Clouds and shadows

Here’s a photo of Heaven’s Peak in Glacier. I like the cloud shadows. It was a very clear day… and very cold! When we started snowshoeing, it was -7 degrees Fahrenheit.

And I’ve got to say that I’m pretty darn proud of this picture. I love the play of tree shadows on the undulating, untouched snow. There wasn’t a whole lot of color in the photo to begin with so I took it to black and white. I think I just might get this one framed. We were snowshoeing along the Apgar Lookout trail (more coming on that in the next day or two!) and one of the other people on the trip remarked at how much he loved the look of the untouched snow. Certainly gorgeous.

The promise of spring

Lindsay Becker is the new community garden coordinator in my town. Here, she’s holding Walla Walla onion seeds in the palm of her hand, which she will plant in trays in the greenhouse in her backyard. Though there’s still snow on the ground and big winter storms predicted in the next few days, the seeds, in the warmth of the greenhouse, should sprout in about a week. Lindsay said she’s been dreaming of spring and starting the seeds has gotten her pretty excited for the garden this summer. That makes two of us!

Desert Mountain

We went snowmobiling this morning up Desert Mountain. Great day for it and great company! Eric, Patrick and Aubrie of Swan Mountain Snowmobiling hosted an open house with tasty food at Abbott Valley Homestead. It was a great way to spend a Sunday.

Here is a view of the Canyon, as well as Columbia and Teakettle mountains (on the left and right respectively). The clouds moved in a bit, which was a bummer since it was all blue, sunny skies until we reached the summit, but thankfully the ceiling was high and I still got some great shots.

Here’s a view of some Great Bear Wilderness peaks with partial snow ghosts in the foreground. The views from the summit of Desert Mountain were spectacular. There’s a reason the snowmobile ride up there is called “the poor man’s helicopter.”

Glacier National Park peaks in the distance.

Doggie skijoring

Saturday I covered the fifth annual Doggie Skijoring event in West Glacier. Skijoring is when a person skis while being pulled along by a horse and rider through an obstacle. This was the dog version. What a riot! Watching people cross country ski while pulled by their furry friends is a sight to behold (not quite as epic as real skijoring, but pretty close!). It was funny to watch some dogs try to figure out what exactly they were supposed to be doing to varying degrees of success. Some dogs took right to it, while others seemed more intent on trotting alongside their owns or stopping entirely to scratch and sniff.

Hands down my best photo of the day. Little 8-year-old Kendall with labrador Chappy was the youngest competitor. Girl and dog were having a great time!

Even puppy butts get cold in the snow! Ruger the mutt found sitting on his owner’s boot was more comfortable than the chilly white stuff.

Winter journeys

Had a wonderful drive up the North Fork yesterday to do some interviews. Though there was some slush for much of the way, which grabbed the tires of my vehicle and made driving occasionally dicey (especially in my low-clearance Honda Civic), the views were spectacular as clouds rolled in and out, revealed snow-covered trees and the beautiful North Fork of the Flathead, which this time of year seems still and placid. I am beginning to know the bends and curves of the road so well I can let my mind wander through the landscape. And since the drive is an hour and a half one way (and only 40 miles), that’s a lot of pondering!

It’s hard to tell in photographs how really colorful winter can be under its snowy mantle. The wet bark on the trees is a deep mahogany color. The green of new growth pine stands out brightly against the drifts. And the occasional critter you might see is a flash of life and color in the landscape.

After a thoroughly enjoyable day (I am always more relaxed up the North Fork — I think it’s because the pace of life up there is what life used to be like; in the summer, people are busy tending their gardens and working on their homes. But in the winter, everyone slows down and enjoys quiet chats with a plate of cookies in front of the fire while watching big, fat snowflakes drift lazily through the lodgepoles. Every home’s host(ess) you go to offers you at the very least some tea or coffee and frequently you find yourself sitting down for lunch (and second lunch and third lunch… I feel like a hobbit!).

Below is my best photo (which is still blurry – grumble grumble) of some elk I saw on my drive home. I saw two elk cows, a calf and I think a bull elk. Also saw a number of deer.

Cabin Fever Days

This weekend in northwest Montana was the 33rd annual Cabin Fever Days. What a hoot! Cabin Fever Days is a three-day celebration that gets everyone outside (or in the bar). It generates thousands of dollars for local charities and helps the businesses in the area out, too. The most popular event is the barstool races. There are several classes ranging from your standard barstool nailed to a pair of skis to the show class, which includes all sorts of different “barstools.”

There can be a bit of occupational hazard covering the barstool races. Here, local photojournalist and friend Nate Chute barely avoids a run-in with a barstool. Notice his right hand and the fact that he’s still taking pictures while leaping into the air. Check out his photo blog here.

Smokin’ toward the finish line.

Here’s Nic Lee “paddling” toward the finish line.

This guy popped open his beer one-handed while zipping down Sugar Hill. In the true spirit of Cabin Fever Days, classy and talented!

Arm wrestling contest at the Stonefly Lounge.

Of course no Cabin Fever Days event would be complete without the mountain man contest. Here’s one rockin’ the buckskins.

Caboose and views

Journeyed to Essex yesterday for a story. Here are two photos snapped on the way back:

The snow in Essex is DEEP. And I thought we were having winter where I live!

And a little political action in Coram. Quite the opposite from the usual views around these here parts!

This weekend is Cabin Fever Days up the ‘Line. Get ready for awesome photos and no doubt hilarious tales next week!

Good luck, Cairo

Wrote this column for the Hungry Horse News this week. I’m reading the news about Egypt obsessively and I’m elated that the Obama administration has withdrawn support for Hosni Mubarak. I just hope Egypt can maintain its excitement for democracy and elect someone who will help them get there.

Watching the protests in Egypt over the past week has been a unique experience for me. Why? Because I lived there.

I spent the summer of 2007 living on Zamalek, the island in the middle of the Nile in Cairo where the majority of the embassies are (the American embassy is not). I was there on a Fulbright trip learning about what it means to be a foreign correspondent.

While there, the group I was with — other young journalists — met with a number of different people, ranging from journalists to political leaders. Including a man jailed because in the election several years before he’d had the audacity to win a mere 11 percent of the vote.

In our free time, we roamed the city, learning about Egyptian culture and digging up stories. We smoked hookah in crowded restaurants. We ate falafel and street food. We got sick, we got better. We took terrifying taxi rides in cabs driven by manic, chain-smoking drivers. We went to the mall, to the museums, to mosques, to churches. We took sunset falucca rides on the Nile. We sat on bridges over the river with thousands of other people on Friday and Saturday nights, enjoying the cool breeze in the sickening heat.

Feluccas on the Nile at sunset.

We took Arabic classes several days a week. We stood in the sweltering visa-issuing office for hours, waiting to renew our visas, pitying the women in their heavy, dark clothes and veils, and thankful for our T-shirts and shorts. We listened to the call to prayer rise above the city like smoke five times a day, echoing off the concrete.

We made friends with other foreigners we met in “foreigners only” bars. The bars and liquor stores restrict their clientele to non-Egyptians. Even the Egyptian Christians — Copts — are not allowed to even procure wine for religious ceremonies.

We made friends with well-educated Egyptians who spoke English and often worked as our “fixers,” the people who translate and procure tickets and a myriad of other tasks.

We visited Alexandria and toured the famous library there. We went to Luxor and visited the Valley of the Kings. We learned about the slaves that built the temples and the pyramids (we visited those too). We went to the Red Sea and snorkeled the turquoise waters. We stared across the Bay of Aqaba toward the brown smudge of Saudi Arabia. We spent a night around a fire in the desert with the Beduin, sipping strong, sweet tea and jabbering back and forth in our respective languages, not caring we couldn’t understand what the other was saying.

Sunrise from Mount Sinai (where Moses received the Ten Commandments).

It was a fascinating trip both from the eyes of a tourist and from the eyes of a journalist. I wrote articles about the election process (very corrupt) and articles about the Zabaleen, the trash collectors. I wrote about non-governmental organizations providing education opportunities to some of Cairo’s poorest residents.

So now, nearly four years later, reading about the Egyptian protests is a strange experience. Journalists whose bylines I recognize, and with whom I sat on a beach and drank cheap Greek beer, are covering the protests. One was recently interviewed on ABC. Of them, I’m jealous. They’re living the foreign correspondent dream. They’re in the action. And all journalists are action junkies.

And I scan Facebook daily, checking the status updates of my few Egyptian friends. One is a wife and mother. The other is a journalist for an English-language newspaper. I want to make sure they’re OK as the protests turn violent.

Here in the safety of my cush American newspaper office, I’m voicing my opinion. President Hosni Mubarak is a man who has no interest in democracy (he’s been in office for 30 years and there’s fears he plans to pass the “presidency” onto his son). Egyptians loathe and fear Mubarak. I know because many told me themselves. President Barack Obama said in his state of the union address that the U.S. supports democracies globally and now is the chance for the administration to back up its claims. Obama has urged Mubarak not to seek reelection this fall, effectively withdrawing American support for his regime. Now America needs to make sure it backs a person interested in practicing true democracy.

Inside the Alabaster Mosque (of Mohammed Ali).

It is vitally important that Egypt remain a democratic nation. Egypt is America’s foothold in the Middle East, our somewhat moderate partner at an otherwise hostile table. It’s vitally important that the U.S. continue to send aid to Egypt, to foster Western programs.

The Saudis are infiltrating the country, radicalizing it. Twenty years ago, very few women wore the veil. Now burkas are common (if a woman doesn’t at least cover her hair, she’s considered a slut). And though we journalists joked about the BMOs — black moving objects — it’s vitally important the U.S. maintains a presence in Egypt to protect women’s rights there and in the region. The U.S. should not back the Muslim Brotherhood, which would see the spread of draconian Sharia law.

Looking at pictures of the protests in Tahrir Square, my heart goes out to Egypt, to its people. They want freedom, the same rights that you and I enjoy daily. The right to read newspapers that aren’t mouthpieces of the government. The right to vote without fear of retribution because they made the “wrong” choice. Looking at pictures of those familiar places filled with protestors and smoke, I can close my eyes and I’m back, watching the sun set orange over the Nile. Good luck, Cairo. I hope you succeed.