Montana Outdoors Great Place to Celebrate Independence Day…

Alan Charles Star Outdoors Columnist
Friday, July 3, 2020
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A bluebird greets the morning with a song from the top of a flagpole. Photo/Alan Charles

How can it already be the Fourth of July, Independence Day, 2020, a time to celebrate the birth of this great nation? With all of the chaos we have witnessed and experienced over the past six months, including the COVID-19 pandemic and all of its impacts, and the riots and protests, looting and destruction of public and private property, how did we so suddenly get to this anchor point of the year, this time of remembrance and honoring those many people who have helped make this country of ours, the United States of America, the great place that it is?

Three years ago, when I pitched this outdoors column to the then publisher and then editor of the Miles City Star, I said I wanted to keep politics out of it, and instead, to write about celebrating wildlife and conservation and the many remarkable ways Montana landowners, sportsmen and women, and citizens from all walks of life care for the land and wild creatures and enjoy many different forms of outdoor recreation.

So I want to honor that commitment now, even though we are in a very strange and divisive time. While it is hard to shake the images and words that cloud our minds like thunderheads each time we read or watch a news report, I found myself in that quiet and peaceful place yesterday, when I took my early morning walk with Teal in a Pine Hills pasture.

The air was cool and calm, fresh after an early morning shower, and the sky was bright blue, the sun just climbing out of clouds retreating to the east. In a tall pine tree beside the road, clear at the very top of the tree, a blackheaded grosbeak was singing his heart out, while fifty yards away, in another tall pine tree, also at the very top, a meadowlark serenaded the world.

Typically, when animals or birds engage in major vocalizations like this, they are in a mating mood, often a male trying to impress a female in hopes of getting a chance to breed. But these two birds were not engaged in mating rituals, but rather just telling the world what a great day it was. I have read that the the song of the black-headed grosbeak is “a rapid series of notes that resembles an American Robin in hyper-drive.” No matter what the reason for all the singing, I can tell you that it was a wonderful way to greet the day.

A while later, I saw my first newborn antelope fawn of the year. The doe was licking off the tiny fawn that could barely stand, but I knew that within the hour, that little fellow would be zooming around, testing out those legs and investigating the world. I ticked that off as yet another sign that summer had arrived, and all was well with the natural world.

The lilac blooms were buzzing with activity, and I stood there for awhile, just watching. In just a short time, I observed five different kinds of bees and seven different kinds of butterflies, all partaking of the pollen in those fragrant blooms. I saw several big bumblebees try to land on short dandelions, but their weight was too much for the stems. Twice, I saw the dandelion fall over, and the bees just laid there on the ground, holding on to the bloom.

As this strange and alarming year plays out, I think it can help, perhaps, to seek out some of the simple things in life, things we may sometimes take for granted. Even here in Big Sky Country, we are not immune to the various threats confronting the rest of the world. But we certainly are in a place where we can at least step away from the chaos for a moment or two, perhaps standing and listening to some of those birds singing high in the tops of tall trees, or watching bees and butterflies bustling among the blooms of wildflowers.

We often hear that we are all in this together, which is true. But I think we are also in this, each in our own selves, and we must live our lives in the best ways possible. I hope we can all find safe and meaningful ways to celebrate Independence Day, 2020, perhaps in the outdoors.

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