Fireworks and Fires

When we risk fire, we do not just choose that risk for ourselves. Rather, we choose that risk for our neighbors as well.

As we approach the fourth of July, it’s time to start considering the fire danger. According to the National Fire Prevention Association, there were 19,500 fires started by fireworks in 2018 (not bad for a whole year- but also unlikely to be all of the fires started by fireworks- just the ones where people admitted to it).

Where do we learn about fire restrictions and fire danger? actually has a national map that includes all warnings, including red flag warnings. At the moment, we’re showing an “excessive heat warning” from noon Monday (6/28) to 8 PM Thursday.

If we’re not at red-flag level, it’s still important to know how close we are to reaching it. For that, we want to look at the fire potential map put out by the forest service and accompanying agencies. At the moment, we’re placed in high risk, coded orange. The area coded red moves closer as the forecast date moves further out into the week.

If you don’t feel like wandering out by one of the Smokey the Bear signs, you can get an update on the fire danger on the upper right of this page.

Given the (very) warm weather, and the lack of recent rain, the fire risk is worth watching. Fireworks and other flammable fun definitely requires some caution and consideration. Choose your risks carefully and keep watching the warnings/fire restrictions/etc.

As ever- we appreciate our local volunteer fire department– and hope not to need them! Thank you!

Community, Meteorology

The Weatherman Said

It looks like we’re into some near record or even record breaking high temperatures.  Kalispell’s record high was 105 degrees back in 1961.  I probably handled that by heading into the creek.  Still, that’s fairly gentle, compared to Glendive in 1893, or Medicine Lake in 1937 – both of which saw 117 degrees. 

As I look at the predictions for the next few days, my mind goes back to the concept of growing degree days, and then to the temperature limits on plant growth.  Corn, for example, doesn’t grow unless the temperature is at least 50 degrees, and anything over 86 is wasted.  Today’s heat isn’t much help for the sweet corn in the garden.  Wheat, as I recall handles temperatures up to 90 – but there isn’t much good to be said about 100+ degree weather for crops or people.  Alfalfa doesn’t notice the temperature until it tops 104.  (All of this is from memory, and the last time I taught the class was 35 years ago – I don’t believe that I’ve lost it since then, but checking the numbers won’t hurt my feelings)

The excess temperature has the spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce and similar leafy greens bolting – going into seed production early.  I’m not sure how the early heat is going to affect the tomatoes and peppers this early in their growth.

Still, I’ve been through the hottest day Montana could offer – I was manning a target so we could tie in two separate benchmarks on two separate mountains . . . the kind of job a monkey with passable radio discipline could handle.  I’d figured on waiting for the radio call to shift the target, then napping in the shade.  When I got to the only shade available, I saw a rattlesnake slide into a crack in the boulder I had planned to use as a back rest.  It was a shady, smooth boulder – and if I had gotten there 5 minutes later, I would have probably got the nap.  Instead, I stood in the sunlight.  There’s a word for fear of snakes.


Heat Exhaustion and Heatstroke

With the weather warming, it’s time to start thinking about heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Heatstroke is the more severe condition. Heat exhaustion usually comes before the heatstroke.

Why avoid heatstroke? The short answer is that it can be fatal.

Heatstroke, also called sunstroke, is the condition of having a core body temperature greater than 104 degrees Fahrenheit. This is dangerous for much the same reason that fevers are dangerous.

The proteins that make us up are folded into very specific shapes- and need to be in order to function. When heated, proteins unfold or denature. When cooled, they don’t always go back to their previous shape (in the same way that cooling an egg does not uncook it). This is why rapid treatment is important with heat stroke- long term organ damage and death are possibilities.

Symptoms of that very high body temperature? Nausea, seizures, confusion, heavy sweating (or sweating that has stopped), loss of consciousness, fast heart rate.

Heatstroke doesn’t typically happen out of the blue. It’s preceded by other heat related illnesses. Fainting due to heat, heat cramps, and heat exhaustion can all come before heatstroke. While the lesser heat induced illnesses are all treated by moving somewhere cooler, drinking fluids, and perhaps a cold bath… drinking water isn’t suggested for heatstroke. The reason for this seems to be that people suffering heatstroke may not be able to swallow safely. It isn’t that someone with heatstroke shouldn’t be given water -but keeping them from choking should be a consideration.

Heat exhaustion shares some symptoms with heatstroke. The difference matters, since heatstroke means medical attention is a necessity. Heat exhaustion can include a weak and rapid pulse, profuse sweating, headache, muscle cramping, and skin that is cool and clammy (potentially even with goosebumps) regardless of extreme heat.

While fainting can be a symptom of head exhaustion, first symptom of heatstroke is often fainting. Unconsciousness that lasts for more than a few seconds is cause for concern. At the transition from heat exhaustion to heatstroke, sweating decreases and skin changes from cool, pale and clammy to warm and red. As sweat evaporates and is not replaced, the skin becomes dry.

Who’s vulnerable? The young and the elderly, but also anyone outside exerting themselves when it is hot. Additionally, anyone not accustomed to hot weather- which, since acclimatizing typically takes several weeks, probably describes many of us right now.

So, take it easy. Stay inside during the warmest parts of the day. Drink lots of water to avoid dehydration (not the same as heatstroke, but a contributing factor and dangerous in its own right). Keep an eye on your friends and neighbors, and if they’re starting to look like they aren’t feeling so well, get them some rest somewhere cool and keep them company. If someone suffering heat exhaustion isn’t improving once they’ve had a chance to cool down, hydrate, and rest, it’s time to consider medical attention. Heat induced illness isn’t something to take lightly.

Community, Recipes

Green Chile- A Recipe from Trinidad

One of the fun things about Trinidad, Colorado was the preponderance of foods that you just don’t find in the northwest.  This one, from the St. Joseph church cookbook, shows chile without a single bean.

1 ½ lb. pork or beef
2 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp flour
1 small can green chiles

Dice meat and fry.  When browned, add minced garlic and flour.  Stir and brown.  Add chopped green chiles, stir.  Add enough water to cover and cook as you would gravy.

A simple recipe, and green chile is an experience worth repeating.  As with the other Trinidad recipes, it might be good to start with a can of green chiles marked mild.  If that’s OK, move on up to the hot.

Ask The Entomologist

Cicadas – not just Brood X!

Chances are you’ve seen internet articles about the mass cicada emergences that’ll be happening across the eastern United States this year. Here’s a decent writeup from the National Park Service.

Periodical cicadas are named for the long stretches of time between their emergences (13 or 17 years, depending on the lineage). The thought is that this makes them an unreliable source of food for predators – it’s hard to be a specialist wasp if your food species vanishes and is unaccessible below ground for over a decade at a time.

And, when you emerge, surrounded by thousands of others like you, it’s statistically unlikely that you’ll be the one who gets eaten – be it by bird, dog, or unattended small child. Though many of your kin will be devoured, you’ll probably be safe. It’s the same tactic the now-extinct Passenger Pigeon used. Passenger Pigeons built undefended nests on the ground, and relied on numbers to make any individuals odds of survival better. A tactic that worked excellently until it didn’t.

Here we have a little member of genus Okanagana, the whip cicadas.
Fittingly for this area, they’re named after one of Canada’s First Nations which spoke a Salish tongue.

While we don’t have periodical cicadas (genus Magicicada) this far west, we do have other types of cicadas, especially genus Okanagana. I’ve been hearing their males sing in the trees on my drive back from work over the past couple of weeks. One way cicadas avoid predators is by being active in the sweltering heat when nothing wants to hunt. Cicadas cope with the heat by drinking tree sap nearly constantly, and releasing excess moisture through pores in their thoraxes, much like how we humans sweat to cool down.

Our cicadas here have life cycles maxing out in the 3-year range. As such, these species can be pretty reliable hosts for certain predators, like the cicada killer wasp… but our cicadas lead a charmed life. The Western Cicada Killer Wasp only goes as far east as Idaho, and the Eastern Cicada Killer Wasp only really goes as far west as the Dakotas.

Our local cicadas are convinced that this truly is God’s country.

An Okanagana cicada I met last fall – note that this one has brighter orange markings.
A Science for Everyone, Plants

Low Carb Potatoes

As the garden becomes better established, I’m researching low carbohydrate potatoes.  I like potatoes, but part of surviving cancer included type II diabetes.  It isn’t a big deal – but potatoes and apples are high in carbohydrates, carbohydrates convert to sugar, and I have the ability to find the low carb varieties.  If I can’t buy them in the stores, I can grow them in the garden.

Spud Smart and Potato Grower both have articles on the new varieties of potatoes that are low carb. The Spud Smart article starts with

Potandon Produce unveiled its first low-carbohydrate potato Oct. 19 during the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit convention in New Orleans. The Idaho Falls-based company boasts its CarbSmart potato has 55 percent fewer carbohydrates than rice or pasta.”

Boise isn’t that far away, Idaho produces a lot of potatoes, and I have hopes of being able to find their CarbSmart potato in the grocery store.

Potato Grower describes a world where many different low carb potatoes are available – though it’s a long drive to get Lotato in the Netherlands or New Zealand.  Still, the Sunlite variety is listed as available in supermarkets ranging from Florida to Minnesota – and the drive is getting shorter. 

Montana State University has developed a variety named “Huckleberry Gold.”  For a change, it is easier to find data online from the seed potato sellers than from the university.  The common description is “MSU researchers have found that Huckleberry Gold has a low glycemic index. This variety does not cause a rapid spike in blood sugar like most starchy foods. Great potato for diabetics!

It appears to need a slightly longer growing season than Trego offers – more suited to Eureka or Rexford.  Still, there are ways to work around this – a dark cold frame to warm the soil early and protect from late frost will help me.  I can mix a bit of sand into my silty clay to come up with a small plot closer to a loam and better suited for potatoes.  I am looking forward to raising potatoes that do not spike my blood sugar.

Huckleberry Gold produces round to oval small to medium sized tubers with purple skin and yellow flesh. Resistant to common scab and verticillium wilt.”

Irish Eyes Garden Seeds

“Researchers in the Sands’ Research Lab at MSU’s Plant Science Department have found low glycemic index potatoes that do not cause the rapid spike in blood sugar that comes with eating starchy foods. Sugar spikes can be dangerous for diabetics who lack the insulin to handle it and have been linked to cancer, heart disease and other conditions.”

Ag Update

Single Chick Flocks

It has been a good year for raven hatchlings, as well as for Goose and Gander.  The Montana field guide explains that egg dates for ravens are probably early in April, and that the young have been identified flying around Fortine as early as June 8.  The typical clutch is 3 to 7 birds – and this year the adults and the young have been specializing in turkeys – eggs and chicks.

This year, Goose and Gander had their goslings hatch out over two rainy days – but they take parenting seriously, so Gander took over the hatchlings as Goose spent one more day on the nest until the hatching process was complete.  This patriarchal assistance doesn’t exist among turkeys, where the males are content to strut and gobble.  The two species may offer a lesson for humans.

We’ve watched ravens land in the salt lick with turkey eggs or fledglings.  It is a reminder that nature is not gentle, and that reaching adulthood is a great accomplishment for prey species.  I realized how rough it has been when I watched two turkey hens, each protecting the single chick they have left.  One was just beginning to fly, and the hen flew to join it on a branch – three ravens were stalking through the grass, but when the small turkey goes airborne, it’s totally vulnerable.  The other chick, not yet flying, had its mother stand her ground – she is actually capable of intimidating the young ravens.  We’re accustomed to a pair or three turkeys consolidating their hatches into large flocks – this pair has only been able to protect 2 chicks from predation.

The geese and ducks don’t seem to be bothered by the ravens – they keep swimming and the ravens aren’t equipped for water landings.

The ravens – old and young – are spending a lot of time in the tall trees along the edges of the field.  Close to the house, they’re looking for robins, bluebirds and swallows.  I haven’t seen any after the hummingbirds.  As Spring brings fawns, it looks like the little dog and I will have to walk in the field to discourage the ravens from the fawns who are parked in the grass.

Laws, Ordinances & Regulations

Dear Senator Tester

Dear Senator Tester:

I notice that the proposed director for ATF, David Chipman, has said he would like a ban on the AR-15 rifle, that it is not suited for use other than military.

Since you come from Big Sandy, I’d like to share a story about my daughter.  She was hit by a semi as she was stopped to make a left hand turn.  The concussion left her with prosopagnosia (face blindness and object recognition challenges),  and the impact pretty well trashed her right shoulder – she can’t even handle the recoil from an M1 carbine, but the lighter .223 bullet, with the direct gas impingement, is gentle enough that she can handle the recoil of an AR-15.

Here in Trego, we live in grizzly country.  She can hike the woods in my quarter section where I have the trails blazed to show which way leads to the house and which way leads away.  She has a small dog who does an amazing job at identifying people.  And the AR-15 rifle gives her a much more even chance if she encounters a grizzly (or two) than the other light recoil option of a 22 long rifle.  The injury has taken her ability to use a large caliber handgun – she is pretty well limited to a .32 ACP blowback to make recoil manageable.  The dog takes care of recognizing threats and she can still have a chance with an aggressive bear or cat if she has the light recoil of the AR-15 with the .223 (larger cartridges like the 30 blackout still are beyond her recoil tolerance, and she’s not fond of my .223 bolt gun.

So I’m hoping that, with Choteau close to your home, you can understand that she has a use for the AR-15.  Frankly, I wish she were still able to use a 45 – but I am happy for the recovery she made – she is a high school science teacher and she and her dog really enjoy having 160 acres of forest where she can hike without fear of getting lost.  But last year, we had two problem bears (with collars) that FWAP wound up euthanizing.  They were 5 yards from my front door.  A couple years ago, a griz trapped by FWAP on the place had his video go viral as he tried to use the rope on the gate to reel in the warden when he (the bear) was released.  We have had two adult grizzlies through this year, one a sow with cubs. 

I can understand how the President, coming from Delaware, doesn’t share my reality – but I figure that, while your place in Big Sandy may not see as many grizzlies as we do, you probably have neighbors that are more similar to us.  I have friends who are scarred from their grizzly encounters – for myself, I have had nothing worse than confrontations that ended with the bear leaving. 

I figure that with the Senate split as evenly as it is, I should ask you to vote with Montana instead of the President, and keep the AR-15 available.


Michael McCurry

Trego, MT


More Gun Control -Ghost Guns Become PMFs

It appears that new controls on firearms will come through executive action and bureaucratic rule making rather than Congress passing new legislation.  One of the benefits of a relatively even split in Congress is that we don’t get all the government we pay for. 

Slow Joe and his handlers have asked for changes on 3 things – “ghost” guns, short-barreled rifles, and “red-flag” laws.  The Justice Department came up with proposed rules – and they aren’t as definite as I might like. 

On the ghost gun issue, DOJ pontificates on how recent it is to have receivers (frames) that don’t meet the 1968 definition.  Now, let me explain, I am not a firearms expert.  If P.O. Ackley (the man who created TSJC’s gunsmithing program wouldn’t claim to be an expert, I have to follow my older, better informed and wiser colleague’s lead.  The problem is, the guys who write the rules aren’t experts either.

My first revolver – a High Standard Sentinel 22, made in the early sixties, had a 2 piece receiver, held together by two pins.  The lower portion held the trigger and hammer mechanism, and the parts to revolve the cylinder.  The first one sold back in 1955.  The upper portion held the cylinder and barrel.  The AR-15 two-piece receiver also dates back to 1955 – when the AR-10 lost the competition with the M-14.  It is probably well past time to update the definition.

Here’s the rule that controls “ghost guns”: 

The NPRM proposes adding a definition of “privately made firearm” to 27 CFR 478.11 to mean “[a] firearm, including a frame or receiver, assembled or otherwise produced by a person other than a licensed manufacturer, and without a serial number or other identifying markings placed by a licensed manufacturer at the time the firearm was produced.” The term would not include a firearm identified and registered in the NFRTR pursuant to chapter 53, title 26, United States Code, or any firearm made before October 22, 1968 (unless remanufactured after that date). This proposed definition explains that PMFs are those firearms that were made by nonlicensees without the markings required by this part, and excludes those already marked and registered in the NFRTR, and any firearm made before enactment of the GCA which, unlike the repealed law it replaced, required all firearms to be marked under federal law. The term “made” is incorporated within the term “privately made firearm” rather than “manufacture” to distinguish between firearms manufactured (or “made”) by private individuals without a license and those manufactured by persons licensed to engage in the business of manufacturing firearms. “

I think I can still take a vise and file and legally make (as opposed to manufacture) that simple, frameless Browning 22 design that I wrote of earlier – but I am also not an attorney, so this is just a thought, not legal advice. 

The problem is that it takes very little technology to make a gun.  Fully automatic requires less effort than semi-automatic.  All the instructions are online.  Legislation and the likelihood of five years federal time does a good job of keeping me from experimenting with suppressors (silencers).  Still, the best time to close the barn door is probably before the horse gets out.  It looks to me as if Congress will not be able to act, so new rules from bureaucrats will proposed and enacted.