Wildfire Resources- useful links

This time of the year, it’s hard to tell where the smoke is coming from – there is just so much of it. Given how dry things are, and how thin our resources are spread, it’s good to keep informed.

So, where do we go?

State Map– helpful to get a quick glance and see if there’s anything new in the area.

InciWeb– Good for a broader map- the website also includes tables that list the reported incidents.

Code Red– Receive notifications of emergencies in your area.

TFS Volunteer Fire Department– they post information on Facebook, and they can always use help and support.

Fire Restrictions– What do the different stages mean? Find out here. Wondering which stage an area is in? They have a map!

Fire and Smoke Map– National level map. More useful to answer “where is the smoke coming from” when we don’t have as many fires nearby. Speaking of those…

Nearby Fires:

Burnt Peak and South Yaak Fires– Burnt Peak was 2,715 acres and 31% contained, as of about 7 pm July 26th. South Yaak was 1,523 acres and 10% contained. The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office has been putting updates out on Facebook. The South Yaak fire has seen both evacuation and pre-evacuation notices.

Closer to home, while not in Lincoln County, is the Hay Creek Fire. It is 4 miles West of Polebridge. As of 6 pm July 26th, it was 1,158 acres. The area receiving pre-evacuation notice for the Hay Creek Fire has been expanding.

Demography, Recipes

Fruit Soup

For many years, the Census differentiated between Germans and Germans from Russia.  While there were significant historical differences between the two groups, by the time I was doing the demographic work for South Dakota, the largest difference I could see was the menu.  This recipe, for Plumemoos, a fruit soup served cold, is a hot weather dish passed to us from the Germans from Russia.


2 qt      water
1 c.      sugar
1 c.      seedless raisins
1 c.      dried prunes
1          29-oz can of peaches
1          cinnamon stick
1          package red jello
1 qt.     Purple grape juice

Cook dried fruit, sugar and cinnamon stick til fruit is tender.  Add jello to hot soup and stir to dissolve – this will color and thicken the soup when it has cooled.   When cooled, add grape juice to taste.  Serve cold – a wonderful, soothing soup for a hot summer day.

Community, Demography

What is a Farm

A dozen years ago, I wrote “What is a Farm” and now I have one.

The bottom line that defines a farm is production.  “The current definition, first used for the 1974 census, is any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the census year. (1992 Census of Agriculture).”  It’s kind of fun to be able to quote myself, and find that the commentary is still accurate 12 years later.

This July, I harvested 275 little round bales of grass hay, and stored them in the log shed.  I figure if I sell them at $4 each, the place makes the minimum to be a farm.  Logically, that makes me a farmer, for the first time in my life.  I remember seeing a neighbor in Ag Hall when I worked for Extension – and commenting to Todd that he was the first farmer I had seen in that building . . . to be fair, I hadn’t worked in Ag Hall all that long.  Now that I’m a farmer I do have to sell those cute little bales to actually qualify.

Since I’ve already done the research, I can help others determine if they also qualify: “The definition also makes it easy to be a “small farmer”: if a family has a couple dozen hens and eats organic eggs from its own free-range chickens, the family probably produces enough to be living on a farm. Similarly, a two-Holstein-steer feedlot with all purchased feed can meet the definition of a farm. Obviously, a large hog confinement facility is a farm, even if it lacks plows and fields.” 

This table shows how the government’s definition of a farm has changed over time:


Wild Geese Have Flown

Another hatch of goslings have taken flight from the pond.  In the flyway we saw huge numbers of Canada geese – here, we see a single pair, year after year, who are our Summer neighbors, and traffic slows to watch them.

Gander seems as strong and youthful as ever, but the years are taking a toll on Goose – the cold Spring months that she spends on the nest have aged her more  She walks slowly, spends more time with her head held low, and leaves the flock leadership to Gander.  Hopefully, she will winter easily and return to raise another flock next Spring.

They chose the pond because the island makes a safe nesting spot as soon as the ice goes out.  They arrive early, to beat the competitors, with last year’s flock.  This year, the hatching took two rainy days – Goose remaining on the nest, Gander on the goslings.  Their parenting dedication is impressive.

July has been the month of flight training.  Gander starts training them on water landings before they can fly, with flapping runs from the dock to drop into the water, move to swimming mode, and leave open space for their siblings.  The next stage of flight training includes a walk into the mowed field, then a takeoff, circling until organized, and a water landing in the pond – repeated until everything is satisfactory.  Eventually they move to landings on solid surfaces, then to forced takeoffs when he leads them close to the house and the small dogs.  Then one day the flock flies off to other sites in the area, returning occasionally to the home pond. 


Alumni Magazines

As a young man, MSU’s alumni magazine occasionally brought information about classmates, but was by and large an irrelevant publication.  Adding a couple more degrees brought more alumni magazines – and the deaths column became something I watch more.  Not sure why – perhaps to make sure I’m not there.

Today, STATE listed Jeeta Kant and Bob Mendelsohn.  I met Jeeta when she was unable to get into the sociology Master’s program, and couldn’t understand why her 35 year-old bachelors in Soc didn’t punch all the buttons – she had good grades, but lacked the research.  A colleague in geography looked at the books she had done on Hutterite colonies, and in 2008 she completed her MS in geography on the topic.  After that, she worked on a research project in the civil engineering department, on edible and usable plants on the Pine Ridge, completing her Ph.D. in 2013, at the age of 66.  She spent a few years as a postdoc researcher before retiring.  Jeeta didn’t have a conventional academic career, but she did show that age isn’t an insurmountable handicap, and combining a research career with social security isn’t impossible.  

Bob Mendelsohn’s specialty was deviance – and it always struck me as a bit strange that our deviance prof was the closest to the norm.  I mean, the guy was married to his high school girlfriend, from 1967 until he went away this May.  He retired in 2008, and spent several hours telling me of his return to studying his Judaism.  He was challenged by the thought of giving up deli ham sandwiches – hopefully keeping kosher came easier as he moved to the east coast.  I’ll remember a Jewish researcher who loved the green and red decorations, and the music of Christmas.  Totally different upbringings – but a good friend who left the world a better place for having been here.


Backwoods Accordion Festival was well attended

Trego’s Backwoods Accordion Festival was well attended Saturday. Music began at the Trego Pub at three and continued until 9 pm, featuring: Ray Jacobs and Friends, Accordion Demolition Demo, Ol’ Santi, Shirley Jacobs, Euphonium Spaceship, and Shrimp Louise and the Fiddler Crabs.

Despite the heat and gathering haze, folks gathered from near and far – the Flathead was well-represented, though Lincoln County residents made up the majority.

Throughout the festival, attendees broke into spontaneous dance – waltzes and two-steps, among others. Thanks to the venue, attendees both ate and drank well. Thanks to the multitude of talented musicians, many of us walked away with new songs in our heads, spring in our steps, and appreciation for our community.

We look forward to next year’s festival, and the many musical events between now and then.


Fire Sky

The air is hazy, and the sun is red. And the sunsets? The sunsets are vibrant. Why?

It is for the same reason a sunset is red. Particles in our atmosphere scatter light, and they scatter blue light more than red. At sunset, the sun reaches us through more of the atmosphere, and most of the blue has been filtered away from us, leaving us with the longer, redder wavelengths.

When the sky is filled with smoke, there are far more particles in the air to scatter light and the colors are more vivid.

Similarly the sun appears dimmer (more light is scattered) and redder (blue light is scattered more than red. Much of what reaches us is the red.


Breathing Smoke- Once Again

Well, the smoke has hit us a bit earlier this year, and it isn’t quite as hazy as it was last year when I wrote about breathing smoke. Smoke inhalation isn’t something to take lightly- it comes with a number of unpleasant symptoms.

Here’s Last Year:
Tuesday, September 15th of 2020

Smoke seemed to fill the air over the course of Saturday, with the mountains becoming increasingly difficult to see.

According to the CDC, breathing in smoke may have several immediate effects:

  • trouble breathing
  • coughing
  • wheezing
  • headaches
  • scratchy throat
  • stinging eyes

These, among other unpleasant side-effects are caused primarily by the very small particles in smoke. While wildfire smoke can contain carbon monoxide (which also causes headaches), carbon monoxide seldom travels far from the initial fire. Ozone is also a concern, because it can form as the smoke plume moves away from the fire.

According to the EPA, the main components of wildfire smoke are: particulate matter (small, large), carbon dioxide, and ozone. Other chemicals are present, but in far smaller amounts. The major component that’s tracked is the very small particulate matter (small in this case means less 2.5 microns in diameter, which is substantially smaller than the diameter of a hair)

A clear day vs a photo taken around noon on Saturday

As our local air quality increasingly worsens the recommendations to stay indoors, avoid strenuous outdoor exertion, etc. become more broadly applicable, no longer applying only to sensitive groups.

The EPA, in addition to defining sensitive groups and noting that there’s been fairly little research done on the long term effects of smoke inhalation, offers some further information about staying indoors.

  • Tightly Closed Air conditioned homes where the air condition recirculates indoor air (instead of drawing in outside air) will keep air pollution outside more effectively
  • Open homes only in periods when the air is relatively clean
  • If cleaning use damp mopping or dusting to avoid putting particles back into the air
  • Minimize driving and trips outdoors
  • Reduce outdoor physical activity
  • Only use an air cleaner (air filter to the rest of us) that doesn’t produce ozone
  • Humidifiers may reduce eye/airway irritation in dry climates

With the skies remaining a bright white/gray, it remained a beautiful day to spend inside. Updates on the wildfire smoke (and a brief forecast) can be viewed on Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ)’s website.

Community, Plants

Making Hay

Cutting grass is the main component of making hay – and, until the mid 1840s, the task was left for human muscles, usually with a scythe or sickle (I have seen artifacts where stone chips were glued into wood or bone preceding iron or bronze).

I’m haying about 18 acres of old lake bed – drained with ditching powder about a century ago.  It isn’t the best cropland (it’s a high shrink-swell clay known as a vertisol that is high in calcium salts), but the decision to turn it into hayland was made at least 30 years before I was born.  The plus is that it is fairly flat.

When I decided I needed tools for haying, the first thing I looked at was sickle bar mowers.  First used in the 1840’s, the horse-drawn mower became practical after the war between the states.   It’s interesting to look at the relatively short period of time that horses provided agricultural power – basically the 19th century until 1950 – excepting, of course, our Amish neighbors.  Brand new horse drawn mowers are still available. 

Instead of buying a sickle bar mower, I bought a drum mower.  It takes more power – but my little diesel has almost 30 horsepower.  It’s shorter than a sickle-bar mower, but faster.  The technology on either is mature. It cost less than a new sickle-bar mower, and seems to be doing fine for my application.

My rake is too small – so I’ll be buying a second section for it to double the size.  Twice the rake will still get around the field quickly.

Then comes the baler.  I’m baling with a brand-new baler – mini-round bales.  Habits are an interesting thing.  It’s been over 40 years since I last baled hay with an old Case baler.  It fed from just to the right of my tractor.  This new baler needs my tractor to straddle the old windrow.  It took the first hundred bales just to get over the habit of keeping the windrow to my right.  I’m baling with hemp twine, and next year I may try sisal or plastic.  It’s fun.  I may be a bit slow and old, but making hay is a lot more fun at 71 than it was at 15.