Home > Trip > Dispatches > Daily Dispatches 2013 > Daily Dispatch #173

September 9-14, 2013: Five Days in Butte, Montana

Our long anticipated trip to Butte, Montana comes and goes. What follows is a series of short vignettes, stories about the most memorable events that took place during the course of our stay here.

The Vigilante Rodeo Grounds
Butte seemed to the same as we remembered it being two years before. This included the Vigilante Rodeo Grounds. Brenda, the caretaker, was still working here. The facility still consisted of a series of four long shed rows with separate paneled pens. The skanky shower area was still skanky. And the

dumpster with a ramp leading up to it was still in the middle spacious area. The one difference was that there were considerably more horses present than previously. Nearly all the pens were in fact full.

Brenda, after giving it some thought, suggested that we put the horses in the pen across the way, on the far left. I was okay with this idea, since Raudi and Signy would then have a stablemate on just one side. This neighbor turned out to be a large rangy bay gelding. I lead the horses into the enclosure, then took a minute to watch the goings on. The gelding greeted the pair by neighing loudly and then turning and kicking out at Raudi with both rear feet. Raudi, surprised, jumped backwards like a cartoon horse.

Brenda, who was also watching, said that this, her horse, would soon calm down. She was right. He did calm down. We went out to eat, and then later climbed into the back of the truck. It was then that Raudi began squealing and running over to the fence that divided the two. “This’ll never do,” I said to Pete, and by way of example, reminded him of the next to final day of our last trip, when Raudi kicked out at Cindi Miller’s horse and got her leg caught over a rail.

Pete agreed. We arose, and prepared to relocate both horses. The most ideal spot was adjacent to the truck. This larger pen was located in the shed row on our right. The other horses came out of their shelters and watched as we moved horses, feed buckets, water buckets, and salt blocks. By now, the stars were out. And fortunately, it was not too cold.

2. The Pekin Noodle Palace
A trip to Butte would be incomplete without a trip to Butte’s oldest eating establishment, which is the Pekin Noodle Palace. (It is reputed to be one of the favorite eating establishments of Dashiell Hamet). I had in fact been looking forward to eating here all summer. We went there after situating the horses and taking a shower. By now it was dark. Outside, a neon sign read Chopped Suey. Inside, the hallway smelled both like food and the sort of apartments old people live in. We climbed the long narrow flight of stairs, and entered the establishment. The restaurant consists of two rows of cubicles, each of which has its own curtain. The kitchen is at the far end of the hallway. The walls are pinkish orange in color. I ordered my favorite meal, special fried rice. Pete often makes this, but it never tastes the same. You get fortune cookies here. Mine read “In a year, you will go on an adventure.” Hmm. I can hardly wait.
1. Taking Care of (Animal) Business
Pete called the Butte Veterinary service right after breakfast. We got lucky – the receptionist said we could bring the horses in for their health certificate inspection and drop off Ryder for spaying. So after breakfast we headed on over to the clinic, which was just a ways down the road.

Dr. Cornelius was much the same as before, just a little older, just a little more white haired, and just a tad bit more deaf. He examined the horses, drew blood, and filled out the paperwork. And we checked Ryder in at the front desk. As I dragged her over the door sill, I wondered if she thought she was being betrayed, for one minute she was with us, and the next she was being taken elsewhere. But as I told her, we were acting responsibly – we didn’t want her puppies, as she had been, to ever be abandoned.

Side trip to Bozeman, Montana
This is how you do it, at least if you are in Butte, Montana and want to return home to Palmer, Alaska. You first get the paperwork in order. Then you take the blood vials to a Bozeman lab, where the lab techs determine if your horse has Coggins Disease. If the results are negative, the lab will by mail, send the the EIA certificates back to the veterinary office in Butte. If they are positive, well, I don’t know what happens then. In fact, I’d rather not think about it. As was the case the last time, our trip took half a day. We did go to REI where Pete purchased a replacement part for our camp stove. So it wasn’t a complete waste of time.

Back to the Veterinarian’s office
After breakfast, we returned to the Butte Veterinary Clinic, where we were to pick up Ryder and our health certificates. It took a while to get the paperwork in order. This was because people were coming and going with animals, and surgery was being performed. I didn’t mind the wait – it actually was quite interesting watching the staff and doctors work. The receptionist was the essence of efficiency and good cheer. However, I grew restless as the morning wore on. Ryder was finally led skittering, out of the kennel. She seemed glad to see me, and she didn’t seem at all pissed about having her reproductive organs removed. The receptionist gave us four tabs of Rimadel, a pain killer, and told us that the dog needed to lay low for a few days. We put her in the truck where she immediately resumed chewing on her moose antler, the one that we found in the cow paddy campsite near Mackey. Once all was in supposed order, we made a beeline for Helena, where the federal veterinarian was to okay our certificates. Otherwise, we’d have to remain in Butte. As I told Pete, this would not be such a bad thing. He was unconvinced. I think he misses Hrimmi, our yearling filly.

Side trip to Helena
If there was a lesson to be learned here, it’s that nothing, absolutely nothing, is ever a given. This was true in the case of our health certificate information. In my head, I’d begun writing a dispatch about how this time, the health certificate goings on l went without a hitch. However, my musings were cut short by an unforeseen complication. This time, our paperwork was not quite right. According to the clerk in the federal veterinary office, Dr. Cornelius had erred in filling out the EIA and the health certificate forms. This meant that he’d need to make the required changes and get the revised paperwork back to the feds.

“Oh oh,” I said. “Oh oh, is right” the clerk said, adding that she’d soon be leaving the office for the day. Calls were made. Paperwork was sent back and forth. And an hour-and-a-half later, we were again on our way back to Butte. That’s the short version of a longer story, one in which there are innumerable details too picayune to relate. Suffice to say, both Pete and I were left to wonder if we’d have to return to Butte, have Dr. Cornelius make the requisite changes, and then return to Helena. Fortunately, we did not have to do this, in part because the clerk who initially looked at our work made it clear to all involved that this matter needed to be resolved in a prompt and efficient fashion. And it was.

Hiking in the Carcass Hills with Kriss Douglas
I have known Kriss Douglass since 2000, when we lived in Butte. At the time we were in the same writing group. Kriss then wrote a series of essays for Montana Magazine about wildlife issues. And I wrote a piece about doing the Montana portion of the Great Divide Bicycle ride. Kriss and her husband Rick then and still live in the Carcass Hills, a rolling hilly area that then was a repository for discarded appliances, trash, and animal parts. Kriss and I spent considerable time in this area, running and walking. Her dog Aussie, and our dog Rainbow also often accompanied us.

Kriss was then having a hard time running – hip problems. But after I left she hired a personal trainer who began working one-on-one with her. Since, she’s done several triathlons. And at the same time, she was having a hard time with a co-worker where she worked as a fish and game officer. (She then monitored the whereabouts of elk hunters and kept tabs on tagged mountain goats). Since, she’s had a major career change.

I accompanied Kriss on a fast-paced walk/run in the Carcass Hills, and we talked about what she’s been up to. Kriss, is a pencil thin woman with straight blonde hair, and a long face. These days, many of her sentences are punctuated by the words “So and so, I think this is really hilarious. . . “Behind this statement is a truism. Kriss really can’t believe what has happened. That is, that an idea she once had has now taken on a life of its own.

A few years back Kriss, whose area of academic expertise is botany, sought funding in the area of restoration ecology. More specifically, she wanted seed money. This goal was to sow wild flowers in the Carcass Hills. Kriss then applied for and received a grant in excess of $1,000,000. Most recently, she applied for and received a second grant.

What is most impressive about Kriss’s venture is that from the beginning, she’s kept the big picture in mind. This, the big picture, is as much about education as it is about restoration ecology. For example, she’s “hired” a fellow, an academic who is now designing and teaching courses in restoration ecology. So in time, the Carcass Hills will be a training site for others interested in this area of study.

As we chatted, Kriss pointed out various plants. I, of course, have forgotten what they are, because my Plant IQ is in the negative numbers. As Kriss explained, in time, the planted seeds will flower, drop seeds, and increase in number. I asked her about applying compost, and was told no, this won’t happen – it is too high in nitrogen. And so, as I understood it, what survives will survive because the growing conditions will be conducive this.

What I most liked was what I myself could envision. That is that in time, the changing landscape will change user’s perceptions of this area for the better.

Sidetrip to Whitehall, Montana
We took our old friend Howard with us to Whitehall, where rumor had it, we’d find good hay. Howard, tall, lanky, white haired, thin lipped, knows something about everything, including (he thinks) why people think the way they do. Howard talks in the sing-song voice of a therapist as he attempts to plumb the depths of his dear friend’s psyche. I have always dealt by keeping my emotional distance.

We’d gone to Whitehall two years before, and found good stuff. Not this time. The hay in question had alfalfa, which I’ve been trying to avoid. (Too intense a diet change.) And it was really brown on the outside. The farmer was pushy, but I held my ground. I don’t want my horses to colic or founder, to which Pete and Howard agreed.

2. Side trip to Dillon, Montana
Pete, Howard, and I continued on to Dillon, where we were hoping to find good hay. An added incentive was that it was home of the Great Harvest Bakery. Turns out, the bakery was no longer there. However, it is still home of the corporate headquarters. Howard, thinking that the management might know of the whereabouts of the bakery, went inside their main street office, where a lone employee was looking intently at a computer screen. There, he struck up a conversation with a well-dressed woman. He emerged minutes later, with a huge smile on his face. He paused for effect and then told us in his sing song voice that he’d told the woman that she was a sight to behold, for she had beautiful eyes and beautiful hair. She then thanked him and gave him two business cards, which on the back said that the bearer was entitled to a free loaf of bread. I then considered going in and telling the woman what beautiful eyes and hair she had, but then realized that this probably wouldn’t go over very well.

The Search for good Hay Continues
We ate lunch in a Dillon Bistro. I slurped down the absolute best tomato soup ever in the restaurant hallway, while Howard and Pete talked amongst themselves about hay. A fellow who moments later identified himself as Chad, heard the word hay, and leapt into the conversation, saying that he had a few bales of very good hay for sale.
“Is it grass hay?” I asked.
“Sure, yeah,” he said.
“Is it this year’s hay? Pete queried.
“No, it’s last year’s hay, but it’s still really good,” Chad said.
Chad and the guys kept talking. As I understood it, he was studying psychology at nearby Montana Western College. And his wife was in the horsemanship program. Good enough credentials, I thought. So I agreed with Pete and Howard that we should go and check it out. So we four stuffed ourselves into Pete’s man truck, and went over to his place. The bales in question were located next to a horse corral that contained a half-dozen horses and considerable manure.

Together, we examined the bales, as would a group of physicians attending to a sick patient. Pete said the bales were just fine. I said no. Howard (in his sing song voice) said that since there was some doubt as to the quality of this hay, that we should get it for free. I have learned to pick my battles, and this wasn’t going to be one of them. Pete gave Chad $20.00 and we loaded up the hay and returned to Butte.

Examining Hay
The order of events in the a.m. is this. First the horses, then the dogs, then we eat the day’s first meal. I clean the pen and Pete then makes breakfast. We usually have oatmeal. And when traveling, I set aside some of mine for the horses, who I feed off my spoon. Yes, they are spoiled animals. And so, first thing, as I was getting dressed, Pete yanked a hay bale out of the trailer tack room, and opened up a bale of Chad’s hay. A heated discussion ensued since we disagreed about its overall quality. I said that it was moldy in places and dusty. Pete said that we could feed the non-moldy portions. I said no. Pete said yes. I threw a fit. Pete, who had no choice, gave in. We ended up giving the hay to an older man and his daughter, who said that they’d feed it to some rescue horses. So off we went, to Murdoch’s, where we purchased an expensive bale of compressed grass hay. I felt very bad about the argument. I was probably being too picky. Really, these horses have had several major dietary changes in the past few months, and have done just fine. But as I say, better safe than sorry. I couldn’t live with myself if either got heaves or colicked.

Preparing for the Next Leg of the Trip
Much of what we do has become routine. For instance, every so often we do what I call housework. This involves removing said items from the truck and trailer, cleaning truck and trailer, sorting and organizing said items in truck and trailer, and putting things back in truck and trailer. It seemed like a good day for this – sunny, warm, plus we had access to a dumpster and a hose. We also had a bit of time on our hands.

So we sprang to work. Pete fixed the stove, and repaired the broken bucket handles, taping them with duct tape. And I put things away, in hopes that supposedly lost items would surface. Indeed, they did. I found my favorite lead rope, the missing container of fly repellent, my I know you Ryder Tee-shirt, and my missing left running shoe. This time around, I decided, cleaning can also be revelatory. What I discovered this time around is that having a border collie is life-changing. Unbeknownst to me, Ryder had gotten a hold of, and chewed up, the center portion of our Idaho map. So rather than go to central Idaho, we will instead soon be heading north.

Hart’s RV Sales
There’s an ongoing documentary called “Seven.” Every seven years a group of people from England are interviewed. This has now been going on for some time. I think that’s what’s most notable is that over time, their values have changed. I suspect that like me, many assume that one’s values are set from age seven on. As is indicated here, this is not necessarily so.

Case in point – I used to scoff at RV travelers who I presumed to be lazy, gas guzzling fools. “Inside quarters? No way,” said this diehard bicycle tourist. Then this summer I got to thinking about how nice it would be to travel and have access to a camper, horse trailer living quarters, or RV. If this were to be, I would no longer have to root around in the bottom of my sleeping bag for an errant sock, or eat breakfast standing up. To this end, I pictured myself rising, pulling socks out of a drawer, and dining at a kitchen table.

It must be that as the arteries soften, the mind hardens. So when Pete (who may have been thinking similarly) suggested that we go and take a look at RVs at Hart Sales on Butte’s Harrison Avenue, I was all for it. So for the next 45 minutes, we checked out a dozen-or-so units. What is most telling is that no sales people followed. Maybe they have our number. Couples wearing tie-died tee shirts and dirty jeans are probably suspect.

My thinking, after spending some time in such spaces ,is that I’m back to being happy with my current living quarters. Our sleeping quarters consist of a Big Agnes tent, and if need be, the rear of Pete’s man truck. In other words, I’ve ceased to yearn for something that no longer exists. My overall observation was that the interior of the RVs felt cramped, the furniture was funky, the lighting was inadequate, and the shower space claustrophobic. There is also the matter of gas consumption. Someone, somewhere, has to begin to conserve what we have left. I guess that right now, I’m too young and frugal to think otherwise. Let’s see if I feel any differently in another seven years.

Rick’s Place
We spent the early evening with our friends Pat and Jan Munday, who we hadn’t seen in two years. It was, in fact, a fast and very intense game of catch-up that ended altogether too soon. Pat, who maybe sensed this, made an attempt to prolong the evening, by suggesting on the walk back to our vehicles, that we stop and see his friend Rick, who had just opened up a new shop on the far side of Park Street.

Pat’s saying that “he’s a very astute horseperson” piqued my interest. So off we all went. Rick, who was working behind a large wooden desk, looked up when we tapped on the window, then went to find a key. He was a large fellow, wore a handful of gold chains around his neck, but obviously friendly enough.

Once inside, we were surrounded by antiques and paintings of all kinds. As I understood it, he gets a lot of purchases from estate sales. I owwed and ahhed at desks, chairs, photos – beautiful things that I will never be able to afford to own. Then I pictured it – a black and white photo of 1964 Kentucky Derby winner Dapper Dan. Rick, seeing that I was visibly excited by this finding, said “wait,” and then disappeared into another room. He emerged minutes later, and said it was a mess, but to come in anyways.

Rick then showed us his racetrack photos. Apparently, he had at one time been a trainer of thoroughbred horses. His era was my era. Many of the photos were of him and Peggy Chenery, who was Secretariat’s owner. However, the one that stopped me in my tracks was a color photo of a galloping horse named Mom’s Command. “She was owned by Peter Fuller! And his daughter was her jockey,” I screeched. I then babbled that Fuller was the owner of Dancer’s Image, who won the 1968 Kentucky Derby. He was ridden by Bobby Ussery, and trained by Lou Calavaris. He was a few days after this event disqualified because Bute was found in his system.

I got this sense that while he harbored good memories, that Rick had put his racehorse years behind him. It was for this reason that we did not have an extended conversation about Mom’s Command or any of the horses in any of the other photos. Had Rick been more receptive, I would have kept us there all night. For the truth be known, he had brought my distant past to the forefront of my thought process.

Next: 174: 9/14/13: Al and Robin Near’s Place