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:


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.


The Misery Index

Almost a half-century ago, an economist named Arthur Okun developed the Misery Index.  It’s a simple calculation – just add the unemployment rate to the inflation rate, and you have the Misery Index.  He also came up with Okun’s law – which is online, but I think it would be better termed Okun’s estimate.

At any rate the Misery Index has been going up lately.  But it’s kind of a funk index, so I’ll pick a few years before and after Okun invented the index to give perspective:

YearMisery Index

I read that it started at 7.9 when Biden was inaugurated, and that the Misery index stood at 11.3 in June. 

A much more complete description of the Misery Index is available here, where Kimberly Amadeo provides a timeline by years and by presidents.  Probably her most significant description is of a “Goldilocks Economy where the ideal rate of growth is 2%-3%. To achieve this level of economic efficiency, employers need to find workers. There needs to exist a natural rate of unemployment of between 4% and 5%. When the rate is lower than that, companies can’t find enough good workers to maximize production.”

I remember the high inflation as part of the Carter years, yet the chart tells me that we only returned to the “Goldilocks Economy” for the last three years of Reagan’s administration. 

Amadeo points out “Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969) . . .reduced the index to 5.9% in 1965 with spending on the Great Society and the Vietnam War.”  I had thought that the inflation went up with Nixon when the country changed from silver certificates to federal reserve notes – but perhaps his greater contribution to the increased Misery Index was ending the Vietnam War and the draft.  Kind of strange to think that ending the draft would increase the Misery Index.

Steve Hanke has calculated a series of Misery Indices for the different nations of the world, and his analysis of the situation is here.

A glance at this compilation showed that Venezuela was harder hit than Zimbabwe – and that Suriname, a country that I enjoyed visiting, was fifth on the chart.


Reading the First and Second Amendment

The First Amendment, protecting free speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion, begins with the words “Congress shall make no law . . .”  The second Amendment ends with “the  right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”  I looked them up after hearing an argument that “The right to free speech does not include yelling fire in a crowded theatre” as a reason that specific categories of firearms could be legitimately controlled.

It isn’t a valid argument – “Congress shall make no law” does not say or mean the same thing as “shall not be infringed.”  You don’t need to be a philologist to know that the two phrases are different.

Years ago, L. Neil Smith wrote “Why Did It Have To Be . . . Guns?”  It’s worth reading. He explains why he isn’t really a single issue voter: “ all politicians—even those ostensibly on the side of guns and gun ownership—hate the issue and anyone, like me, who insists on bringing it up. They hate it because it’s an X-ray machine. It’s a Vulcan mind-meld. It’s the ultimate test to which any politician—or political philosophy—can be put.”

CBS quoted Biden:  the “2nd Amendment, from the day it was passed, limited the type of people who could own a gun and what type of weapon you could own.  You couldn’t buy a cannon.”  Two things – a private individual definitely could buy a cannon at the time the second amendment was written and passed, and despite the President’s comment “It Seems Like Most Of My Career I’ve Been Dealing With This Issue,” his problem may be that he has spent most of his career trying to find ways to infringe.

The first amendment reads:  “ Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  Seems pretty simple – Congress shall make no law on these topics.  The 14th amendment expands that limitation to the states: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

So let’s look at the second: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”   If you want to argue the militia clause, that’s fine – but the Heller decision ruled that it’s the right of the people – never said it was a collective right of the National Guard.

Basically, Congress never passed a law preventing you from yelling “fire” in a crowded theater –  the phrase “you can’t yell fire in a crowded theater” is from the Supreme Court, Schenck v United States (1919) and was not about yelling fire, but encouraging people to resist the draft during World War I.  My many times great-grandfather may have settled for a rifle, but could have purchased a cannon in 1790, and “shall not be infringed” is a pretty straightforward statement.  Of course, since I lack legal training, this analysis isn’t likely to stand up in a court.


Trego Traffic

Traffic was a bit unusual this week. While the usual events (the food giveaway on Friday at the community hall, for example) backed up traffic and crowded parking lots on schedule, commuters Monday morning had a bit of a surprise.

As you may have noticed, the railway had a large machine parked near the railroad crossing. It appears to have been a production/switch tamper. Tampers appear to be a pretty important part of rail maintenance- they keep the rail smooth and reduce the risk of derailment.

6700 Production/Switch Tamper
Based on the markings on the side of the one that was loaded on Monday, this image should be of a similar model produced by the same company.

Around 7:30 on Monday morning, the machine was removed from the rail. This process involved both specialized ramps, a winch, a rather sizable truck/trailer, along with a crew of three.

They didn’t seem to waste any time, nor did they have too much difficulty. But it was seven thirty on a monday morning, blocking the most convenient/practical/timely way to work for anyone leaving on their morning commute.

The short eternity of winching the machine up actually only lasted until 7:50, after which traffic was allowed to pass through.

It was a fairly respectable line-up of cars and the crew was polite, offering a “Thank you for your patience” as they waved folks through.