Montana Farm Potpourri

Whenever I visit the northwest Montana farm where I grew up I feel like I’m returning home. It’s been exactly 50 years this month since I actually lived there but I don’t think that feeling will ever leave me. It’s a dry land grain farm on the east slope of the Rockies so it’s in the midst of what used to be prairie and I’m sure that’s why I still crave the wide open spaces of the American West. The famous big sky of Montana is nowhere more evident than it is on the farm.

Last month I spent almost two weeks in Montana and half of that was on the farm. These are images from that visit. There’s not a “great shot” in the bunch but I thought some of my regular readers might enjoy seeing some of the place (and its critters) that means so much to me since I’ve mentioned it often.

 

dudley road 5572 ron dudley

On a return trip my heart always quickens when I reach this spot where the pavement ends and Dudley Road begins.

 

 

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From that point this is what I see to the west – the 3 mile dirt/gravel road (Dudley Road) leading to the farm, the vast expanse of wheat and barley fields on this part of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation (the farm is on the reservation), Horse Thief Mesa in the middle distance and the majestic mountains of Glacier National Park in the far distance. The Canadian Border is just out of frame to the right. On many days while I was there a huge smoke plume from the recent fire in Glacier NP streamed in a northeasterly direction toward the farm. Thankfully, some days were clear.

There’s a good number of birds and other wildlife on the farm to be photographed when you can get close enough.

 

 

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Both Eastern and Western Kingbirds are fairly common and like to hang out on and hunt from the fences. This Eastern Kingbird let me get fairly close.

 

 

killdeer 9985 ron dudley

There’s a creek that runs through the home place so Killdeer are common there. This recently fledged youngster was performing some kind of display where it would repeatedly stand erect like this and stretch its neck vertically and then return to a more “normal” posture.

 

 

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This is a juvenile Say’s Phoebe and the first time I’ve ever photographed a youngster of the species. I only wish it had chosen a more attractive perch.

 

 

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And speaking of unattractive perches how’s this for ugly? Swainson’s Hawks were extremely common on the farm this year as were voles, their primary food in the summer. They sure weren’t very cooperative when it came to perch choice, light angle and direction of take-off though. And a taunting Golden Eagle continued the uncooperative trend as it stayed just out of reach of my lens the entire time I was there.

There are of course many birds on the farm that I wasn’t able to photograph but there are other wildlife opportunities too – among them badgers, weasels and skunks and the occasional fox, coyote and pronghorn. Jackrabbits and cottontails are everywhere.

 

 

richardson's ground squirrel 0171 ron dudley

And then there’s the ubiquitous “gopher” (Richardson’s Ground Squirrel). They’re not very popular with farmers because they do so much crop damage and their holes and mounds (and attendant badger holes and mounds) can make driving farm machinery seem like an eternity spent on a bucking bronco. But I always like seeing them when I go back and for me it just wouldn’t be the same without them.

 

 

white-tailed deer 9876 ron dudley

This White-tailed Deer and her fawn hung out just west of the farm house the entire time I was there. On this morning I was looking for Great Horned Owls to photograph but couldn’t resist pointing my lens her way. Her fawn was hidden in the grasses and she was quite wary of me…

 

 

white-tailed deer 9898 ron dudley

so she climbed a small knoll and stared me down with an old combine header behind her.

 

 

white-tailed deer 9911 ron dudley

She then walked behind two old vehicles and peered at me from a notch between them.

There’s probably some curiosity from readers about the signage on the side of the truck to the left, especially since it includes the word “beer”. No, the Dudley family was not in the profession of beer distribution (in spite of the fact that much of the barley produced is/was sold as malt for the beer industry). Many years ago my father bought that truck from someone in town and converted it to a grain truck.  

 

 

owl granary 9928 ron dudley

I’ve posted photos of Great Horned Owls in the auger cutouts of the old granaries so often in the past that I thought some might enjoy a little more information and a slightly more expansive look at one of those old granaries (you can see a juvenile owl in the cutout in this image). This one was built by my grandfather (with the help of my uncle and father who was 17 at the time) in 1937. It’s 100′ long and was a huge granary for its day. They poured the cement floor by mixing it in wheelbarrows (or so the story goes as I remember it). I’ve mixed a little cement that way in my day and can’t imagine the work required for this job. Oh, the stories this granary could tell…

Cousins (who are like siblings to me) who live on and/or operate part of the farm today and in the recent past have made efforts to save some of these old buildings – thus the cables you see in the image. As a family we love these old buildings and vehicles because they’re part of our history. And also because the granaries are home to the owls…

Ok, enough nostalgia. Back to more typical fare tomorrow.

Ron

 

 

46 comments to Montana Farm Potpourri

  • Pam Skaar

    I think the Eastern Kingbird might also be a juvenile. The white band on the tail is not fully developed.

  • Diana

    Thank you Ron. Reminds me of my Moms old old family home in Tyringham MA. Your photos evoke the excitement and wonder I felt as a child visiting there.

  • Carolyn Berkram

    Ron,

    I am Brent Brown’s sister, Skeeze; Al and Lucille’s granddaughter. I’m sure we met years ago. Your photos are beautiful!

    Carolyn

    • I suspect we did meet many years ago though I don’t recall it. But Ken Dudley talked about you often so I almost feel like I know you and of course I remember Brent well. I actually used to tell my Utah Wildlife and Zoology students about Brent’s grizzly bear encounter at the south boundary of Glacier NP. Thank you for jumping in and for the nice comment about my photos.

  • Gena

    Ron, there is no place like home!!!!! I know how attached we are to our family place which we have always called “The Farm”.

  • Susan Stone

    I like the nostalgia. The farm is gorgeous, and I love the view from Dudley Road. That’s the kind of scenery that gets to me when we drive across west Texas – all the layers of mountains and mesas. Always something new to see. Love seeing the birds and other animals, too. I envy you having a home place like the farm, that you will always love.

  • Jean

    Love all of the photos. I too enjoy wide open spaces. We have the Western Kingbird here, but I have never seen the Eastern Kingbird. Just as pretty. I have to say my favorite is the Deer though. Deer usually are not that curious. Peeking between the cars, too cute. I love photographing old barns. They have so much character. That was a lot of work they put into it. The Owl blends in with it so well.. Nothing like the good old days, and it’s stories.

  • Karen A. Recher

    THANK You for the lovely pictures of the farm. Wish we could have talked more; wonderful to see you. I look forward to your offerings every day. I may not get to all of them or comment;I try to put a “Like” on them. You are a very talented man who has honed his skill to an art. Thank you for making this a better world. I hope we can get together in the future.

    • I enjoyed visiting with you too, Karen. I had to miss two of the most important reunion events because of issues related to health so I didn’t get to see everyone I wanted to but I sure enjoyed visiting with those I did see.

  • Nostalgia rocks.
    I think most of us have places in our head and our hearts which cause a little lead-footery and we draw closer.
    And I feel sorry for those who don’t.
    These wide open spaces, the birds, the critters sang loudly to me even without the weight of memories.
    Thank you.

    • ” I feel sorry for those who don’t”.

      As do I, EC. My life would be shallower and less interesting if I didn’t have this place. And these memories.

  • Nancy Collins

    Thanks for the wonderful tour Ron! Your “home land” is breathtaking. Someday I hope to visit! My husband served our country for twenty years so we were able to live in a few different geographical regions of the US. One being southern Arizona, which I truly loved. Something about those wide open spaces! I call it my second home. Whenever we went “home” to our first love (the South Shore of Massachusetts) it always brought up a sense of pride and nostalgia! It is where we reside now. Back with family and friends and the deep blue sea!

    PS – Is Dudley Square in Boston named after your ancestors?

    • “Is Dudley Square in Boston named after your ancestors?”

      I’m not sure, Nancy. Governor Thomas Dudley (1576-1563), several times governor of Massachusetts, founder of Cambridge and signer of the charter for Harvard College, was my direct paternal ancestor. Dudley House at Harvard is named after him but I’m not sure about Dudley Square – it could have been named after some other (likely related) Dudley.

  • Susan aka Blue

    So lovely to once again have a peek at the Dudley homestead, so thank you!

  • A special post with the added value of finally seeing something you have heard about often. I have similar feelings when I drive down the small lane that goes past my grandfather’s farm in northern Alabama. As a youngster I helped my grandfather and two uncles pick cotton, “chop” cotton, plant and harvest corn and tend to the chickens, hogs, cows, mules, and horses. The farm house is gone now and the land is no longer owned by a member of the family, but I still enjoy visiting the area because of the fond memories triggered by being there.

    • There’s nothing like going home, is there, Dave? And I know what you mean about “triggered memories”. Sometimes I walk the farm for nothing more than nostalgic reasons and those old memories rush over me like a flood.

      Most of those memories are good ones but some are painful. This trip, during a conversation with my cousin Jim who lives on the farm, the conversation and the setting reminded me of an event long ago when I was about 10. I jumped off the roof of a pigpen and landed on a nail sticking out of a thin board and that nail went through my foot and came out on top of it. Got my attention…

      • Ouch! Reminds me of the time I spent using crutches because of a sprained and bruised, but not broken, ankle that resulted from falling out of a tree when I was squirrel hunting with my uncle. Don’t ask why I was in the tree!

  • charlotte Norton

    Well, I certainly did enjoy that post Ron! The shot from Dudley Road is simply breathtaking! The rest of your shots are great and interesting. I am curious as to how you can have a farm on the Blackfoot reservation.

    Charlotte

    • Thanks, Charlotte. This reservation allows individual ownership of some of its lands and that land can be bought and sold to anyone (with certain restrictions). My grandfather bought the original land in 1930 after moving down from Canada. Because it’s on the reservation some things are different though. For example, the tribe can run their cattle on the reservation land, no matter who owns it, during the winter after crops are harvested. For farmers those cattle are a nuisance at best but the only way to keep them out is to fence your land – a very expensive proposition when the farms are as large as many of these are.

  • Dick Harlow

    That was fun!! Enjoyed you taking us down your memory lane.
    As I have said before when we were on a camping trip in the early 70’s and entered/crossed the border into Montana it was as it has been described, “Big Sky” country! that memory is imprinted in my memory. And, I understand the feeling when you come near the homestead. I think we all own cars that quicken their pace as they get close to a home or homestead.
    I enjoyed this piece very much, and as other have said glad it is still in the family.

    • “I think we all own cars that quicken their pace as they get close to a home”

      Dick, That always happens to me on a return visit as soon as I leave town and begin the 17 mile drive to the farm – doesn’t matter what vehicle I’m driving. I really have to watch my speedometer. And this time I was pulling a trailer so I had to be extra careful and vigilant…

  • Marge Hughes tarr

    Enjoyed seeing you at reunion. Love the pictures. My brother and I drove out your way and it felt good to be home.

    • I enjoyed seeing you too, Marge – it had been a very, very long time, hadn’t it? And yes, it certainly did feel good to be “home” again. Thank you.

  • Kris Eberhard

    I loved the second shot ( Dudley road leading to the far view of the mountains )—-once you’re in love with space and great distance, I don’t think you ever get
    over it—truly, your heart swells whenever your eyes can scan such a view–even if it was never familiar to you, but especially when it was–lucky you !

  • John Randall

    Beautiful travelogue Ron !

  • How fun. I really liked the family farm visit. What a gorgeous place. I love the doe and combine shot. Really interesting composition that made me want to investigate it more.

  • Sandy Dudley

    Love the photos and what a wonderful story! Your description of the farm is perfect and very true. Thank you for sharing.

    • “Your description of the farm is perfect and very true”

      Thank you, Sandy. That meant a lot since you actually live there and know as well as anyone what it’s like and I wanted to get it right.

  • Patty Chadwick

    More! More! More! I thought travelling west would “get it out of my system” too–WRONG!!! Only made the “itch” worse!!! Like Dick, I felt as if Ibcwas “coming home”, too…felt like I’d been holding my breath for years and now, I could finally breathe…strange. Maybe it’s because my grandmother told me so many stories about where she grew up that it seemed lie my home, too. I especially love the shot of the road ahead and the mountains in the distance. Also the white tail. I once stalked a white-tailed doe in the Adirondacks, got distracted, resumed stalking, heard a snuffling behind me and realized SHE was now stalking ME!!! They are so curious… (That old barn is 4 years younger than This old bat!)….

    • “That old barn is 4 years younger than This old bat!”

      You crack me up, Patty! I don’t think I’ll ever get the west (or the farm) “out of my system” so I understand completely. Thank you.

      • Patty Chadwick

        The house I grew up in was built in 1684, burned by “the Skinner boys”, a renagade bunch, rebuilt in 1793. It is older than I am…

    • Patty Chadwick

      I think I can relate to your feelings when you turn onto that road…every time I see the Rockies for the first time, I can’t control the lump in ky throat…or the tears…same with the Badlands and prairie grass…

    • Susan Stone

      Patty, the ability to breathe in wide open spaces is exactly why I love far west Texas and places like Montana and the Dakotas. The desert seems to embrace me even more than the prairies do. I’ve lived in the east, in So California and now far west Texas, and the Texas desert is the best. The sky goes on forever here, too. When there are no clouds, we call it ‘severe clear’. I’m glad to know that there are other people who appreciate the wide open spaces as much as I do.

  • Thanks for taking us on a trip back ‘home’ again with more information. What beautiful land. I read about dry land farming in Ivan Doig’s wonderful novel, The Whistling Season, and have a sense of the work and beauty of the place. I’m glad your cousins continue to work part of the land and work to maintain the buildings. It’s a good kind of love, and the photo of the barn and owl + landscape speaks volumes. My family homestead was a farm in central Pennsylvania, in our family since 1789. It’s inside me now, and I carry it with gratitude, everywhere.

    • “Since 1789” – wow, that’s impressive, Alison. I can only imagine how deeply ingrained that place is to you and your family. I’m familiar with Ivan Doig’s work and have one or two of his books. Thanks very much.

  • Dick Ashford

    Hi Ron, I grew up in the rust belt of the NE and do not feel the need to revisit my youthful haunts. However, I do get “the itch” to travel through the wide open spaces of the West every now and then. I don’t know why – I just feel comfortable there. I spent most of June this year on a road trip from OR through eastern CO, NE, the Dakotas, and eastern MT, including parts of the Blackfeet reservation. When I returned, I told my wife I’d gotten it out of my system for a while. Well, looking at your photos and reading about your memories makes me want to do it again! It is beautiful country and I met some “real” people. I truly appreciate your fondness for the home farm. Thanks for sharing!
    Cheers,
    Dick

  • Good Morning Ron, Loved the story. I grew up in a small town in Northern Minnesota and even though I haven’t lived there for 62 years it is still home to me. I follow your blog not only for the wonderful pictures and the nature information but because you have become like family. Many thanks for being my companion every morning.

  • Very interesting Ron. I love the images of the wide open spaces. It must be very quiet there. Maybe someday you will write about your time growing up on the farm. I imagine it was very hard work and yet also very exciting. Farmers are the smartest people I meet. Thanks for images and story. I am glad the farm is still in your family too!

    • Ed, it’s very quiet there (when the wind isn’t blowing) and the skies are huge and clear. Stars on a moonless night simply blow me away and northern lights are an experience to behold when they happen. Yes, farming is definitely hard work but the land and experience get in your blood (and in my case never leave). Thanks very much for the nice comment.