Back to the Lake

Testing the water.

Our vacation to the coast is over and we are back in Montana. While we miss the ocean we are excited to be back near the lake. The snow and ice are gone from one of our favorite state parks and we were able to spend a very sunny day sitting along the banks of Flathead Lake skipping stones and dipping our toes in the chilly water.

The big excitement of the day was building a bridge out to a few off shore rocks. Finally the perfect piece of drift wood was found and after much exertion it was put into place as the official bridge out to “Kids Only Island”. This definitely counted as a homeschool lesson for the day.



Eat. Sleep. Ski. Repeat!

A top priority on our winter to-do list was getting out to the local ski area to introduce the kids to the sport of downhill skiing. As the winter progressed we kept our eyes out for the perfect day to hit the slopes with beginners (not too cold, not too snowy, etc.) Finally this past week the conditions were near perfect and we piled in the car and up the very steep and windy forest road to Lakeside’s own Blacktail Mountain Ski Area.


Since Five Spice grew up skiing she was excited to teach the kids the basics. However, Five Ball and Five of Hearts had their hearts set on trying snowboarding, so we ended up splitting up with Dad taking the snowboarders for a beginner’s lesson and Mom teaching High Five how to ski.

The snowboarders definitely had their work cut out for them as they tried to master this very difficult sport. From clipping and unclipping bindings by hand, to trying to maneuver around with both feet attached to a pretty heavy board they got a very good workout. By the end of the day they had progressed to the beginner trail, but were thoroughly exhausted from the efforts. In comparison the two that elected to ski felt bad as they zipped around on short, shaped skis that made turning a breeze. Not to mention that they didn’t have to unclip bindings every time they got on or off a lift.


While Five Ball and Five of Hearts were glad that they tried snowboarding their younger brother’s fast and easy success with skiing made them want to try out skiing as well. So, when the next day rolled around we headed back up the mountain for day number two, this time with the whole family on skis. Not surprisingly after braving the slopes on snowboards Five of Hearts and Five Ball were more than prepared to learn skiing and after just one instructional run down the beginner slope they were skiing like pros. The new shaped skis really make turning so much easier!

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With everyone proficient we were able to spend the rest of the day skiing the intermediate trails as a family. It was a lot more fun than the day before and we all had a blast! After a full 6 hours of skiing the kids were ready to ski into the night while mom and dad were ready for bed. Luckily for us old folks the lifts shut down at 4:30 and the kids had no choice but to turn in their skis. They reluctantly got back in the car with promises that we would definitely be adding downhill skiing to our must do winter activities list.

Nests and Raptors – A Visit to Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge

On a very sunny Sunday we headed south along Flathead Lake towards Ronan, Montana hoping to see some serious raptor activity. We had read that Ronan is often the winter home to a number of Rough-legged Hawks who roost in the conifer trees at the base of the mountains and hunt for voles in the surrounding fields of the Mission Valley.


Soon after arriving in the Ronan area we began to see raptors from the car windows. We were especially excited to see a large Golden Eagle sitting in a tree just off the road (there was roadkill nearby). After spotting more than 5 raptors perched on road side telephone poles we decided it was time to do a little birding by foot and made our way to the Ninepipe Wildlife Refuge just down the road in Charlo.


This 4,027 acre refuge consists of mostly wetlands (reservoir, small ponds, and potholes) with an amazing view of the Mission Mountains. While there were several different access areas and a road through the refuge we chose to park and walk along the road towards the Ninepipe Reservoir. As we walked we spotted eagles and several more hawks. The weather was perfect for stopping to view them through our binoculars and spotting scope.

Our most favorite feature of Ninepipe was the stand of several trees near the waters edge with nests made by what we think were Double–crested Cormorants. We all enjoyed our walk out towards the nests and being able to view them close up due to the fact that the Cormorants are still down south. It will be interesting to stop back in the Spring and Summer and view the nests being put to use (from a further distance back).

Snow, Glorious Snow!


The last couple of weeks have been pretty lacking in terms of snow. So, the Younger Fives were super excited when the local meteorologists announced a whopper of a storm coming our way. Friday and Saturday’s snowfall was only about 6″, but the kids were elated to have new powder to play in. Then Sunday arrived, the temperatures climbed up into the high 30’s and it rained all day long. The kids were so disappointed to watch the new powder melt away. Luckily the temperatures plummeted overnight and this morning they woke up to fresh snow. They definitely agree that snowy winters are the best, or in their words “Bring on the snow!”


Move Out, March for Water


It’s fitting that our final day in Helena, Montana involved a march in support of clean water and demanding the Army Corps of Engineers not issue permits for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) which is slated to cross the Missouri River (the source of our drinking water). When we first arrived in April we barely had time to unpack before heading to a march for Bernie Sanders’ bid for the presidency (oh, what could have been), so we  were excited to join a hundred others in Helena to stand in solidarity with the brave water protectors on the front lines at the Sacred Stone Camp.

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Today’s day of action, one of more than 200 similar events worldwide, focused on raising awareness on Helena’s busy Route 12 and rallying in front of the Army Corps of Engineers Office. It was great to see the countless waves and hear the cheers and honks from passing cars, and several people who were unfamiliar with the NODAPL movement stopped to ask why were all were gathered on a Tuesday afternoon. State Troopers even drove by and took everyone’s picture with a tablet; apparently families standing on a sidewalk are a threat and need to be fed into a terrorism database.

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From there we marched to the Max Baucus Federal Building, only to learn the Army Corps of Engineers office was “closed” and there was no one to receive the message from our delegation. Department of Homeland Security officers watched from inside as we made our message of “Water is Life” and “Stop the Pipeline” loud and clear. In the end no one made it past the front desk, but we knew it was important to be there exercising our right to have a say in what happens on public land, land taken from the Lakota people (and whose “undisturbed use and occupation” of the surrounding lands is enshrined by the federal government in the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty). It would take just one spill to pollute the drinking water for millions of people, so we couldn’t think of a more important place to be today fighting for the future.