Monday, October 01, 2007

A Weekend Trip to Montana

Last weekend we were on the road again, this time headed east for Montana. The weekend plans included at least one day of hard work trimming century-old apple trees in the orchard of our family farm, as well as spending some quality time with family and friends.

We left Boise just after 3am Friday morning in order to make it to Billings for lunch with the grandparents. We were both surprised at how quickly nine hours of driving passes these days when compared to our cross-country drive in July. It is a pretty drive from Boise to Billings with many different types of scenery. Eastbound from Boise almost to the Montana border you see nothing but potato, sugar beet, wheat, and malt barley fields. Even during the flattest parts of the drive you are still surrounded by mountains on the horizon. The contrast of irrigated valleys against the dry grassland of the hillsides paints a beautiful landscape for the entire drive. The drive home was equally beautiful, but different; Sunday's storm rained snow on nearly every mountain range!

Saturday: The Ranch

We got an early morning start and headed out to the ranch, having done lots of research the week prior on pruning apple trees. It was a bigger job than anticipated; we were hoping to trim dead wood, prune rubbing branches and shape the treees. We quickly realized that we only had time to trim and stack the dead limbs. The family arrived just after lunch and helped stack wood and pick apples. It was an exciting foreshadow of what family adventures are to come once we have a place to stay on the ranch.

We also had to cut down one tree that we discovered was completely rotten inside. Benign neglect (no water or pruning) has killed many of the original trees, leaving nine healthy ones: Gano, Wolf River, and Yellow Transparent varieties. The Ganos were loaded with fruit, so Leslie and I took home about 20 gallons of apples. Once the irrigation ditches are reestablished, we will be planting new trees. I have been researching all sorts of fruit to add to the orchard; cherries, pears, peaches, mulberry, and more apples.

When I was in college, my friend Betsy came up with the concept of a "last first". We would get together in the courtyard of Cafe Gardens, drink pitchers of beer, and trade last firsts--what was the last thing you did for the first time?

This weekend I had several last firsts, one being my first time using a chainsaw. I had expressed interest in learning how to use one so Jon bought me a 14" Stihl.

Sunday: I Heart Plum Jam

We arrived in Billings at the tail end of plum season and Granny and Grandpa Dunn's tree was still loaded, even after the family had made over 50 jars of jam and jelly. Here I had my second last first: my first plum ever, plucked ripe from the tree to boot.

While picking plums, Granny told me the story of this tree. The tree that stands in the yard today is actually the second tree in that spot--the original tree is gone. Granny tells how, when Jon's father died unexpectedly in late September of 1980, she wandered into the backyard and stood under the original tree, contemplating. Eventually, she found herself standing under the tree, eating plums and "feeling sorry". Granny buried one of those pits that day, and the pit grew into a tree that eventually was big enough to replace the original ailing tree. Fast forward almost exactly 27 years--Jon's sister and I made roughly 40 jars of plum jam on Sunday.

Sunday evening: Red Lodge, Montana

Jon did chores for Granny and Grandpa on Sunday afternoon. That evening, after stopping first at the ranch, we took the scenic gravel road route through Dry Creek to the quaint town of Red Lodge for pizza (incidentally some of the best pizza I have had) with friends from the next ranch over from ours. A nasty storm rolled through, bringing much needed precipitation and some pretty spectacular views.

Here we are standing on Dry Creek Road looking to the west--about 3 miles from our place.

The picture below was taken about 15 miles from our place--almost to Red Lodge. This view is to the east-northeast. Our ranch would be in the top right corner.


goodgreekgirl said...

that's my girl! a little tough and alot sweet. it is truly breathtaking there and i cannot wait to see it all with my own two eyes. we look forward to visiting boise soon and the ranch sometime next year?!?! xoxo

Kate said...

Dearest Caroline,
It is so fun being tough--you should get a chainsaw, too!
We are waiting for you...

jer said...

we had quite a few firsts ourselves this past weekend.

nice chainsaw, jon couldn't find a pink one?
(or did he get that one for himself?)

Jon said...

I think your "firsts" were a bit more stressful than ours. :)

Oddly enough, they didn't have pink chainsaws. Not the typical gift for your wife, unless Kate is your wife.