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Good fences make for good neighbors

Circular rainbow
Heaven's beauty
June 26th, 2009

Heaven and earth often meet in Montana and it can sometimes be difficult to discern on what side of the boundary you are standing. Today an afternoon shower provided the grass and thirsty flowers a drink of cool and refreshing water. Then as the sun broke through the soft mists two brilliant rainbows graced the front and side yards. If there really was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow I could have simply walked past the spruce trees behind the garage, picked it up and and carted it to the bank. The proverbial gold is allegorical but the treasure of smelling, feeling and seeing the beauty of heaven touching the earth on a warm June afternoon high in the mountains of Montana is real.

So many summer projects and so little time. John Melin and his crew dropped off some wire fencing supplies today. They are constructing a six foot tall deer proof fence around the house, yard and gardens. It will enclose about twelve of my twenty acres and allow me to plant many types of trees and flowers that deer normally find irresistible. I left a wide forested pathway in-between the spruce trees and the road for the deer to traverse. I also avoided fencing in a cool, grassy canyon where deer often bed for the night. They have their woodland path and straw hotel while I co-exist with my gardens, yard and home.

Double rainbow
A pot of gold rests here...
Summer Project Supplies
Supplies for our summer projects
Hydraulic Ram for setting posts
A hydraulic ram sets posts for the fence
July 1st, 2009

June was an unusually wet month; almost every afternoon a few clouds would converge and a brief shower ensue. Thus we were blessed with tall green grasses and beautiful, fragrant flowers in July. I studied and enjoyed the lovely flowers and magnificent vistas while I staked a 2,200 foot fence path around my yard.

I am a mountain man but one from Connecticut. Although I built a log cabin there and lived in it for ten years I never learned how to use a chain saw. Thus I left the tree cutting to Rich and contented myself with clearing the debris by hand. Rich, a firm believer in power tools, sliced through massive three foot tree trunks with ease while managing to retain all his limbs, fingers and toes. Then I tied chains around the behemoths and he dragged the multi-ton tree trunks into the front yard with his Bobcat mini-excavator.

Meanwhile John and his crew started to assemble the fence corners. They used old steel oil well pipes and pounded them into the ground with a hydraulic ram. Then their expert welder from Wassilla attached cross pieces and securely tied the units together. Next C channel fence posts were set about every 12 feet. Then wire fencing was strung in a straight line between the rigid, welded steel post sections. The wire was simply hung on the C channel posts and then ratcheted up to the required tension. A few 200 pound deer repeatedly butted the fence head first but gained nothing but a headache.

Rich dismembers a dead tree
Rich dismembers a centuries old dead fir tree
Bobcat help
The Bobcat mini-excavator moved multi-ton logs
Oblivious Discus Thrower
The discus thrower remains oblivious
to the frenzied activity in the front yard...
July 7th, 2009

The front yard is a blaze of activity after the July 4th holiday. John and his crew manage to string several hundred feet of fence per day. Rich cleared the last of the massive, three feet in diameter, trees killed by the forest fire of 2006. I built several 30 foot tall slash piles and set them on fire before the afternoon winds picked up. The Discus Thrower and the ever silent goddess Tacita watched from their respective perches and remained unaffected by our frenzied activity.

Fences make for good neighbors or so alludes Robert Frost in his poem Mending Wall. I appreciate the deer even more now that they cannot devour my flowers, tear up the lawn, poop on the garden walkways and leave Lyme infested ticks in their wake. From a distance they are beautiful and graceful creatures. The fence should prevent other large animals like bears and wolves from entering the yard as well. Many people find both "cute" and even "adorable" while failing to acknowledge that wolves are vicious predators and bears will maul and even kill you if startled or with a cub. All will make for good neighbors when boundaries are set and respected.

Game Fence
Wild animals to the right and humans to the left.
Fences make for good neighbors.
Mule deer
Young Mule deer wander apprehensively through the side yard
curious as to what all these people are doing here.
Montana Liberty
Liberty still flourishes in Montana
July 4th, 2009

Liberty still flourishes in the frontier state of Montana. Here a man can actually own property and not simply be a caretaker buffeted by the complaints of his neighbors and regulated by the heavy hand of government. No building or zoning permits were needed to construct my home or sculpt the land. No fees to bureaucrats, no reams of rules to follow. My imagination was limited only by a few requests for proper plumbing, sanitation and safe electrical systems. My neighbors simply requested that I build no taller than 30 feet and no closer than 100 feet of property lines. Property taxes are reasonable, $3,500.00 in 2009, and our state is managed efficiently. It is only one of two in the entire country to still have a budget surplus.

Montana is a place where a man can pursue his dreams, keep most of what he rightfully earns and live with a government that respects boundaries. As an outsider from Connecticut I see Montana as an oasis of opportunity in a country that is swimming in debt and moves closer to the failed model of a European welfare state every day. F Scott Fitzgerald's "great, green breast" of Long Island and John Steinbeck's promised land of California have succumbed to bloated governments and are on the verge of bankruptcy. Meanwhile the original promise of America is alive and well in Montana.

Grand Staircase
The Grand Staircase gets a grand marble railing
Flagpole base finishing
Darryl finishes the flagpole base
Concrete Pour
An early morning concrete pour with Darryl and his family
July 30th, 2009

We had two curved rails and a 5 foot scrap of straight marble railing left over from last year's construction. Over the winter I designed a viewing platform that incorporated those extra pieces. In late July Rich cleared a spot on the hill above the conservatory and Darryl built a concrete platform for the future summit lookout. The view is spectacular. You can see across the Montana Wyoming border and into Yellowstone National Park. The Yellowstone river gracefully winds through the plain below with steep cliffs to the east and gently rolling hills on its western bank. Emigrant Peak looms above Paradise Valley to the east jutting abruptly from the valley floor. Closer by elk herds and an occasional mountain lion can be seen on the grassy covered hill that is separated from my yard by Golmeyer creek and canyon.

Shane worked assiduously on the marble railing he installed last October. He washed the soiled railing literally until his hands bled. Then he meticulously caulked and painted the stair and inner yard perimeter railings.

Frenzied concrete work
A frantic pace ensues once the wet concrete is poured
Shane cleaned, caulked and painted the railings
Shane meticulously cleaned, caulked and painted the marble railings
August 18th, 2009

My first home away from home was in a tree house I built in my backyard when I was 15. Perched in a century old Elm tree that fell prey to Dutch Elm disease it was a quiet place where I entertained friends and read books. Just a few months after I completed it, busybody neighbors complained to the town zoning board. "Built without a permit" they exclaimed loudly and the town agreed. The zoning board threatened to arrest my parents if I did not tear it down. I sought an appeal and won but it was a Pyrrhic victory. The original tree house had to come down first. The first step to securing a building permit for a new tree house required the services of a structural engineer. From there the expenses only rose.

Shelter Site
The remains of my first home in the woods

I decided to try living deep in the woods in a town owned forest. I built a small, three sided shelter out of field stones and oak logs. I roofed it with branches, bark and moss. For over a year I frequently camped with friends, read and hiked from my rough abode in the quiet forest. Although built in a remote area one day the town park warden discovered my modest structure and dutifully destroyed it. I came home to a pile of rubble. Undeterred I decided to build a sturdier and more weather tight log cabin on the next ridge over and on private property. It was heated with a wood stove and designed to be completely off the grid. I built the cabin entirely by hand and toiled for two years before moving in. I lead a peaceful, contemplative and studious life for the next decade while I attended college and ran a bicycle and ski business from the basement of my parent's home.

About once a year vandals would break into my cabin while I was at work and trash the place. They would smash the furniture, tear cabinets off the walls and break windows. My nearest neighbor was about one mile away; too far to keep an eye on my place. I learned that the vandals were often anonymous; they consisted of various groups of angry teenagers that frequently destroyed property simply for fun. Private property meant nothing to them; it was a traditional boundary that they chose to ignore and often did so with impunity. One day the vandals left a note that boldly stated "The next time we are going to burn your place down". I took their threat seriously and removed everything valuable or sentimental. Two months later I came home late at night and discovered that my cherished cabin was reduced to a pile of smoldering embers. I moved into a tent for awhile. When the weather turned cold I rented an apartment in town.

In retrospect I think only a high voltage electric fence topped with razor wire would have kept the wandering bands of criminals from my home. But then I would have been forced to be an inmate in my own house. Instead I traded my treasured solitude and relative serenity for the security provided by the ever watchful eyes of neighbors in town.

Cabin Remains
The remains of my second home in the forest. The fireplace
is in the background and an in ground cooler is in the foreground.
Broken Beer Bottle
A broken beer bottle left by the vandals who trashed and
then burned my cabin to the ground

Neighbors in Montana

Red Fox in Montana
A red fox feasts on grasshoppers for breakfast
September 4th, 2009

Neighbors often stop by for a visit. A red fox crawled under the driveway gate and feasted on grasshoppers this morning as he has for a few weeks. Later a grouse ambled by and ate a few bugs while strutting around the back porch. Chipmunks are a daily sight scampering playfully across the driveway and over the lawn. In the late evening a rabbit munches the clover in the lawn. Occasionally I will see mister weasel scooting around the gardens with a fat mouse clenched in his teeth. I think it was he who helped me get rid of the troublesome pack rat living under the back porch. Last fall I saw a skunk but none since. Woodpeckers drill the dead trees for bugs while swarms of bluebirds and finches sing from above and live in various bird houses erected around the yard. Huge golden eagles and a few bald eagles sometimes pass by in the early morning or ride the ascending valley air currents in the late afternoon. Crows are a common sight as are the red tailed hawks that live past the front yard point and fish in Golmeyer creek. Bear, wolf and tracks of mountain lions abound outside the fence which is were I prefer they stay.

The pleasant summer weather is holding out so Shane and Kim commenced construction of the two Greek Temples that terminate the long axis of the front yard. The one pictured below is a half round temple that will face a full round Greek Temple with a copper hemispherical dome at the other end of the gravel path. The yard, devastated and laid bare by the forest fire of 2006, is now a canvas where we will endeavor to create beauty.

Montana Grouse
A grouse stops by after the fox leaves
Greek Garden Temple Construction
Work begins on the Greek garden temples
Water Hydrant Trench
Extra water hydrants are installed for the tiered gardens
September 18th, 2009

As summer waned the pace of our work increased. Rich finished the tree berm in the side yard. Shane and Kim finished one temple and moved on to another. I labored in the gardens. By July I had every garden full of perennial plants. Now I was determined to plant over 3,000 tulip, daffodil and hyacinth bulbs so the gardens would burst into bloom early next year just after the last spring snow melted.

Rich and his crew installed snow posts; six foot tall 6x6's, every 20 feet along the driveway perimeter. The idea behind them was that when the deep winter snows obscured the edges of the driveway and drifts covered most other reference points, I would still be able to plow effectively. The posts were topped with decorative copper caps which ornamentally tied them together and matched the gutters and flashing on the house and outbuildings.

Greek Half Temple
Work progresses on the half Greek Temple while
snow posts are installed along the driveway perimeter
Electrical Work
Pat from Arrowhead Electric stops by to work on the
garage and fix a broken underground phone cable
Tree Berm Completed
Rich completes the new tree berm that runs
parallel to the driveway and slightly lower
Mammoth Sunflowers
Mammoth, 8 foot tall, sunflowers can barely
hold their own weight

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