My kids’ grandfather, Hideo Tomaru, died just the other day. He was a hard-working air-conditioning and refrigeration mechanic/installer. Loved baseball- nightly devotee of the Yomiuri Giants. After a hard day of work he loved to come home, plop down to dinner and a couple Kirin Lagers and watch the ‘kyojin’. Salt of the earth type working man. I’d say he was a little skeptical when he found out his second son-in-law would be an American, like his first! but he was always good to me, and in his last, difficult months at the old-folks center he seemed pretty excited to see us when the grandkids, Fumie and I showed up. He was very good to Una and Keenan when they were little ones, and he enjoyed hearing about Owen and Allen’s soccer, basketball and judo exploits. 

Fumie says he was a pretty good athlete when he was young. “Very strong and fast.” I can see Hideo’s speed in Owen, and his strength in Allen. 

Rest in Peace, Jiji! 

fond farewell

Allen’s packing was delayed by the cat.

The Hollingsworth kids (minus the youngest, who was busy), came out to say goodbye. Great kids! Dig that tree.


The day before our departure, it was cold and rainy. There was new snow in the hills. As I write today it’s supposed to get up to 85. Montana weather!



Fog coming out of the misty mountains. A couple good ol’ Bitterroot Boys looking down from the woodpile at the California Prius parked on Irony Lane. 

We’re returning to the Terwiligers for a second stay. We’ll be putting up a ceiling in the camper van, shoveling poo out of the goat n’ chicken barn, and doing various stuff in the yard and garden. I love the Bitterroot! From Missoula to Sula, it’s supa!

Next- the promised day trip to Salmon, Idaho. (Idaho and Montana vie for mountain beauty bragging rights! 

blog break

Hi y’all. The news is we shoveled multiple layers of poo today, both petrified and still-gooey, and spread around some nice, dry hay. The barn smells much better. Other than that we put a ceiling panel up in the trailer- working against gravity while hammering nails and holding up a heavy board is a pain, but we got that job done too. Then I made a waldorf salad (pro tip- forget the mayo- just use greek yogurt).

Can’t upload photos so stay tuned for more posts soon.


Hollingsworths 2…

and the joys of disconnectivity


Sorry, missed yesterday’s post, because actually we’re back down at the Terwiligers for a second stay after a second stay at the Hollingsworths! The H family has super fast wifi (for these parts anyway), and the T’s have internet too, but not fast enough to upload photos, which leaves me without easy prompts and motivators for commentary. I’m not writing a book here- too busy.

Also, I’m getting no phone reception out here in these hills around Sula. This means little contact with outside world while at the Ts. Suits us fine, though. We’ll get back in contact with the world and catch up on all the news about our terminally ill nation when we get back to the metropoles of Hamilton and Missoula. 

meanwhile, a couple pics of us back at Hollingsworth’s. (I uploaded these photos out on a drive, in site of a surveillance cell-phone tower.)


The H’s have all the tools you need to put up wire fencing. Especially handy is the fence-puller whatchamajig (standing next to the post to the right of Owen) and the 4-wheeler buggy with winch. 

Downtown Victor on a rainy day. It got cold, too, with snow in the foothills (you never know in the Montana springtime). Why is it that nothing modern matches the classic, attractive and stately architecture of years gone by? Gehry and Roark can go jump in a lake. And check out the clock and telephone booth on corner. I bet the local hoodlums wouldn’t think of vandalizing or graffitiing this building- maybe those who graffiti the local 7/11 side wall are in part making a silent protest against ugliness. 

That’s all the photos I have today. We had another splendid time at the H’s. Good food. Moderately hard work. Cards and conversation in the evening. Thank you, kind Hollingsworths!


Next: Sula farm life and a fantastic hike outside of Salmon, Idaho.

more stuff we do around here

Allen on the weedwhacker. Not quite enough goats around here to keep up with the spring growth.
Owen building muscle with the mower (power mower but no power assist in the wheels)




Owen helping me with some rudimentary fencing-in of Hank’s raised beds- to keep the varmints out.



O and A love the power tools. Here covering the insulation in the trailer. We’ll cut the last piece of board for the ceiling and install it next time down here. Note hand-in-pocket casual Allen- becoming an ol’ carpentry pro.



Lorraine told me to pick up some “sticky mouse catchers at the Ace Hardware in Hamilton”. Here’s a traditional mouse trap that did the job. (click for better detail of dead mouse)


As promised, the boys are graduating to real bullets. That’s a semi-auto, ten-shell magazine 22 rifle with a sweet feel to it. 


Owen loading the mag, or do you call it a clip?



Owen with the ten-shot semi-auto, and Allen with the bolt action singe shot. Two 14-year olds in hog heaven.


Allen explains to Rita, Airbnb guest, the ins and outs of the Mannlicher-Carcano. Actually, it’s a vintage 22 from the late 1920s. Real nice feel to that old wood stock.

A loves all three guns, the Spanish pellet gun, the bolt-action 22, and the semi-auto 22, but I knew he liked the semi-auto best. He can fire those ten rounds so fast you’d swear it was a machine gun. 

Now I understand some readers will look askance at allowing the boys to fire real live 22s. But I ask you, we are only halfway through Hank’s collection at this point. Do you think it’s safe to just go from pellet gun to 357 mag and 30-06 in one fell swoop? Think of the chiiiildren!


Gun learnin’ isn’t just about shooting cans and varmints and those pesky black and white birds (Hank: “Go ahead and blast ’em!”).

Hank and the boys cleaning the rifles before bed. 

Big Hole Basin

(writer’s note: you have to read this post with a slow-paced drawl)
Lorraine suggested we take a Sunday drive to the Big Hole Basin. “It’s gorgeous and the drive up there is beautiful too.” 

Hank was too tuckered out from his substitute-sermon duties so stayed behind. 

The Big Hole Basin is famous for a battle between the Nez Perce tribe and the US Cavalry in the 1870s. It was a costly victory for the cavalry; Col. John Gibbon’s force suffered about 30% dead or wounded. Here’s a photo of Col. Gibbon and Chief Joseph 15 years after the battle. As you can see by the chief’s expression, time heals all wounds and all is forgiven! 

Today the residents of the Big Hole, spread out in sparse communities across the valley (population density about 0.4 per mile) do yearly battle with the bitter cold and mosquitos. 

Looks peaceful here but imagine the frigid arctic air coming down from Canada and raging, with nothing to slow it down here at 6000 ft. plus. It’s so cold that the cows have to eat about a third more feed to stay alive. 


Then in summer they flood the valley to grow the hay and crops, and the mosquitos swarm like in a biblical plague. 

Can’t beat the vistas and weather in springtime, however!



The population of Jackson is so small they don’t even list it on wikipedia. While Lorraine chatted with the local churchgoers*, I took a walk with O and A down main street.

If it’s a store in a small town in the mountains of the west, it has to be called a “Mercantile”- state law. 


Farmers on the road slow down and salivate over this bad boy. Zero down! Just sign over your stimulus check and you can be threshing hay (or whatever it does) this afternoon!


Jackson community church. Not exactly the Sistene Chapel but you can watch the cows out those windows if Pastor Ned Ledbetter’s sermon is subpar today. Try that in Vatican City! Actually, the sermon today was a bit subparson, so to speak, as Ledbetter again invoked the 5th Sunday rule and allowed a laymen, Billy Bob the fiddler, to do the honors. Billy can fiddle a good Hank Williams tune, but he might do well to attend a Toastmasters course or two. There were some good moments of humor, however. “I hope you are all gettin’ along OK during this strange Covid season and we’ll be out of it soon. As for me, this social distancing doesn’t bother me none, as I’ve been good and self-quarantined for years now up yonder in Mosquito Flats.”

If you reading this, Billy Bob, I’ll come to your sermon any time, if you keep it down to ten minutes. Brevity is the heart of wit!


Back home at the Terwiliger Goat Ranch. The boys are petting the easy one. Every time we inched toward the kids they’d tear off toward their mothers, or up the hill. 


I discovered, however, that little browny didn’t mind a little cuddling. 

Owen and Kiki the barn cat. I didn’t get a picture of Kiki in the milking room so I’ll put up this pic of Roland Hollingsworth and farmdog Daisy, in the Terwiliger barn.

Bucket? What bucket? It’s Daisy’s turn at the teat. Roland has some good aim here. Caint get any fresher than this. Pasteurize-shmasteurize!

Next, some jobs around the ranch, and pellet-schmellet- it’s time to move up in caliber!


*Yes, there were two Sunday services today. I didn’t really want to attend twice but for a guided trip to the Big Hole Basin I’m game (and actually Pastor Ned indeed has three churches he preaches at every Sunday.) I let the boys hang out by the cow pasture and swat flies, summertime Napoleon Dynamite style. 

on the goat farm

Day 1&2 at the Terwiliger Ranch.

Awoke to a beautiful morning and took a 3 mile walk up the valley with Lorraine, after a half cup of coffee in the kitchen. I let the kids sleep off last night’s excitement. 

The dogs are always super eager to get outside and up the hill in the morning. 

The area suffered a burn in 2000.


A couple hundred yards up the road you’ll be joined by Rosy, the big German Shepard. 

And on the way back, she won’t go to her house, but stay with you all the way to the Ranch. “Rosie, Go Home!” sometimes does the trick. 


What work did we have? Mostly odd jobs cleaning up the property and making it look nice for guests. The front looks like an inviting B&B, and the back looks a bit like, well, like a goat farm. We hauled stuff from one end to the other. Removed stakes in the hillside where the goats grazed, and used them to build fencing around Hanks raised beds in front. We learned how to milk the goats; you have to have only one in the milking room, as the goats are constantly hungry and if a stray goat enters he’ll go straight for the feed in the trough where the head of the goat being milked is supposed to be. It can get hectic with a lot of banging around and pulling on collars and such. The barn cat, Kiki, jumps right up on the feeding platform and tries to get a lick of fresh milk out of the pail. 

What do you do when the work is done? You shoot, of course!

Hank teaching the boys how to use the pellet gun.

Hank has a nice, smooth country drawl from eastern New Mexico. “OK, Owen, you aim a little low and to the right now. That’s it! Git that varmint!” (soda can, actually)

If you tire of shooting, you can take the buggies for a spin. Owen was game, but Allen had found true love with the Spanish pellet gun. As long as Hank had ammo, Allen wasn’t budging from the firing range.

Here’s O on the 4-wheeler, with sidekick Daisy itchin’ to go.


End of the line for motor vehicles. 

Speaking of motors, we took a side road down the other side of the hill and met some mountain bikers coming up. “Sorry for all the racket,” I said! They said no problem.

On Sundays, Workawayers aren’t supposed to work. So whattyado? Out here in God’s country, you go to church of course. We drove up to the beautiful Sula Valley, and attended service in a little community center they rent for the small congregation. The best part was singing to an old Hank Williams number. The preacher said, “Now, this one has a bit of a honky-tonk feel to it, so go ahead and get with the spirit.” We sang “I saw the light,” with the backing of Darleen on the piano, Ned the preacher on guitar, and Billy Bob on fiddle. You couldn’t help but foot tap a bit. The other songs were less devil’s on the loose foottapping songs and more appropriate for solemn contemplation- the familiar protestant hymnbook stuff and 19th/early 20th century spirituals. Darlene says she prefers the more contemporary stuff at the church she attends back in New Mexico, but I like those old hymns, though admittedly, some of them have melodies that are a bit too simple, and Bach would wonder how he got stuck in the same hymnbook. As it was the 5th Sunday of the month, a layman was invited to give the sermon. Hank did the honors! It was nice to hear that smooth ol’ country drawl from behind the pulpit- but then again, there’s a lot of drawls out in these parts.

After church we took a walk. Here is the field just outside the old one-room schoolhouse, a few hundred yards from the makeshift chapel. That thing is called a beaver slide; it’s for bailing hay.


Back home, Allen is doing one of his assigned jobs- getting the kids people-friendly. Some of them are being bred for pack goats- the latest hiking thing, and Hank wants them to human interaction.


Next: Big Hole Valley

up in yonder hills

The Hollingsworths are busy folks. They agreed to take us two weeks, provided we could find lodging for a number of days in the middle of our stay. They contacted their friends about an hour to the south, up the Bitterroot Valley where it narrows and the river forks. The Terwiligers agreed to take us in for four nights, before we return to the Hollingsworths.

On the way, you pass through the cute roadside town of Darby. There must be a building code, because all the downtown shops, hotels, restaurants and bars are old west style, log cabin looking and rustic. The boys were impressed and we have it on our list for later. There’s a big hoedown in July- Logger Days or something of that sort. Knowing the people around here, it won’t be cancelled for Covid.

So, you drive about 1/2 south of Darby and the road does a lot of bending, following the river and rising as it heads toward the Idaho border. We missed our turn and got all the way to Sula, then turned back and found the dirt road up one of the side creeks. The hills were denuded of large trees from a fire back in 2000, but there’s plenty of new growth and everything is still green this time of year. 

When you arrive at the Terwiligers, they are ready for you!


When Lorraine showed us the room, we couldn’t believe it. Workawayers are supposed to be either college grads on a shoestring, or itinerant handymen looking for a cot and a bowl of mush, or a family of Oakies just happy to offer some services in exchange for a roof over the head. We aren’t supposed to stay in a shangri-la, faux-rustic, Aspen, Colorado executive suite for Texas oil money. But look at our room! Two kings, a bunkbed, south and east facing windows with the snowcapped mountains and gurgling creek outside, plush carpet, rustic decor. We are living high off the hog!!



O and A would be happy to jest stay put here, thank you kindly.






Owen with Daisy and Buddy. O is not the kind to smile naturally for photos, but these dogs put him in a happy mood and the smile comes easy.
Lorraine said, “Now Daisy is plenty friendly, but you have to go slow with Buddy. Don’t approach Buddy and pet him; let him come to you.”

Well, it only took black Buddy a couple seconds to decide he liked us. He’s 8 yrs. old and has a reputation as being mostly friendly but sometimes a little fickle and slightly ornery, but he took right to us. Daisy is just a couple years old and has a TON of energy. She’s only a midsized dog but thinks she’s as big and tough as a Rotweiler, and she’s plenty strong, but super friendly. Both dogs were from the pound. 

Here’s the bunkhouse. Usually, Workawayers will stay here, or when the place is crowded with guests*, they might stay in one of the two camping trailers. We were in hog heaven in the Teddy Roosevelt suite. 

*Though it feels quite remote in this part of Montana, highway 93 is part of a major cross-country cycling route, so Lorraine and Hank get their share of travelers in the Warm Showers* program. It’s a little like the Friends on the Bicycle program that I described on my trip with my daughter some years ago (see here), but I think it’s actually free. The Terwiligers rent the big fancy rooms (ours being one of them) to airbnb guests. 

Next: Morning walk with the dogs, doing some chores and odd jobs, and a little shootin’!

Lake Como

Strange name for a lake out here in Montana, but this is Ravalli County, named after Antonio Ravalli, a Jesuit missionary from Ferrara who came to the Bitterroot Valley in 1845. I reckon he was a bit homesick and so named this beautiful mountain lake after the more famous one in northern Italy. 

Lots of trees were underewater at the base. Spring runoff time.


Smile, Owen!

There were a few hikers on the trail. The campground had just opened and it was full- lots of people itching to get outdoors, apparently. No water or electricity at the campground, but it’s hard to beat 8 bucks a night.


There were some impressive falls up the south side of the lake. We bushwacked a ways through the rough to get there, but gave up and took a rest here.


Headwaters at the far end.

Owen was tempted to jump in. A couple local boys were splashing around in the swimming area at the campground end, but it was still pretty cold. 

Next: life on the goat farm

bike ride

The Hollingsworths let the boys use their tandem.

They practiced on this road, a long flat stretch, before getting to the long downhill stretch. 

It’s about 6 miles to the little town of Victor. Going in, we took the backroads along the farms. Coming back we took the bike path that follows highway 93, which is flat…

…but after the flats you’ll have to gain all of your elevation in one long slog up to the foothills.

It’s steeper than it looks– or maybe the length of the hill makes it seem steeper.



Next: beautiful hike along Lago di Como: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Como_Dam#/media/File:Como_Dam_(4306998458).jpg