Outdoor Writers Association of America
This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

November 1st, 1999

Winter in Paradise

At 6,500 feet plus, November might as well be January.

Your lungs adapt in time, and your body functions learn to live with the difference in blood oxygen levels. Flatlanders who arrive by plane or car sometimes feel lightheaded and swimmy for a day or two. Most have difficulty walking any distance without being very winded. That takes more than a day or two to compensate.

Once adjusted however, the rewards are outstanding. The fall colors are intense, even though most of the West doesn't have the fine maples with their brilliant reds of the East, it does have a tree the East doesn't have - the Tamarack. It's a soft, short needled tree that looks like an evergreen. But it isn't. In the fall the needles turn golden and drop. Whole areas become carpeted in gold.

Snow can appear at any time. Montana can be heartless to gardeners. A foot of snow in July? Or any other so-called summer month. Maybe green fried tomatoes didn't originate in the South at all. We helped some friends pack up to move. They lived right on the Yellowstone River just south of the Carter Bridge - the entrance to Paradise Valley. They moved back east. Never were able to grow a ripe tomato.

He wanted to be a gentleman rancher. He had enough money to do that, just not enough land or cattle. It probably would have worked had he been a fly fisher. That may have made the difference, and given him an edge. But not having enough either cows or grain, (or sadly not a fly fisher) he did not fit into the local culture. The green tomatoes became a convenient excuse.

Rime ice covering the trees

Where they lived was almost directly across from DePuy's Spring Creek, off the Old River Road. In fall the gravel bars extend nearly across the Yellowstone. The constant 52 degree water flowing out of DePuys and Nelson's Spring Creek both drop into the Yellowstone. On a cold crisp fall morning the fog (or steam if you like) from the warmer water billows and hangs in the air. If the air temperature is really cold everything becomes covered with rime (hoar frost). Fence posts solidly covered, every branch and twig, barbed wire and each individual stem of grass coated, covered in frosty white. Crunchy frosted gravel underfoot, all with the sharp pointed edges like a white cactus. With exactly right conditions the rime grows an inch or more each day, until the weight or wind finally breaks pieces off.

And in the river, in the narrow channels, pockets and pools, big Brown Trout, brought to the river years ago from Scotland and locally called Lochs, rise in the daylight to hatching dark little insects. This strain of Brown Trout were chosen because they rise during to day to a dry fly. No small contribution to the reputation of the Yellowstone.

Casting upstream, surrounded by the fairy-land frosted landscape, seems strangely unreal. Until your little size 22 black floating 'snow fly' (Baetis) is sucked up by the local resident predator. Fighting the fish, your breath billows in the cold air. Your eyelashes and eyebrows become covered with rime. You become part of the surreal landscape.

A solitary quiet time on the Yellowstone. Winter in Paradise. Perfect. ~ LadyFisher

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