Last week I hosted the Tuesday Hikers annual winter cookout at the homestead. I felt honored to carry on the tradition Lois began many years ago. And I felt privileged to share this special place with my wildland family. Despite growing up in the mountains cooking over fires, there is always something I can learn from my “elders” in the group. Like cooking a hardboiled egg in a paper cup in the fire. Carol taught me this trick–fill a dixie cup with water, drop in the egg and set it on the coals. Incredibly it doesn’t ignite. Only the lip of the cup will catch fire and burn to the water line. The egg will boil in the water and after 10 minutes or so you have a perfectly cooked hardboiled egg.
It was a stunningly clear day and from the meadow where Ted and I had set up the fire pit you could see the receding mountain ridges to the west. Gene, who has been the fire lookout at Blue Mountain for 37 seasons has an aerial map in his head and he was able to instantly identify Petty Peak and the Cabinet Mountains shining white in the far distance. I envy this mental relief map he has of the region. I can look at a topo map and get my bearings. I can download satellite pictures of the area and have an overview of my place in the world. But these are only snapshots. Gene has a dynamic and deep knowledge of the landscape that comes from years of watching its constant change. He has seen storms come in across the peaks and where the clouds tend to lay low in the valleys. He knows where rain falls the heaviest or misses the lowland in the rain shadows. He has seen the changing face of the mountain peaks as the snowline recedes, the cloud shadows pass over, or the aplenglow hits in the late evening. He knows these ranges in a way few of us ever will. I hope as the years pass I will come to know this small slice of the Lolo Range through the same attentive and intimate acquaintance.