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Winter is Wonderful in Montana

Storing bulbs in egg cartons
A bargain I could not resist...
December 5th, 2009

Winter came early and the ground was frozen and covered with several inches of snow. Still I wandered past the bulb display at Lowes and marveled at the bright pictures of flowering tulips, daffodils and hyacinths that adorned the many remaining packages. Then I froze for at the top of the display was a sign that simply stated "All bulbs on sale - $.25 per package". "25 cents for a bag of bulbs" I exclaimed aloud. "Many of these boxes normally sell for $10.00" I continued speaking softly to myself. A passerby in another aisle looked at me cautiously and silently wondered who I was talking to. I fell into silence and thought deeply. The ground is frozen so I cannot plant these until next spring. Bulbs usually get soft over the winter and dry out by spring. For 20 minutes I wondered what to do. I needed bulbs but how could I store them over the winter? No answer came to mind. The bargain was too good to pass up so I carefully filled my cart with over $1,000.00 worth of bulbs. Upon checking out the bill came to just $27.95; a savings of $982.05!

I searched the web for answers and eventually ordered 150 egg cartons and a remote wireless thermometer. Long time readers will remember that the fire damaged the original concrete cistern. It leaked but was still intact so I decided to bury it next to the house and use it as a fireproof depository for valuable items in the event of another forest fire. Access was through a basement window; the cistern was buried beneath the rear portico. It extended 5 feet into the earth and unexpectedly was also an ideal root cellar. The temperature remained above freezing all winter and was generally around 38 degrees Fahrenheit; the same temperature that a bulb planted in the ground would experience.

Bulbs stored in the root cellar
Flower bulbs stored neatly in egg cartons in the root cellar.
A cold and frozen yard
No planting here for five months.
 
Mother Mary
Mother Mary awaits her fate
December 13th, 2009

An anonymous artist wished to donate a stain glass window to the Livingston Congregational Church to replace the aging Mother Mary that filled the doorway arch that originally opened to a Catholic Church. As a member of the Board of Trustees I argued strenuously at the quarterly member's meeting that the century old work of religious art be preserved. The Diaconate already decided that it should be destroyed I was told. Doubling down I suggested that we donate it to a Catholic Church. That idea gathered no support either. Finally I requested that I be allowed to purchase it and take it home where I could find a home for Mother Mary and the baby Jesus on my property. The members agreed to put off a decision until the next quarterly meeting in three months. Meanwhile the window was to be removed and stored in the church garage.

I enjoyed the Christmas play we had at church as did a standing room only crowd. Over the next few months I continued my work with the Trustees and helped build a web site for the church. I anxiously awaited the quarterly meeting as I felt strongly that religious works of art should be preserved as a common heritage for everyone to enjoy. An agreement was reached where the window would be left next to a county dumpster and I would be informed ahead of time so I could salvage it. Then I was told that the stain glass window could not be found. A few days later I learned that a church member had taken the window pieces from the garage just a day or two after they were safely stored there. He destroyed the work of art by building a bonfire and tossing Mother Mary and the baby Jesus into the flames. As I stated earlier I was so dismayed, so shocked by the destruction of a religious icon and community artistic treasure that I resigned from the church. It is also the reason why I have not added pages to this site in almost three years.

Christmas Play
Christmas Play - 2009 at church.
Standing Room Crowd
A standing room crowd for both performances.
Santa Sleigh Light Display
Santa, his sled and reindeer in South Glastonbury.
Presents for all
Brightly colored Christmas presents for all!
 
Craftsman Log Splitter
A Craftsman log splitter saves time, money and my energy.
December 22nd, 2009

Iused to split wood with a maul and wedge. Like Thoreau I took solace in the truism that wood is the only fuel that warms you twice; once when you cut it and again when you burn it. This year I bought Rich's old Craftsman log splitter. I filed the blade, changed the oil and filter and filled the tank with gasoline. The engine started on the second pull and when warm, purred like a kitten. I split enough wood in three hours to last me a month or more.

Although I drive a car the log splitter highlighted the power of gasoline versus carbohydrates. What the log splitter accomplished with one gallon of gas would have taken me 30 hours and many thousands of calories. I saved time, money and my energy by using energy created millions of years ago by the sun decomposing dead dinosaurs, plants and trees in a brackish swamp.

After Christmas I took photographs of Rich and his crew remodeling a guest house in Tom Minor basin for a new page on the R & B Builders web site. I worked on a few other sites as well and thus earned my living. The webmaster business was good but I thought about getting back into an online retail business.

Remodeling with Rich
Rich and Kim remodeling a vintage guest house.
Montana Horses
Friendly horses on a clear winter day in Montana
 
Coke Oven
An abandoned coke oven in the ghost town of Electric, Montana.
December 28th, 2009

On a cold and cloudy day I searched out the remains of the ghost town once called Electric, Montana. The sky was grey and somber and the daylight was fading fast. Just south of the Devils's Slide rock formation on an open grassy plain I discovered the remains of 30 or more beehive shaped coke ovens. Each was carefully constructed over 100 years ago to burn coal and change it to coke; a higher fuel content and hotter burning substance than coal. The coal came from a small town called Aldridge on the other side of the mountain. At first they used a water sluice to wash the coal down the slope and later that was replaced with gravity powered cable cars.

The railroad transported coke to the copper smelter at Butte for several years. Then labor unrest and lengthy strikes crippled the copper mine at Butte and the small towns of Electric and Aldridge. The mine recovered but the towns did not. Most of the rough buildings were taken down and the materials used for ranch projects. Only the coke ovens and the smooth six foot wide railroad grade remain. Wolves, rabbits and deer are now the only inhabitants.

Rigler Trucking
An arched door and oculus roof opening.
Full winter moon
The smooth railroad grade and a
line of sagebrush masked century old coke ovens.
 
Mammoth Yellowstone Post Office
A typical winter sunrise over Emigrant Peak
January 6th, 2010

Winter is a wonderful time in Montana. Nature rests but I do not. While the gardens slumbered under an ever deepening blanket of snow I fired up the stove in the garage and started on my winter projects. First on the list was making shelves for my library and then sorting the several thousand volumes I carefully collected since the fire. My next project was to find a solution for the water created when snow melted off the undercarriage of my Jeep in early and late winter. Usually the temperature is cold enough in January and February for the snow outside to remain powdery and frozen; thus it will not easily stick to the Jeep. Only when the weather warms will it cake inside the fender wells and under the Jeep floor boards. I should have installed floor drains in the garage but it was too late now to accomplish that. So I settled on a Park Smart Heavy Duty vinyl mat and reservoir which worked surprisingly well at containing the muddy mess. The Park Smart mat was easy to install and holds many gallons of water. I placed one inch by three inch plastic planks under the sides to give it more capacity and even out my slightly sloping floor. When the mat is full I simply squeegee the water and mud outside. After three years of use the thick vinyl mat it is holding up well and has not developed any leaks.

Library book case shelves
Staining shelves for the library book cases.
Park Smart Clean Park mat
A Park Smart reservoir mat for my Jeep.
 
Winter Solstice
Winter Solstice over Emigrant Peak
February 17th, 2010

The days are growing longer as the sun moves north along the Absaroka range. On the 21st of December the sun rose above the saddle on Emigrant peak at 9:35 AM after slowly brightening the eastern sky for almost 2 hours. Every two weeks or so I can chart the sun's steady march north as it moves from peak to peak. Today it rose behind the peaks at Chico and was completely north of Emigrant peak.

Apollo, Aurora and Tacita resided in the garage this winter. They will be cleaned and coated for weather protection. Apollo and Aurora will greet the sun every morning and visitors anytime of day from their pedestals on the front porch. Tacita, the silent one who is washing her hair, will reside in the greenhouse next to the pool. Venus will watch over a lovely pot of flowers on the rear portico. She is the same Venus that Botticelli painted but is adapted to sculpture and every bit as beautiful.

I finished the library shelves, installed them and sorted all my books. When I was done a few boxes of duplicates remained. I thought about bringing them to a thrift store but decided to try and sell them online. So I created a new section on my BrockettDesigns.com web site and posted my excess volumes there. Would they sell? Time will tell.

Greek Gods
Aurora, Apollo and Tacita are cleaned and coated.
Park Smart Mat
The Jeep fits fine on the Park Smart mat and my floor is dry.
 
Montana Spring Snowstorm
Winter snow has melted and spring snow coats the ground anew.
May 5th, 2010

The winter snows were light and everything melted by mid-April. However a wet snow fell on May 5th and several times more until the weather warmed in mid-June and the snow turned to rain. When July rolls around the days will be warm and sun drenched for at least two months.

In the middle of April I planted flower seeds in peat pots in the greenhouse. Then I filled the pool with fresh water from a house spigot and long hose for only the house water is filtered. Outside hydrants carried rust from the well casing. The pool absorbs heat from the sun and radiates it back at night time thus moderating temperatures and helping plant growth. A cup full of clothes bleach a week and a children's pool filter kept the water sparkling clean. In July I drained the pool after the last plants were placed outside or in the gardens. Peek out the windows and you will see lots of snow still on the ground from recent storms. Inside the greenhouse the air is humid and the temperatures are a balmy 75 degrees.

The extra books I placed on my web site started to sell. Surprised I searched around for more new and used books. I contacted wholesalers and publishers and started to expand my inventory and offerings. Soon I had over 500 titles and my stock grew as my sales increased.

Greenhouse plants
Seedlings sprout in the warm greenhouse.
Greenhouse warming pool
A thermal pool moderates greenhouse temperatures.
 
Bunsen Peak
Bunsen Peak in Yellowstone National Park
May 8th, 2010

Yellowstone Park is a great place to visit in May or June. The roads are clear, wildlife abounds and the traffic is light. Because Yellowstone sits on a high plateau approximately 8,000 feet above sea level, the snow lasts even longer than at my home which sits at 6,200 feet. Weather wise, going to the park is like jumping back a month in time and temperature.

The snow is melting but still deep so many animals congregate in open meadows, along riverbanks or by the road. I saw bison, black bears, mule deer, elk and a few coyotes.

In the afternoon I visited Norris Geyser Basin. Only a few people braved the icy and snow lined paths. I explored the entire basin and saw numerous animals amongst the beautiful geysers and hot springs.

5 foot icicles
4 to 5 foot long icicles hang from the rafters.
Spring Freshet
The rivers run high as the snow melts.
Norris Geyser Basin in May
Norris Geyser Basin in May
Algea closeup
Algae grows in beautiful patterns
amidst the warm geyser runoff.
 
Lawn
Time to mow the lawn...
May 30th, 2010

The lawn needs cutting as tulips and daffodils make their debut. Spring has finally arrived at my home in Montana. Now I move my work from inside to the beautiful outdoors.

While tulips, daffodils and hyacinths pushed forth from the warming earth I dug down with a cylindrical bulb planter. Almost every day in May I planted bulbs from the root cellar. By months end I buried and fertilized almost 1,500 bulbs. By late June only a few came up and they were scrawny. I was disappointed but held out hope for 2011. Gardening requires patience and that is one of my few virtues.

I started to plant shrubs and small trees as I carefully designed a landscaping plan for my fire ravaged yard. Along the driveway I planted Blue Point Junipers interspersed with Old Gold Juniper. Someday I reasoned they would be 20 feet tall and form wonderful borders. While I toiled I dreamed of what could be. I envisioned every shrub or tree full size and carefully measured the space it would need. I built shallow bowls around the base of each so they would catch the sparse rainfall. Then I navigated drip lines to each so to insure they received the moisture they needed. Finally I added a fine bark mulch to retain moisture and a bit of fertilizer to get them off to a good start. Almost everything I planted survived and some flourished despite our harsh climate.

Hyacinths and tulips in May
The first hyacinths and tulips are fragrant and gorgeous.
Blue Point Juniper
A freshly planted Blue Point Juniper is
dwarfed by centuries old tree remains.
Greenhouse plants
Plants in the greenhouse are flourishing.
Colorado Blue Spruce
The Colorado Blue Spruce trees are about
8 feet tall and growing rapidly.

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