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Future for Our Kids  By Roland Cheek   It all began with Hilger rancher John Gilpatrick writing, "I read a comment you made that said something like this:  'What we need is a conservative with a conservation ethic.'  How true!" So, I used John's comment in a column which, in turn, triggered a mailbox full of support. 

Jim Milos, of a fourth generation Montana ranch family, writes: "I have spent my entire life here in this great state.  Although I am currently not living on my family ranch, I am still very close to the land and am greatly concerned about what happens to it.  Your column takes me that much closer to the land and certainly echoes my sentiments about this country and how it ought to be managed. The same column of yours that stimulated this writing indicated that what we need in government is a conservative with a conservation ethic.  I couldn't agree more. . . ."

Fred DesRosier of Browning, who has hunted in Montana "since the 1930's and guided in 'the Bob'" writes to say thanks "for your columns that I have enjoyed so much over these past few years." Fred adds, "You speak for a lot of as an articulate, conservative, conservationist."

Hank Rate of Gardiner wrote this insightful analysis: 

"The modern 'Conservative' battle cry that 'God told us' to destroy the things he put on Earth to sustain us has to be one of the great philosophical distortions of all time (whether your long suit is economics or religion)."

And Jim Meade of Great Falls weighed in with:

"My folks were republicans and fiscal conservatives from the word 'go', and I have never voted for any Presidential candidate that wasn't a republican.  In recent years, however, as Ron Marlene began throwing terms like 'Tree Huggers' and 'Prairie Fairies' and 'Fern Feelers' about, I began telling myself that he was describing ME, and while I regret Pat Williams liberalism when it comes to money, and a host of social issues, I found myself voting for Pat rather than Ron, based entirely on their stance on the environment."

Jim concludes with this plea for follow-through: "Like you, I just wish that there were a lot more fiscal conservatives with a conservation ethic.  I hope your mailbox is jammed with similar thoughts and you will let Conrad know about us!"

The first "Wild Trails & Tall Tales" newspaper column appeared May 10, 1982.  There've been five per month since--a total of over1,200 when I dropped the column in order to concentrate on books. Now I’m writing two blogs, sometimes utilizing material gleaned from the past. But never did any of my previous work strike such a sensitive chord as the one about a need for a fiscally conservative politician who is also environmentally conscious. It was a simple piece based on the simple premise that anyone who claims to be a fiscal conservative, yet advocates anything less than careful husbandry of our nation's resources, cannot be a conservative at all.

It's a contradiction in terms to claim conservatism, yet not practice conservation--an oxymoron.  "Subdue the earth," so says the Good Book; not make her scream in mortal anguish.

Like the two Jims and Fred and Hank were then, I hope Jon and Max are listening. That goes for you, too, Steve Bullock and Steve Daines.

And whomever is elected to any office.  It's the only way the Montana we know and love will be here for our kids.  And their kids....

Visit Roland Cheeks website here for more of his wit and wisdom, to find where to buy his books, and other odds and ends.)
Ridgetop Access By Roland Cheek   It's hardly news that Jewel Basin is a popular place to hike. The name itself is an attraction, conjuring images of glittering pools amid lush, green, glacial-carved cirques. 
The hiking area is laced with a fine network of trails and is, of course, near civilization, straddling the Swan Range east of Bigfork, only 20 miles from Kalispell. Many trailheads serve Jewel Basin, both from the Hungry Horse Reservoir side and from the main Flathead Valley. 
Views from the hiking area are spectacular: the peaks of Glacier Park, Bob Marshall and Great Bear Wildernesses; the Mission Mountains, Cabinet Mountains, Flathead Lake; the north end of Flathead Valley. It's wild country, too. Grizzly bears are known to roam Jewel Basin and mountain goats are on their way back after once being over-harvested.
But all other things being equal, the real reason the Jewel Basin Hiking Area is so popular is that Noisy Creek Road snakes to the 6,500-foot level of the Swan Range, providing access to the top of the world with a minimum of toil and a maximum of benefit. I've seen as many as 36 vehicles in the parking lot at Camp Misery.
Being able to climb 3,000 feet or more by automobile is the difference between beginning a day's hike refreshed and able to appreciate spectacular vistas from the ridgetops as opposed to exhausting one's self on a five or six mile climb up from the valley floor, breaking from the forest into alpine country only at the very last, when it's time to turn around and head home.    
There could be other similar opportunities in nearby mountain ranges. Two clear possibilities exist where roads cross the Whitefish Range and trails are already in place:  one at Werner Peak and another near Red Meadow Lake.
Access into China Basin can be had from Werner Peak, via the Whitefish Divide Trail. And it's only a short distance to the back side of Big Mountain. Shorty Creek, Link and Chain Lakes and the Whitefish Divide Trail are all accessible from the Red Meadow Road, near where it crosses the divide into Upper Whitefish Lake country.
Or think the Trail Creek Road, where it, too, crosses the Whitefish Divide amid beautiful country.
Other possibilities exist from the old Napa Lookout site, in the Swan country.  From Napa, it's a short hike along the ridgetop to Inspiration Pass (love that name!). At Inspiration Pass one hooks up with the Alpine Trail going either north or south. Or there's yet another trail down into Lost Creek.
Or how about the Beta Lake Road just beyond Hungry Horse Dam? For one thing, the road needs a little work. But the trailhead at its end has lots of opportunities:  Doris and Fawn Lakes, the Alpine Trail, Doris Mountain.
These are just a few places that could easily become recreational magnets for the trail traveling public. No doubt there are other such sites where opportunity could easily meet preparation. They're the kinds of possibilities that could spread visitor numbers, perhaps relieving recreational pressures that's is surely on its way to already popular areas. 
Is it appropriate to suggest planning for the future? We're up front now. With a little effort, we could stay that way.
Visit Roland Cheeks website here for more of his wit and wisdom, to find where to buy his books, and other odds and ends.)


  The Saga of the Giefer Griz (Final Installment)  By Roland Cheek. Odds are good that the Giefer grizzly was credited with more breakings and enterings than he actually accomplished—sort of the way Jesse James was held responsible for a train robbery in Arizona Territory and a New Hampshire bank holdup during the same week.

On the other hand, Jesse did travel to Northfield, Minnesota, and the Giefer Griz did roam at will up and down the North Fork while wardens and professional hunters and biologists circled in light planes and pickup trucks and talked back and forth on their two-way radios.
Unlike Jesse, the Giefer Griz had a sanctuary of sorts across the North Fork of The Flathead river in Glacier Park. If he kept his nose clean while in the Park, he could thumb it at trappers and hunters and wardens and maybe even biologists. But Glacier was not where the cabins were. And cabins were like a narcotic to the footloose bear. There was this thing about Canada, too. Dance across some imaginary line, and pickup trucks and professional hunters stopped as if the same road the bear had just ambled along fell off the end of the earth.
All in all, it was great sport. Despite white hunters and red-faced wardens and black-bearded biologists, despite steel-jawed traps and cable snares and enticing road-killed deer, despite the latest in electronic communications and media attention that reached to Reader’s Digest, despite newspaper editorials and drunken wakes celebrating his supposed demise, the great bear shuffled blithely on from cabin to cabin.
Then came his lucky break, or—as some say—his canny insistence on a level playing field. Just as the chase narrowed, the Giefer Griz left his collar lying amid the wreckage of his umptillionth cabin.
Without a radio beacon around the bear’s neck to prove them wrong, the rumor mills were free to embellish their wildest dreams:
A logger ran over the Giefer Griz with his pickup truck. No, a rancher shot it inside a hay barn. No, the government boys quietly handled the creature’s demise so as to suffer no further embarrassment. No, he’s on his way back to the Middle Fork. No he’s in Northfield, Minnesota, or New Hampshire or Arizona Territory.
Same bear, another cabin. And another.
Some second-home owners gave up and left their cabin doors smashed open, their windows broken. They removed all foodstuffs to their first homes in California or Helena or Puget Sound and resigned themselves to abandoning the field to the victor.
It was not so easy for those whose cabins weren’t their second home but their first, their only home. To them, their single refuge lay in turning their cabins into occupied fortresses. There was little visiting between neighbors and trips to town were put off until there was no other way. And after a rapid transit to a supermarket, they raged upon returning to trashed cabins.
Finally, in November, relief came with hibernation. Most of the winter was spent reinforcing their buildings or planning a counterattack come spring.
With spring came yet another report on the demise of the Giefer Griz. There are those among us without isolated cabins in the rural North Fork who had become skeptical of the Giefer’s death—it’d happened so many times. But this time it was true.
The bear who had learned to avoid traps with the uncanny verve of Willie Sutton sidestepping First National’s burglar alarms, and who had never—ever—ransacked an occupied cabin, had not recognized the peril of a distant hunter’s magnum rifle.
To the north, some Canadian provinces permit a spring grizzly-bear season. British Columbia is one. It is not known where the Giefer Grizzly took his winter sleep, but he grazed greening shoots along British Columbia’s remote Wigwam River on April 27, 1977. He was killed from one hundred and fifty yards by a Pennsylvania hunter guided by a Cranbrook, B.C., outfitter.
The Giefer’s career was like that of a brilliant shooting star blazing across the sky briefly, then fading to nothing in the atmosphere or crashing ungainly to earth. Though the bear bore press scrutiny for two of his twelve years, he really occupied newspaper headlines for just one season. But what a season!
(This concludes Roland's recounting of the Giefer Griz.  We will resume his regular dispatches.  Visit Roland Cheeks website here for more of his wit and wisdom, to find where to buy his books, and other odds and ends.)

The Saga of the Giefer Griz (Part 4)  By Roland Cheek.  Before he was through, the Giefer Griz punched out windows and doors in more than a hundred clandestine entries into remote North Fork Cabins.  Some he penetrated as many as four times despite beefed-up doors and shuttered windows.

No matter the double-locks and dead-bolts. No matter that barbed wire twisted in strands as thick as a child’s wrist crisscrossed windows to hold him out. No matter that thirty-penny spikes was driven through planks and anchored atop porch floors and entry steps to deter him. The bruin simply ripped out a new opening.

Yet no one saw him. Some said they did. Some even said they got off a shot at the marauder. Some said they’d killed him. Or they knew positively of someone who’d killed this infamous Ursus arctos horribilis. Then another cabin would be opened like a canned ham, and speculation would burst anew.
Newspapers got into the act, feeding the rumor mills with editorials about the bear’s demise, suggesting it was a good thing, too, and that the Powers-That-Be should never again release “problem” bears into civilized society.
And the Giefer Griz would strike again.
The truth is, the bear was never loosed into civilization to begin with; he was first dropped into the Flathead’s remote South Fork, then released for his second chance amid the wild Tuchuck drainage, near Canada and the summit of the Whitefish Range.
But the bear must have tracked the Fish & Game truck to easier pickings because, before the week was out, he’d struck his first cabin and before another week was out he’d left busted doors, strewn furniture, and broken glass in a dozen more.
Federal relief was already on hand in the form of professional government hunters, called in with the express purpose of applying capital punishment to a single bear. Kill bears they certainly did. But not the right bear. Not the Giefer bear. While hunters pursued him in the northern portion of his range, he practiced rural rehab in the south end portion. When they moved south, he moved north. There were times when he seemed to be working both ends the same night.
* To be continued. (Story from ch. 21 of my book Learning To Talk Bear.
(Visit Roland Cheeks website here for more of his wit and wisdom, to find where to buy his books, and other odds and ends.)


SAGA OF THE GIEFER GRIZ (Part 3) By Roland Cheek.   “I don’t believe this,” the first warden said, minutes later.

“What’d he do? Just lay there and look at it?” the second trapper mused.

The bait and snare were just as they’d been left by the trappers. The only sign a bear had ever been in the vicinity was a patch of flattened grass as big as the bed of a black angus cow—and it only inches from their cable snare.

The veteran warden grinned. “No way out of it—you got to hand it to him. He’s one son-of-a-bitch of a bear.”

The receiver picked up no radio signals from nearby, so the wardens returned to the high point they’d occupied earlier and tried again. Still nothing. “He’s out of range,” the elder warden said. “He’s already out of range. We’ll have to start all over again.”

Three nights later, the big grizzly again eyed the secluded cabin from the darkened forest. A soft rain fell. Ignoring the pungent aroma wafting from the deer carcass, the bear walked directly to the vacant cabin and smashed the door from its hinges.

The Giefer (pronounced “guy-fir”) Grizzly first came to the attention of Montana Fish & Game wardens in the spring of 1975 when he developed a propensity to break and enter summer homes in the Giefer Creek area along U.S. 2, near the Continental Divide summit at Marias Pass.

The animal wardens captured wasn’t large for a ten-year old male; there were no detectable injuries. Neither did he act especially aggressive. So he was paroled and moved a hundred and thirty road miles to the Flathead’s South Fork and dropped off near the edge of the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

But the following spring the bear again showed up along Giefer Creek. As before, he wasn’t constrained to mere doorstep observation. He was trapped again, this time with a cable snare before a baited cubby set, and moved far up the Flathead’s North Fork. This time, the terms of his parole was that the annoying animal was fitted with a radio-transmitting collar.

It was the last time marveling researchers, frustrated wardens, blood-eyed home owners, and wannabe bear huggers dripping with charity would get a clear look at the animal who revised standards for demolishing rural cabins.

* To be continued.  (story from ch. 21 of my book, Learning To Talk Bear)

(Visit Roland Cheeks website here for more of his wit and wisdom, to find where to buy his books, and other odds and ends.)


SAGA OF THE GIEFER GRIZ (Part 2) By Roland Cheek.   The moon was full but fitful, sneaking only occasional winks through scudding clouds. Even when shafts of light took a swift swipe across the land, they barely reached into the forest depths where the grizzly moved as stealthily as a house cat approaching a weed-patch mouse.

The bear paused to test the night air with his nostrils, then drifted into a leafy alder copse where he stood motionless for several minutes while studying the dim outline of the cabin and its woodshed beyond. Even to Homo sapiens’ relatively insensitive nose, the foul odor was pungent. To the great bear, the smell of rotted meat was most pleasant—what one might call “bearable.”

Again the bruin moved. This time moonbeams stole through clouds to shower the animal’s rippling silver fur with a thousand points of light as he slipped boldly through the old cabin’s tiny clearing. He paused one last time in the shadow of a bushy spruce to again survey the target.

The rotted deer carcass lay in a pile of jumbled, decaying logs left from long-ago days when the homesteader first wielded his axe. The carcass would be easy to take: simply move to the opening, reach in, and snake it out; then carry it a safe distance for a leisurely meal. Nothing could be simpler, and he was hungry. He took a step forward. Moonlight filtered to kiss his massive head as he swung to peer behind, at the cabin. Another step.

The bruin stopped abruptly and sprawled to his belly, laying his dish-faced head atop his forepaws. There the bear lay for two hours with only his surprisingly tiny black eyes moving. The rotted deer carcass lay but four feet away. Just a few inches from the razor claws of the grizzly’s forefeet, the snare cable’s loop lay covered with leaves and forest duff, ready to snap shut at the first rustle of the rotting meat.

One other thing moved in the clearing that night—a tiny electronic pulse in the collar band around the bear’s neck.

The man snapped the radio receiver to off and laid the antenna in the pickup box. He grinned at his companion. “He’s down. That makes two hours and he hasn’t moved. We’ve got the Giefer Griz at last!”

High-fiving each other, the two game wardens leaped into the pickup with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks logo on the door, and sped away. The logo had a grizzly head pictured in its center.

Silly trappers!

*To be continuedPlease come back and read more about the Giefer Griz.

(Visit Roland Cheeks website here for more of his wit and wisdom, to find where to buy his books, and other odds and ends.)


THE GIEFER GRIZ (Part 1) By Roland Cheek.   Rick Mace is arguably one of the Northern Rockies premier scientists working with grizzly bears, first with Chuck Jonkel’s Border Grizzly project, back in the mid-1970s; then as Team Leader of Montana Dept. of Fish, Wildlife & Parks long-running and enormously revealing South Fork Grizzly Study during the 1990s; and today as FWP’s go-to guy in Northwestern Montana’s developing grizzly bear management program.

The guy trapped and radio collared dozens, maybe even hundreds, of bears during the last 35-40 years; big bears, little bears, black bears, grizzly bears. Some were angry, some shy. All were dangerous.

Some bears Rick trapped appeared dumb and were trapped over and over, seemingly content to undergo the experience as worthwhile prices to pay in order to obtain the trappers delectably pungent carrion bait. But a few proved wily and learned to avoid traps. In Rick Mace’s considerable experience, however, none even came close to the Giefer Grizzly in avoiding man’s best efforts at apprehension while fully engaging in remote cabin remodeling projects of the ursid kind.

The Giefer Griz got his start in cabin renewal up the Flathead’s Middle Fork, where he was trapped while engaging in kitchen cupboard remodeling. Moved to the North Fork and equipped with a radio collar as terms of his probation, the bear proved disrespectful of international boundaries, entering cabins flying Maple Leaf flags as readily as those waving Stars & Stripes.

Quoting from a chapter in my book Learning To Talk Bear:

“Before the month was out, the Giefer Grizzly was a legend in a land of legendary ursids. And before winter hibernation, the bruin was listed as ‘Public Enemy Number One’ in area newspapers. Jokes were made about the Governor declaring the North Fork a disaster area, qualifying it for emergency relief from Washington, D.C.”*

*To be continuedPlease come back and read more about the Giefer Griz.

(Visit Roland Cheeks website here for more of his wit and wisdom, to find where to buy his books, and other odds and ends.)


THE POWER OF THE PEOPLE  By Roland Cheek.   The mother of all April Fool jokes came to the people of the Flathead Valley in 1943 via insidious rumors that the United States Army Corps of Engineers were planning to raise Kerr Dam (below Polson) and inundate Flathead Valley. ("Ha, ha. That's a good one, isn't it Lars?")  

The soberest and most thoughtful Flathead residents dismissed the idea as rumormongering. The problem was the rumor was true, borne by a need for quick, massive amounts of electrical generation for use in making the atom bomb. 

Naturally, in 1943, no one in Montana knew an atom bomb from an ankle carbuncle. Nor did all but very few Americans know we were in a race with Hitler's Germany to see who developed the first bomb. All a shop owner in Kalispell knew was suddenly he faced four feet of water in his showroom. And when that realization sank to the toenails, a mixture of disbelief and furor erupted. 

By the time reality arrived, the decision to go ahead and raise Flathead Lake appeared to be a done deal. Still, Montana's Governor protested. So did the Treasure State's congressional delegation. Virtually every organization across Montana joined the protest: county commissions, school districts, church councils, professional groups, Farm Bureau, Woolgrowers, etc. 

The Corps of Engineers was forced to hold a hearing in order to inform and placate people who were on the verge of losing their homes, farms, ranches, orchards, businesses, ways of life.

The hearing was held June 3rd, 1943 in Kalispell's high school auditorium. Downtown businesses closed for the hearing. The crowd overflowed all available auditorium space and onto the school's lawn. Loudspeakers transmitted proceedings to those outside the building. Prestigious attorneys led by Wellington D. Rankin guided the discourse to an air of civility. However, testimony was often harsh. No one spoke in favor of the proposal. 

The explanation was offered by the Corps of Engineers that power generated by flooding Flathead Valley could lead to the production of 3,000 tons of steel for the war effort. 

One respondent said, "If it is the plan to destroy this country, it is the best plan ever devised by man. Even Hitler couldn't better it...." 

Another, staring at the Flathead map and its 449 blue stars representing area boys presently fighting for their country, and the 9 gold ones succinctly portraying that some had already given their all, testified: "What are those boys fighting for except to save your home and mine. And if the Government should take their homes needlessly, I can't say that would be worse than the Japs...." 

After a lengthy testimony by a minister of God representing the views of the Kalispell Ministerial Association, the speaker ended with these fiery words: "I think the spirit of the people could be thus stated--this project will go through over our dead bodies." 

At last the meeting was over, testimony closed. Its results were dramatic. The Corps was stopped dead in its tracks and people power came to the Flathead forever.

(Visit Roland Cheeks website here for more of his wit and wisdom, to find where to buy his books, and other odds and ends.)

Oil Exploration   By Roland Cheek      Aside from homesteading, the first real commercial venture, other than wrecking a paddle wheeler trying to prove coal could be water borne down the North Fork to a hoped for future railroad line, was the virtual certainty of an oil bonanza in the vicinity near where the river cuts the 49th Parallel. Probably it was for oil exploration that the wagon road was punched in the first place from what is now West Glacier to the border and beyond, eventually winding up in Fernie, British Columbia.

It’d be interesting to learn what kinds of landform and geologic features led oil drillers to sink shafts near the head of Kintla Lake, deep in Glacier National Park’s wildest region. And another, so I’m told, near the Ford Patrol Cabin, halfway from Kintla to Polebridge.

I’ve seen the drill pipe thrusting from the ground at Kintla Lake.  In fact, I’ve squatted down and stared at the what? six-inch? eight inch? pipe for an hour or more while trying to imagine the logistics and effort required to wagon-freight a drill rig to Kintla, then raft it to the upper end, then assemble it, then to—my God!

I also walked around the old sawmill site nearby, where they apparently milled timbers for the derrick, and lumber for the camp. I kicked at the rusting old boiler, and a couple of pulley wheels.

How many men were employed there? How long did they drill? How deep did they go? And I wondered at the “conspiracy theorists” who claim the drilling company hit oil, then capped the well.

Yeah right.

One thing seems clear: they never hit the “black gold,” because such a strike in such a place would probably have guaranteed proposals made three years later to set aside Glacier National Park would not have succeeded.

It could be that God decided this part of His domain should remain natural. Say what?

(Visit Roland Cheeks website here for more of his wit and wisdom, to find where to buy his books, and other odds and ends.)


Wildfire Mosaics    By Roland Cheek

Let's spend a little hot-stove time talking about forest fires--a subject that's not far from most Montanans' minds since the fires of '88.  The reason the subject of wildfire hasn't been far from folks minds since '88 is because fires haven't been far from their homes, camps, workplaces in the years since.

I remember '88, when airborne ashes from the Gates Park fire fell on our tents.
I remember traveling several miles beyond the path of the Helen Creek Fire of 1994 in order to find a safe place to camp.
I remember riding the South Fork Trail with Jane in 1996, while a creeping ground fire from the second Helen Creek Fire burned at trail side.
I remember aborting one of our planned Bob Marshall trips as the fires of 2000 burned out of control.  That was also the year when the Moose Creek Fire raged up the Flathead's North Fork.
And I remember 2003 as wildfires burned and reburned National Park, National Forest, and private timberlands, seemingly without regard whether it consumed remote wilderness, former clearcuts, or young tree plantations.
It was in 2003 when we floated the Middle Fork while helicopters swept in to bomb the Apgar Mountain blaze with huge buckets of water dangling beneath the choppers.  It was in 2003 when we crossed Going To The Sun Highway in the dead of night and watched trees torch on Heaven's Peak from the Trapper Creek Fire.  And we paused later on the same night along the shores of Lake McDonald to watch the Roberts Fire burn across the lake, along Howe Ridge.
"You want to go swimming?" I asked my wife of 49 years.
"Let's," she murmured.
So we paddled about as exploding trees from Howe Ridge were reflected in the still waters.
Later, as we drip-dried, still wide-eyed and wonder-filled, I said, "You know, we're watching a once-in-a-lifetime thing; something we'll never see again."
She shivered--not from the chill, for the night was warm--but from the awesome fire-at-night thing we beheld.
Later in the fall, after the wildfires had been stilled by rain and snow, we hiked to Huckleberry Lookout in Glacier National Park.  Huckleberry has the distinction of being a rare #10 in my scale of scenic values.  From Huckleberry we can view the North Fork Valley to Canada, south to Flathead Lake, west to the Whitefish Range, and east to the summit of the Rockies.
Below us, of course, between Huckleberry Lookout and the continental divide, spread the main paths of both the Moose Creek Fire of 2000 and the Roberts Fire of 2003.  Amid it all--the black path of the Roberts Fire and the yellow path of the Moose Fire (where yellowing grass lay)--stood many acres of green trees that escaped the vagaries of both fires.
As I leaned against the side of the boarded-up lookout, staring at the scene below, I was struck that the fires' meanderings created what will in a few years be a fabulous mix of meadows and forests and lakes and mountains. 
God is good.
(Visit Roland Cheeks website here for more of his wit and wisdom, to find where to buy his books, and other odds and ends.)
You're a Candiated for the Outdoors Adventure If..    By Roland Cheek
  • You'd rather walk in the woods than watch Denver and Atlanta square off in the big game.
  • You'd rather use a dusty outhouse in a rustic setting than a disinfected flush toilet in a luxury hotel. 
  • You can't stand to camp in a spot where florescent yard lights glow from across a distant valley.  
  • You think wild animals and tame pets exhibit more honesty than anything emanating from Washington or Wall Street. 
  • You'd rather sprawl exhausted on a mountaintop than doze contentedly on a familiar couch. 
  • You'd rather fish in a secluded stream and catch nothing than limit-out while casting where banks are crawling with other anglers.  
  • You'd rather hunt along a trail on foot or from the back of a good horse, rather than along a road from a "captain's chair in the plushest SUV Cadillac produced.  
  • To you, grouse breasts roasted over an open campfire tastes better than the finest cuisine from the poshest Manhattan restaurant.  
  • Wind soughing through trees has better resonance to you than the Beatles' best.  
  • Somehow the dynamic interplay between carnivores and ungulates seem more important than the ones between Moslems and Christians.  
  • You'd rather drink unfiltered water fresh from a cascading mountain brook that's surrounded by snowbanks than any bottled water sold.  
  • You'd rather rake autumn leaves and shovel January snow and mow June grass than spend the rest of your life searching for parking places. 
  • You want to do your recreating at elevations where your guides must have oxygen.
  • You have less fear of things that go "bump" in the night if you re camped in a remote forest glade than if it's outside your apartment door in a metropolitan high-rise.  
  • If you're amused that beautiful butterflies flutters around the same "horse biscuits" as ugly houseflies. 
  • You'd rather squint from sunrises than from flashbulbs. 
  • You'd rather listen to a “timber doodle” at twilight than the wail of an ambulance at midnight.  
  • You like it because that special "someone" in your life is more attracted to the wonders of nature than the glitz of Academy Awards.  
  • Ants working from their nest holds more fascination than huge earth-moving machines scratching out an "on" ramp for a new Interstate Highway.  
  • You're more intrigued with bluebirds migrating along a mountainside than watching a movie of ten thousand orange pickers heading for California.  
  • God's wildflowers hold more wonder for you than ones growing in any city park or arboretum.  
  • You'd dare think a grizzly bear sprawled asleep in a huckleberry patch demonstrates more raw power than Arnold Swartzenegger flexing his muscles for Fox News. 
  • Silence is peaceful. 
  • Sunsets are breathtaking. 
  • You find wonder that a bee pollinates as it harvests. 
  • You can accept the certainty that you'll not live forever.

(Visit Roland Cheeks website here for more of his wit and wisdom, to find where to buy his books, and other odds and ends.)

Ignorance vs Misinformed  By Roland Cheek
My challenge is discerning the difference between those who are simply “misinformed” as opposed to those who are “ignorant.” It’s tough to come up with a better example than when “wilderness” or “wild rivers” are mentioned.
To the ignorant, wilderness is a terror-filled place fit for nothing and no one; a place to be avoided by the great civilized washed enraptured by the concept that Cro-Magnons spent thousands of years developing flush toilets and they owe it to those who’ve gone before never to get farther than running distance from one.
Those who are merely misinformed, on the other hand, embrace the premise that wilderness can better serve mankind by being replaced via parking lots and shopping malls. I remember when the misinformed were led to believe that a proposal to construct Glacier View Dam on the North Fork of the Flathead could guarantee the character of Flathead Valley for futurity, not to mention the benefits of flood control, as well as constant electrical service to their homes and businesses.
Misinformed? Ignorance? . . . Or greed?
I’ll never forget what my wife Jane said one January evening when we crested a hill on Interstate 15 and spotted the glitzy glow from Las Vegas: “I’ll believe there’s an energy crisis when they turn the lights off in Las Vegas.”
(Visit Roland Cheeks website here for more of his wit and wisdom, to find where to buy his books, and other odds and ends.)

TRAPPED  I flopped around like a snared rabbit, one ski-clad foot trapped beneath the log, the other jammed at an angle into broken-off limbs and deep snow. The only thing accruing from all the wild thrashing was to modify a painful twist to my ankle into a mere dull throb.  

I tried to roll out of my dilemma, but only succeeded in filling my collar with snow. Next I tried to reach the release button holding the long slats to my feet. I could almost reach them, but not quite! The effort actually caused me to wallow deeper into the snow.  

Both ski poles lay beneath where I'd fallen. I managed to free one. (Why am I panting so?) Pressing the ski pole tip against the release button didn't help – what in the hell is the matter? Muttering other obscenities I tried the other ski's release, but it was also jammed. Then the reason why came to me – the buttons won't depress when pushed at an angle and both skis were trapped in such a manner.  

I strained to reach one of the release buttons again, but it was just beyond fingertip range. At last I leaned back into the snow, exhausted, gasping for breath. Call for help! But Jane had headed back for the car fifteen minutes before and others of our party had elected to ski a different route back to our vehicles. I was alone. How long before anyone found my frozen body?  

Rested, I freed the second ski pole, then used both to try to leverage to my knees, but the angle of the trapped skis defeated the attempt. Again I collapsed into the snow.  

It was the elk that got me into this. And the wolves. Their tracks were all over this glacial bench. I'd grown obsessed while trying to unravel their tracks. Then those tracks took me through the jumbled maze of fallen logs and I'd sat upon one and swung my ski-encumbered boots over and . . . .  

I lay back like a babbling baby, cooing at the beauty of fast-scudding clouds in an otherwise azure sky. The cold seeped in. So did moisture from snow melting into my clothing. There's danger here! But how can I free myself? Again I tried to release one ski—to no avail. The other ski. To hell with it! I'll just lie here and die. Oh, the incongruity of it all. I could imagine what the dozen-odd newspapers carrying my "Wild Trails" column might do with this obituary:  



If only I could reach the release! I studied the button and how, if it was a skosh nearer, it might enable a release. Maybe I could saw off a leg. Would I do the deed at the shin? Let's see, I'd have to take off the ski gaiter and roll up my trouser leg.  

I stared at the gaiter.   Like an insensitive robot propelled by gears, I reached out to unsnap one of the gaiters, I pulled up the trouser leg. Next was the shoelace, then the shoe. In a moment, one stockinged foot was free and I was able to roll enough to jerk at another gaiter and shoestring.  

The others were at our vehicle when I skied out. I arrived just as night fell. One of our party was donning his skis with the intention of going back to look for me. "You look as though you've had a time of it," Ruth said.

  "And your hand is all bloody," Jane added. "What have you been up to?"  

"Just freeing trapped rabbits," I muttered.

###  Published 1/31/2013


A REALLY EXCLUSIVE CLUB    We were sprawled on a mountaintop rock, admirin a view that ran from the Canadian Rockies on the north to the Cabinet Mountains in the West.  Peaks bordering the farthest limits of the Bob Marshall Wilderness was our visual limit to the south and east.

Ours was an exclusive club--merely two exhausted couples drinking from the finest of God's elixir. Our chairs were of hard stone. No overhead fans cooled our brows (though ominous dark clouds to the southwest appeared likely to accomplish that very feat in an hour or two). Our drink selections were limited to the few drops of water left in the bottles we'd filled from the last stream crossed hours before. 

Folks accustomed to more comfort and luxury might consider our present accommodations somewhat Spartan, but we chuckled and followed our belief that no mahogany-lined club in New York City or London could satisfactorily compare to the exclusivity of the retreat we enjoyed at the moment. 

No Picasso's or Rembrandt's on the walls—not even Russell originals—could approximate the panorama spread before us. No plush leather chairs could possibly substitute for the comfort and well-being accompanying the satisfaction and relaxation we felt in surmounting our height. 

Maybe all one needs in mahogany-lined Manhattan clubs is a fat wallet and (for the most exclusive) impeccable ancestral connections. But for our moment's mountaintop club, money was of no consequence and the best social connections in the world could provide nothing. In our club, panache trumps money, and determination is the key to riches where social connections can't reach. In our club, it takes get-up-and-go. It takes zest, curiosity, and appreciation for the natural world God created for those special creatures He entrusts to hold His beneficence in reverence and awe. 

Chutzpah is also a currency that won't play while laboring one's way up a tall mountain. When it comes to surmounting summits, neither anger nor demands, shouts nor imprecations help. Defying won't do it either; only applying. Weariness, work, sweat—sometimes prayers or tears—play well in enabling one to peer from a mountaintop, especially in a land where those mountaintops scratch the sky. There, kings and commoners are equal. 

To participate in the exclusivity of a well-earned "club crest," members must bow their necks, lift their feet, and suck it up. Brokers can't help, lobbyists are worthless, proxies aren't available. 

In order to learn secrets offered by those farthest and most spectacular mountaintop places, one must earn, not spurn. It's the gauge of the age that counts. It takes effort by the willing, the resolute, the bold. 

And if, in scrutinizing all elements of these things, I happen to offend the occasional exponent of mechanized transport to every nook and cranny found in the farthest reaches of this place we think of as Heaven-on-earth, I can only say the offense is offered in a revered and wholehearted spirit of truculence.

###  Published 1/15 /2013