Across the far bank



Across the far bank


Osprey, black wings,


beak, circles low

over still lake:

back and forth

between water

and nest.


With lights far off

across a flooded prairie flat,

I ease

into the grass: maroon stands

of little bluestem.


I raise my eyes

to the peak of brown hills.

Black cattle wade across

the far bank, my thoughts

somewhere between them.

They lowe,

I sink deeper

into the sandy shore,

suspended, as always,

between what I fear,

the hot sun,

and steady wind.



After winding our way through rimrock, rattlesnakes, sinkholes, and bogs, we have made our way through and out of the Sand Arroyo Badlands. It was a little patch of that hollywood-west I’ve come to expect from Utah’s slick rock canyons but didn’t expect to find in Montana. Either side of that vulture thick, mosquito heavy maze of alkali seeps and sheer cliff faces (it’s actually very beautiful, and decent rangeland for someone’s cattle operation) has been beautiful grass country of gentle rolling hills. Around Circle, they’ve had a very wet year, and things look more like spring than fall with lush green grass everywhere. We got caught in a rainstorm and found out that our rain gear didn’t work. Thats what you get for using old backpacking gear when you should have a slicker. Soaked to the bone and in the wind at 47 degrees, we were cold, and thankful to find shelter in the Brockway bar, a little watering hole with plenty of character, hot choclate and fireball. An off duty waitress, Rayln, offered us her room for the night. We stayed for three. She lent us her truck to get slickers in Miles City, the closest town with a ranch supply store, and we kept our horses down with hers at the rodeo grounds. In miles city we picked up some grain and alfalfa for the horses who were cold themselves. The wheat harvest, in full swing, came to a halt, and the locals and out-of-town combining crews quickly joined us at the bar. The rains lasted through the weekend, bringing 7 inches to some spots in an area that only gets 12 inches per year on average. The ranchers are happy for it, and the wheat farmers are worried sick over seed heads sprouting in the fields before harvest, and fungus sweeping through their fields. The crop adjusters, working for the insurance agencies, already in the area for hail damage, will be busy. We have stayed with several ranch families who have been the kindest hosts you can imagine. The colorful history around here bears pretty wild stories. Ranchers are full of tales about horse thieves and cattle rustlers. We are hooking down from the Hi-Line and heading into the part of the state frontier photographer LA Huffman called “The Big Open.” In the next few days we’ll cross the Yellowstone, and from there head down the Powder River. Here are some photographs from the last several weeks. Enjoy.




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