Lightning strike.

lightning from lookout

Move ahead two weeks and three days.  Heavy cloud buildup.  Buddy has connected and tested the field telephone so he can speak with the dispatcher, Jackson Miller.  It is about 6:30 p.m  A few drops of rain start to fall and Bud remembers that the rain gauge hadn’t been emptied since the last sprinkle when he got 0.12inches.  Bud races out of the cabin, down the hill toward the gauge and as he’s tossing the water out, “Crack boom echo echo echo.”  A blinding flash.

Without thinking Buddy is sprinting up the hill to the safety of the lightning-protected cabin of the lookout.  When he gets his breath he looks out toward the place where the flash was.

Still shaking, he sees a wide, thin cloud of blue smoke wafting over the crest of the hill.  He stands on the special stool with glass insulated feet and grabs the telephone receiver and cranks a handle:

“Fire flash, fire flash, fire flash this is Huckleberry Mountain!!!” he says, following the instructions he got in training.

A voice on the other end answered, “Hi Carl,” go ahead and chase the smoke.  Wait — it’s probably just a cloud.  Have much moisture?”

“Jackson, just a couple drops of rain.  In fact I was….”

“Uh, stay where you are for now, Carl.  I’ll call you back in a few.”

‘He doesn’t believe me,’ Buddy thought.  He climbed up into the cupola, feeling glum.  He saw a distant flash of lightning.

View from trail

The phone in the cabin downstairs rang, so Buddy stepped onto the footstool and picked up the receiver.  “Huckleberry,” he said.

“Uh, go ahead and chase out the smoke you saw,” a voice said.

“Okay, Jackson,” Bonde replied, and hung up the phone.

Carl’s firepack was leaning against the log wall.  He grabbed his hat and the pickaxe everyone called a pulaski, and headed down the mountain toward the smoke.  He was surprised at how close it was, less than 100 yards from the lookout.  There he saw a tree that had been split from crown to root, still standing, with fire licking outside the split.  Bits of burning material were scattered about the base of the tree.

He knew what to do.  He sized up the fire to determine what to do first.  Since the embers and twigs were burning in the forest duff, Buddy started digging a line around the area around the tree, including all of the burning embers, before chopping at the embers and cooling them in the dirt until they were out.  Then he dug a trench with his pulaski to drop the burning tree into.

As wet as the forest was this early in the season, he knew he didn’t need any reinforcement from other fire fighters.  Next he took the precaution of knocking down the smaller trees near the burning snag, dragging them out of range of the snag he was about to fell.  After making the area ready, he notched the base of the snag on the side where he had dug the trench.  Then he cut out a second wedge in order to make a hinge to steer the falling burning tree.

Finally, the tree began to tip, but the butt of the log hopped off its hinge and the snag fell crookedly into another tree that came crashing down so close to Carl that he tried to run downhill.  Even then, he took a hit on his foot.


Fire lookout outhouse in 1940.

Lookout OuthouseOnce in a while the golden mantle ground squirrels, fool hens, or deer would interrupt Buddy’s deep thoughts as he contemplated things from his throne in the small house.

Author’s note:  Carl Bonde worked at least two summers in the Glacier Park Service Fire Lookout atop Huckleberry Mountain on the North Fork of the Flathead River about 1940.

Most of this tale about Huckleberry Mountain is factual.  We hiked up the trail six miles to that lookout last summer.  Other information came from Ray Kresek’s book, Fire Lookouts of the Northwest, necessary historical data, because the lookout Bonde used has since been replaced at least twice.

Details regarding packing with mules and horses came from our experience with going into the Bob Marshall Wilderness two summers ago with Penny and our grandson, Josiah.  We went with a man named Rick who had purchased the outfitting business from Smoke Elser.

Information about life in a fire lookout comes from our having served three summers at Indian Mountain Lookout in the Kaniksu National Forest in Northeastern Washington.  We gleaned information about the old days from the old timers at Priest Lake, and from digging around garbage pits and bushes on the mountain top, where we found boxes and boxes of old telephone batteries and other items of interest.


He thought about grizzlies and wondered where his rifle was.

1978 Indian Mt L.O.

Buddy felt exhausted by the long horseback ride of the day before and the poor sleep because he had been cold.  At last, outdoors on his cot, the sun beat hot and he laid on his right side, clothes on, except for his boots, two wool blankets covering him.  He felt warm.  He felt happy.  He slept fitfully for a short time.

When he awoke, the left side of his face was hot and sunburned, but he didn’t care.

He sat up on his cot that he had dragged out of the cabin and looked around.  The cloudless sky was dark blue about an intense sun.  Insects buzzed.  He couldn’t identify them; not that he was any expert.  He had spent a fair amount of time outdoors at his parents’ place in Kalispell and had gone hunting every fall, but these bugs were new.

He looked for the outhouse, perhaps 30 yards away down hill toward the distant bend in the North Fork of the Flathead River.  Buddy wiped the sleep from his eyes and carefully padded barefoot toward the outhouse.  Then stopped.  Then peed on the ground.  He felt elated because the mountain was his and he could piss wherever he wanted.  Man, he really had to pee bad!  He made a sopping place in the dirt.

He padded back to his cot, sat down, put his boots on with care, cleaning his feet from the tiny bits of dirt, lacing each boot all the way up.  He needed lunch.  He needed to get settled in his little cabin.  The left side of his nose itched from sunburn.

The interior was considerably darker, though clean, except for the stove where he and Jackson had  fried pancakes and bacon.  Overhead was a ladder fixed to a couple of wooden brackets.

Buddy managed to get the ladder down, then up into a hole in the ceiling, then in less time than it takes to tell, he was up inside the cupola where he could barely stand.  In fact, the cupola had seats built in on all sides, an Osborne fire finder in the center, on a pedestal.

Bud sat for a few minutes looking out into the blue distance in each direction.  Of course to the south all he could see was the green of the ridge where he had come with the pack train.  Below, on three sides of the ridge, was the Flathead, where it made a wide bend on the east, the south, then on the west, before it made another bend and headed north again.  Buddy thought about grizzlies and wondered where his rifle was.

back yard 1

First the print:  I took a dozen eggs, separated the yolks and put them in the fridge.  The whites got whipped with some table salt until they made hard peaks.  I put the bowl in the fridge with a warning sign not to eat them.  The next day I grabbed the bowl of whites, skimmed the scum off the top and discarded the scum.

I had bought a bunch of hefty, 80 lb, artists’ paper and floated the sheets on the salty albumin, hung them up to dry.  I repeated that twice.

The negative:  I have an antique camera that I shot a photo of the backyard with.  (There are other ways to make a big negative for contact printing.)

Sensitizing the paper:  I dissolved some silver nitrate crystals in a beaker of distilled water.  Ordinary tap water won’t work.  I placed a glass stirring rod across one end of the dry albumin paper and poured the silver nitrate solution:  (Caution:  silver nitrate turns black in the light and indelibly stains things, like clothes and skin.)  Then, sweeping the rod across the paper spread a thin layer of silver nitrate.  Under a dim incandescent light, or darkness, allow the sensitized paper to dry.

Exposing the print:  Use a contact printing frame or just a heavy sheet of glass to hold the negative in contact with the silver albumin paper.  Take it into sunlight or put it under an ultraviolet light for 15 minutes, or so.  You can cautiously check.  The exposed parts of the paper will turn purple in the light.

Once the paper is nicely exposed, fix the paper in sodium hypo sulfite solution, then wash it in water for about 30 minutes.  You can tone it in an alkaline solution of gold chloride, if you wish.

That’s all there is to it.

The handmade paper is prepared by mixing blended fibers (plant, cotton, dryer lint, junk mail) in water.  Make a deckle out of a piece of screen and a picture frame.  Pull the screen up through the suspended fibers and put the mat on a piece of felt.  Add another piece of felt atop that and press to remove excess water.  Allow the mat to dry.

Soon flies buzzed around as a cold breeze swept over him.

Lookout cabin Style L-3 with Cupola

July 2, 1940, 6,235 feet elevation, Huckleberry Mountain.

At the lookout the wranglers ran a line from the lookout building to a bleached, twisty, driftwood-looking log and tied the stock.  Jackson and Buddy prepared a meal of fresh meat and potatoes on the cookstove inside the building, after first removing a bucket from the chimney that had kept the rain and snow out.  Last season’s fire watcher had left a supply of dry, split wood in a box near the stove.

While the food was cooking, the wranglers removed the loads and saddles from the stock.  Then Garvin and Vergil took turns taking the mules and horses to a nearby snowbank to feed and water them.  They only had to lead one mule to have three others follow like children.   Garvin had put a bell on one of the mules to make a racket when it trotted along after another mule.  The mules were all jacks.  The horses were all stallions.  Buddy noticed this, but was too tired to ask why.

The men made a campfire after looking far and wide for some tree roots to burn; all the other wood they could find was too wet.  They used a small amount of the dry split wood from inside the cabin to get things going.  After talking about how they each came to be working at Glacier, the wranglers and Jackson bedded down outdoors.

Buddy ended up doing most of the work to open the lookout for the fire season, and after a chilly long night on a cot inside the cabin, Jackson and his pack string had gone back down the mountain right after breakfast.  The bacon they had eaten for breakfast was the last fresh meat Buddy would get for two weeks until the next resupply.

He could hardly believe it!  The mountain was all his!  There was nobody to tell him what to do!  He could sleep when tired, eat when hungry, do chores whenever he saw fit.  He was an official Park Service fire lookout.

That first day Buddy hauled his cot outdoors from the relatively dark, damp cabin atop Huckleberry Mountain.  On July 2, 1940, at 6,235 feet,  the air was cold, but the sun was warm.  Soon flies buzzed around as a cold breeze swept over him. He took a nap for a couple of hours.

Huckleberry Mountain Lookout

The day started at 3 a.m. when they went to open up Huckleberry Mountain Lookout.  The rain had turned to a light snowfall and Bud wondered how a fire could ever burn when the woods had snow like this.

His dispatcher’s name was Jackson Miller, an amiable guy with a hawk nose.  And half of one foot missing.  You could tell by the way his logging boot looked when he walked.  The toe region of his left foot was obviously empty because the boot crease went down to the sole.  Jackson was also the outfitter and leader of Bud’s first trip to Huckleberry.

The wranglers, Garvin and Virgil, had already brought four mules and six horses to the warehouse area where they were tied to a long line across.  Four saddle horses had bridles; the rest of the stock had halters.  The pack animals had sawbucks, a kind of saddle for packing.  The mules, in addition, had straps that reached around their butts and withers to prevent their loads from shifting front or back.

Bud didn’t know about pack animals, so he studied how they were rigged.  He was a bit more, but minimally, familiar with saddle horses.

He watched as the wranglers and Jackson prepared the mules and pack horses.  Bud’s gear was divided up and piled in the center of each square of canvas, called a “maynee.”  Jackson asked Bud to gather up the corners and heft the loads to get them approximately the same weight so they wouldn’t shift to either side once loaded on an animal.  Each animal could carry about 200 lbs of gear:  food, clothing, bedding, water in milk cans, a rifle and ammunition, and other supplies for the summer.  Especially six volt telephone batteries. The big kind.  The size and shape of a can of beer.  Dozens and dozens of them in wooden boxes.

Once the loads were about equal, the wranglers folded the maynees like envelopes: left, right, bottom, top, and tied them shut with a diamond hitch using a 15-ft length of rope.  After all of the 12 maynees were fixed up, the wranglers hoisted the load up high on the sawbuck, drew a rope beneath it and back up onto the saddle, and secured it with several wraps around the load and then tied it off.

Bud was impressed how quickly the mules and pack horses were loaded.   Then the wranglers saddled up their horses and Bud’s.  Jackson saddled his own horse and led the way.  The wranglers rode on either end of the pack string.  A good thing because a couple of times the animals bolted and dodged off the trail.

They made the first five miles of the trip by lunch time because the going was flat.  Bud wondered which mountain would be his home as the wet brush swept his legs, soaking his pants and filling his boots with water.  The air smelled of wet wood.

Every so often he’d hear one of the wranglers curse at the Park Service pack animals.  Each animal had a special “US” brand on its butt.  Stood for “Uncle Sam.”  Bud had heard that one before and didn’t think it was funny.  Anyway, they rode through a thick fog all morning and Bud thought if was spooky.  He was afraid of grizzlies.

The cook at the bunkhouse had prepared lunches that they each put in a canvas roll behind their saddles.  That and an old military surplus canteen in a canvas canteen carrier.  Great War canteens looked the same as the ones from the Civil War:  circular in shape.

After lunch they  started up the trail to the lookout.  An hour of flat trail followed a creek before they headed gradually up the side of a long canyon.  After what seemed like an interminably long time, six hours, they climbed above the clouds, reached the head of the canyon, crossed a saddle, and stayed on the left side of a steep hill for another three miles before they got to the ridge with Huckleberry Lookout.  Bud felt exhilarated.

And there it was!  A log cabin with a cupola atop it.  Bud’s home for the duration of the summer.

Little Brown Dog

Photo on 4-16-16 at 10.46 AM

April 27, 2016

Little Brown Dog is asleep.  At least I put him in his crate.  I admit when I went down to the laundry room I saw him looking up at me.

Oh, I felt a bit guilty, but not bad enough to let him loose.  I did take him around the block about an hour ago.  He neither pooped nor… well, I think he peed.  I often look down there, bent forward from the waist.  Penny asks me not to do that because it looks funny.  SO I admit I don’t know for sure that he didn’t pee.  I do know he didn’t poop.

This is what my life has become since January when we got little Brown Dog.  One endless succession of trips around the block, little plastic bag stuffed into my pocket, ready for gathering up the “downloads.”  The “hand warmers” in cold weather.

I used to sniff the poops when he was a puppy. I have to admit I sort of liked the smell.  Now that he is older, the smell is startlingly foul.  My own poop, conditioned by the intimacy of Gunther’s licking my face, has become rather sweet smelling.