Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The one that got away

We flew to Billings, Montana bright and early yesterday morning.  The trip began at about 5:00am with morning shuttle surface provided by Juston Williams.  Not many people are thrilled to whisk you away on a vacation at 5am,, especially when they have to work later in the morning.  Juston handled the task with technical aplomb, steering his through the hot morning air like a seasoned airport taxi driver.  I owe you one bud.

Our flights were made better by a baggie of goodness that we swiped from the fridge on our way out of the door.  Kristin had celery, carrots, dip, and string cheese.  I, being a self proclaimed cheesaholic, sneaked a bag full of artisanal cheeses and breads by security.  I know.  These are not considered TSA prohibited items and I had no need to stuff my cargo pockets full of spanish and french cheeses, but if the TSA ever realizes how explosive the flavor can be inside a pockmarked rind of mimolette, they may re-evaluate their position on this ball of wonder from Lille, France.  I could go on about mimolette for paragraphs.  It is great with pretzel rolls, and that is how I spent my morning above the rockies.    

We landed in Billings and were greeted by my grandparents.  After spending some time in Billings at the holy trinity of Wheat Montana, Costco, and Walmart, we began the journey back to Big Timber.  Big Timber is between Bozeman and Billings with a backdrop of the crazy mountains exploding out of the surrounding prairies.  Supposedly, these mountains are called the crazies because a crazy woman took up residence in them after losing her entire family in the attempt to move westward.  Sort of like a real life Oregon trail, except instead of dysentery, she went mad and exited stage left to her own natural insane asylum.   On really quiet nights, you can hear her howling and moaning for her lost children across the plains.  It is really annoying though not even remotely true.

Montana is a very relaxing place.  I have come here all of my life, and make a point to visit in August when the Texas heat gets too unbearable.  I loved it until about 12, hated it during awkward years between 13 and 18, and forged a sort of Montana renaissance in my mid 20's.  The air, the altitude, the mountains, and the people sort of combine to make a very real and different place, that seems just out of touch with the present enough to be a good thing.  It is a great place to do nothing, and a better place to fish, hunt, or trek.

This morning, we had a messenger drop by the house to relay us important news regarding the cows.  They were coming, and we best get moving if we want to beat them to the ranch.  We wanted to beat them to the ranch.  We were to fly fish at the Rostad ranch just outside of Big Timber, and if this enormous herd of cows arrived before us, then we would have an extremely difficult time getting down to the Boulder River.  We made haste.  My grandfather hurriedly drove us to the ranch, fishtailing only once.  I heard Kristin quietly buckle her belt in the backseat.  The fishing car of choice for my grandfather?  A bumper to bumper steel beast known colloquially around our family as "The Queen." This all white 1985 Caprice Classic has the looks of a cop car, the heart of a champion, and a V8 that will never, ever, give up.  It gets decent mileage, likes to get sideways, and knows its way out of a pinch. Most recently, it managed to barely fall on the economical side of the cash for clunkers legislation, extending its life indefinitely.  

We reached the ranch just as the angus were ambling up to the gates like a bunch of drunk spring breakers, swaying, mooing, breathing heavily.  We barely squeaked by them and proceeded down to the water's edge.  The Boulder is a great fishing river, and the three of us had this little corner of her to ourselves.  Kristin and I could best be described as extreme novices or perhaps ardent amateurs when it comes to fly fishing.  My grandfather has decades of fly fishing experience under his belt, and he was tasked with the burden of teaching us the ways, perhaps his largest challenge yet.  We climbed the steep learning curve from idiot to beginner, and after a little bit of patience, we were knee deep in water tactfully casting our lures.  Compared to normal "drop some bait" fishing, fly fishing involves much more strategy and finesse.  It feels like a sort of higher sport, and it is easy to grasp the draw of standing in a quiet stream, delicately flicking your fly to and fro while the fish dodge your ankles.

During my tutorial, I actually got a nibble.  We were not prepared for this at all, as I was hardly doing anything right, so my grandpa had to brief me very quickly as to the proper way to bring one in.  He shouted and I grasped for the string.  I stumbled and fumbled; my waders filled to the brim with the glacial fed stream.  I braced my right foot against a craggy rock and tried to pull him back upstream.  The battle was hard fought. The fish and I matched wits.  It was definitely learning to swim in the deep end.  In the end, he proved to be a worthy adversary, outsmarting me enough to escape downstream and tell his buddies about the igmo that tried to reel him in.  Jerk.  I was told by my fishing buddies that he looked to be a rainbow trout.  This is nonsense. I know deep down that it was a Montanian River Shark.

On our way out, we dropped by to visit with the retired rancher that owns the Rostad Ranch, Clarence.  Clarence is well over 90 years old.  He is extremely cordial, and usually carries a harmonica around in his front pocket.  He knows over 80 songs, mainly hymns.  He told us that he used to own a list of all of the songs that he knew, but lost it years ago.  At first, he said that losing this list bothered him, but since he lost his sight, it does not matter any more at all.  Clarence is a very happy guy, and likes to say that if he was not completely happy he would have to get his head examined.  It is always a delight to sit and talk with Clarence, especially so when he breaks out his harmonica.  Lawyers have been trying to buy his ranch for years, but it is not for sale at any price.  Thank the heavens for that.  It is always refreshing to see something not completely governed by money.

We went home to pick up my grandmother and head to Livingston, the largest nearby city.  I always miss her a bunch when she goes to stay at their place in Montana from June to November, so it is great to see her for a week or two each summer.  Livingston has an especially good wine and cheese store.  We dropped by so we could pick up some items for our Yellowstone picnic tomorrow.  I ordered half a pound of mimolette cheese and Kristin picked up some Cakebread Wine.  We also walked around the downtown area, stopping only for ice cream and books.  It was a relaxing afternoon.  We capped off our day with a delicious pork dish with potatoes and asparagus back at home.  Tomorrow, we are heading to Yellowstone Park.  I will be updating the site when we return on Thursday evening since the park has no internet (or t.v.s for that matter).

The red house on Mcleod

Big Timber - main street

The Church


Back Alley

The main strip

Timber Bar - where the miners drink

Crazy Mountains over downtown

An old truck

A Cat that followed me around for about 5 minutes

The Boulder river

Grandpa and Kristin, suiting up

Dry land tutorial

Kristin going through the motions

Grandpa showing us the way

Knee deep in water


Changing flies


Just a day at the river

K trying to get it right


Trying to lure in a monster while listening for direction

Grandpa casting upstream

One more cast

The 6 sided harmonica of Clarence

Clarence taking a song request from Kristin

Jamming away

The Ranch

Grandma and Kristin after a spot of ice cream

Downtown Livingston


  1. I cannot get over how clear the water is. Are there more mountains in other parts of Montana or is it a mostly flat state?? It the house onb Mcleod Grandma and Grandpas house??? How relaxing an atmosphere it looks like. Can harly wait for the next set of pics. Love Gram

  2. What song did clarence play?

  3. Clarence played Faith of our fathers and rock of ages. Montana is pretty hilly with lots of mountains.