranch, 2019, June 5th

On the fifth of June, 2019, I fired up the truck and headed to the Holy Waters Ranch property near Ovando, Montana. This is my third summer of owning the acreage (purchased in June of 2017). In addition to the mandatory annual meeting with Kevin Ertl, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife rep who oversees the conservation easement, it felt like it was time to start becoming a little more involved with the land. All I’ve done so far is make payments and take pictures.

Not that the pictures don’t count. Many of the flowers, for instance, are tiny and need careful photographic attention to make them “pop” on the printed page, but they’re as pretty as can be.

A few examples follow.

There were two good-news items this year. One, the unsightly super-sized power line running through the property is still ugly but my EMF meter says we’ll probably be okay where I want to build the house. Electrical field is down to zero and the magnetic field averages less than 0.1 mG–although it does fluctuate between zero and 0.3, wildly and constantly. Two, it looks like the designated homesite in the conservation easement may be situated about 45 yards farther east than originally thought. A survey will need to be done to confirm that, but if my guesstimate is reasonably accurate (and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be), it’ll be acceptable to site the eventual house to take advantage of the best view.

What I consider the best view, anyway. Instead of looking out over the confluence of Monture Creek and Dick Creek, the living room window will present a more open looksee across a small slough, then across a portion of Dick Creek, then straight across a level bench that is relatively open. Trees and brush abound but mostly surround that low bench rather than cover it.

Hopefully, this will be the view from the living room…someday.

Once that is home, sweet home, how many wildlife photography opportunities do you think might pop up without having to leave the house? I’m betting a bunch. In the wee amounts of time I’ve spent there to date, several interesting species have already shown themselves. Last year, down on that bench, a big, obviously healthy blacktail deer and a number of scampering, alert gophers. Yesterday, a couple of extremely interesting birds. One looked rather drab when perching but exploded into vibrant yellow on the wing with brilliant yellow tail and wing feathers blazing away. A fast flyer, that one. No way (yet) to get a picture. One bird did perch long enough but the light was meh! So the photo isn’t the best.

Another photo op that’s bound to happen sooner or later? Grizzly bears. This is grizzly country. When it’s time to build, extremely strong doors will be a priority. When Pam and I lived in western Colorado (2006-2009), black bears were extremely common and one bear simply shouldered through a neighbor’s door in search of food. Steel doorframes and strong doors sound like a good idea even if nobody else in the area bothers with them. Reasonably small windows set fairly high off the ground–not as minimalist as the Border Fort, but not one of those looks-like-all-glass houses, either. We’d prefer Mr. Bear to knock politely, not barge in rudely.

One thing I wanted to do was get a look at that low creek-bottom bench, up close and personal. To do that without leaving the property (never mind that I could have gone out and around to Dick Road and come in from the high side), I would need to cross Dick Creek. Forget Monture Creek; that’s some serious water volume, right there. But Dick Creek looked doable. (Off color jokes understood but get your mind out of the gutter, please.) It’s not deep but the water moves right along. There are slick rocks on the bottom and, come to think of it, I hadn’t crossed any real moving water since…oh, my. 1963. The chest waders might have been overkill since the water only came up to my knees on the first crossing. But that’s some pushy water, right there. Likes to try to shove your leg downstream the instant you break contact with the creek bottom.

So of course I cheated. Used a stick.

My sister tells me that’s not cheating. It’s just smart. Maybe we’ll go with her take on this one. The stick was a wooden handle extension handle for paint rollers. On dry ground, I used the butt end against the earth. In the water, I flipped it around after the first unsteady step, jamming the aluminum threads down to anchor myself. A third leg as it were.

Made it. Whew! No humiliating slip-and-soak. Crawl-swim-scrambling across would have just been too mortifying for words, even without any other humans in sight. Wet, too, and I had not brought along a change of clothes.

Found an anthill but it was dead.

Dead anthill.

A few interesting photos speak for themselves.

This juniper tree showed obvious scratching (claw marks). Too low for a bear unless it was a cub; the clawed patch is only a fee feet off the ground. So…what? Ambitious bobcat?

After looping around the surprisingly level, grassy terrain, it seemed like a good idea to look for a less exciting spot to cross Dick Creek. Much of the creek bank was inaccessible, choked solid with thick brush capable of putting a hole in those brand new waders. Even so, the right spot did present itself in due course. The water ran much deeper around a bend in the creek. Depth meant less speed moving the same volume of water. On the north side, I could approach the water over gently sloping terrain, no steep bank to worry about. On the far side, the bank was steep for a few feet…but it looked like a big submerged rock was in the right spot to serve as a stepping stone, and then….

Awesome. No big downstream leg-push. Super care in stepping up on that underwater rock. Toss the stick up onto the grass, grab double fistfuls of grass clumps, and ease my knees up the bank without ripping any grass out by the roots. Done! Adventure of the milder sort! Yee-haw!

With all this creek-crossing prose, Dick Creek water pictures are mandatory, right?

One thing Kevin discussed with me was the “encroachment” of evergreen trees on the sagebrush bench (where the house will someday be built). As he explained, that is not traditional terrain for our needled friends. In earlier times, before white men came along and changed the rules, Native Americans frequently burned the flats if Mother Nature didn’t. Removing the two dozen or so junipers (most but not all of them still fairly small) and lone pine from the sagebrush bench did make sense when I thought about it. If nothing else, removing the trees would dramatically remove the intensity and risk from wildfire. Pam and I understand that, having lived off grid in remote areas more than once.

Besides, I need the exercise.

So I’ve decided to make these summer Mondays my “get something done at Holy Waters” days for as long as the weather is good. Next Monday I’ll get started with the goal of removing just one tree, an impressively large juniper that just might have a thick enough trunk (or trunks, plural) to yield a couple of brace posts for fencing. Hey, I could get lucky. Cedar doesn’t rot in contact with earth like other native woods do. You can plant a cedar (juniper being a cedar) and it’ll stand strong for a good thirty years.

Which meant digging out my chainsaw today and seeing if it would start. It did, thankfully. Not only that, but the plastic carrying case also contained a file with guide and, wonder of wonders, a spare chain in a baggie. No excuses!

To wrap things up, Pam and I talked on the phone for a while tonight. She figures by the time the land is paid off and the house is built, she probably won’t be able to get her key meds anyway (the way government pressure on doctors is going) and she can’t wait to move back to our brand new custom made out of town personal paradise.

As long as the house is big enough, of course. And her bathroom has the right jet tub in it. And there’s a heated porch for smoking. And there’s room enough for the kitties to run. Can’t be cramping their style, right?