Best in the world

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Bozeman was the site for the 2014 International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation’s Ice Climbing World Cup and it was amazing to watch some of the best climbers in the world compete for UIAA World Cup medals.

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Perhaps the biggest moment was when American Kendra Stitch won the women’s speed climb event, breaking a long streak of Russian dominance. The events were held in downtown Bozeman, which was ice-free, so climbers worked their way up walls constructed of plywood.

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The men’s event was won by Russian Nikolai Kuzovlev.

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Racism

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About 75 people, an estimated 90 percent white, marched down Main Street in Bozeman, Montana, to protest racism and extreme police brutality on Saturday. As I followed along the route, I heard a woman tell her friend that the protest was dumb. A man made a joke implying that because so many of the protesters were white, their message lacked credibility. And another man, apparently thinking this was a protest against all police officers, leaned toward the open window on the passenger side of his pickup and yelled, “God bless law enforcement,” as he drove past.

Each of these people denied that racial injustice is a problem. They want to ignore the facts that tell us those with darker skin have fewer opportunities for financial security and more opportunities for oppression. I agree it’s a tough issue to face. It’s shameful and inflammatory. But ignoring it isn’t going to make it go away.

Freedom and Justice

Wednesday, a federal judge declared Montana’s law against same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Thursday morning, several couples were at the Law and Justice Center here in Bozeman getting married. It was an honor to watch this latest step toward a more free, more just state and nation.

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Patrick Donnelly, left, 34, and Ben Bahnsen, 32, were the first same-sex couple to be granted a marriage license in Gallatin County. Together three years, the couple makes their home in Bozeman. “We’re overjoyed we can finally, legally celebrate our marriage with out friends,” says Donnelly.

 

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Stacey Haugland, left, 48, and Mary Leslie, 52, were the first same-sex couple to actually get married. Both couples were married by Nina Grey. The couple says they’ve been together 16 years, and were ceremonially married in 2003, but marrying legally was extremely important to them. “Marriage really does change things for the better,” says Leslie. “It really does transform things. It matters.”

Science

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Imagine traveling to a place you’ve never been to spend weeks living in a tent working with people you’ve never met and you’ll have a pretty good idea what six young women went through this summer up on the American Prairie Reserve south of Malta, Mont. The women, aged 19-26, were working with Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation, learning how to collect data for conservation work.

Writer Ted Brewer and I spent some time with this crew and our story is in the fall issue of Montana Quarterly.

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Mike Kautz is the ASC representative in charge of setting the crew up, teaching them some ways to gather data, and then setting them loose on the prairie.

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This crew is gathering data on the bison that roam the American Prairie Foundation lands, but Kautz says ASC volunteers have conducted wildlife surveys, studied how native species are interacting with fences and looked for archeological sites on the APR land as well. Writer Brewer quotes him as saying, “One of the things we’re trying to show with this project is that you can do good science with nonprofessional scientists, that you can collect robust, rigorous scientific data with people who are not necessarily professionals.”

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Much of the data gathering and species identification manuals are electronic.

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And there’s time for the crew to enjoy being out in a beautiful place, camping with people just met, but of a common interest.

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P-burg

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Among the many fine stories in the current issue of Montana Quarterly is John Clayton’s profile of the town of Philipsburg, Montana. I found it to be a town with a sense of humor, a place proud of its heritage without clinging to it. Anne Krickel, above, lives next door to a church. At one time, she says, she and her husband had a sign on the bathtub outside their home that advertised, “Baptisms: 50¢.” Then some friends brought her a mannequin leg from an old department store. “I thought, ‘That is perfect,’ ” she says.

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Asked to explain the math on a sign welcoming visitors to P-burg’s southern entrance, Mayor Craig Sorensen says, “It’s an art project slash joke.” Mayor Sorensen adds that there are also four signs around town directing people to a fictitious nude beach. If followed, the signs lead travelers in a circle.

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Founded as a mining town in the 1860s, P-burg was built to last. Much of the architecture, including the Philipsburg grade school, was constructed of brick. The school, dedicated in 1896, claims to be the oldest operating grade school in Montana.

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And a lot of work has gone into preserving and maintaining the historic downtown. On the June Saturday morning I visited, the main drag was getting a fresh chip seal.

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Roy Hamilton, 96, grew up in P-burg. He learned mechanical skills from his father, a carpenter from Sweden. He sent his three kids to college with jobs that included manganese mining and work for the city public works department.

“You could say that Roy’s career is a microcosm of P-burg and the economic history of the state as a whole,” John Clayton writes. “He used his mechanical aptitude and common sense to make things in teamwork with others. And responding to market forces beyond his control, his source of income had to shift from mining to logging to government. The stability was not in a single employer, but in family, landscape, community, and the value of work itself. All that makes Roy very likable, just like his town.”

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Not to worry

My good friend Doug Loneman called the other day with an invitation to head up to Hyalite Reservoir.

I was surprised to find the water level of the reservoir much lower than what I’d seen a few months earlier. A quick call this morning to the Bozeman Water Department assures me this is nothing to worry over. They bring water levels way down in the fall to save the dam from ice damage in the winter.

Still, it was an eerie place. The exposed ground, I was told, has only been under water since 1993, when the dam was enlarged. But the creeks still converged and then headed down toward Hyalite Canyon and it was easy to imagine the forest they once ran through, now sandy mud and stumps.

I’m sad for the forest now gone and at the same time glad for the water this dam provides me and the other people of the rapidly-growing population of Bozeman.

Then I think of the people in California, some of whom have been without running water for five months or more. And I remember that clean water has been in short supply in Africa and other parts of the world for a very long time.

The climate is changing. And water is more precious than oil. I hope we remember that in time.

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New Music

Kenneth Fuchs is a great composer who wrote a piece that the Bozeman Symphony played at their last concert called Discover The Wild. Maestro Matthew Savery asked me to put together a slide show of Montana and Yellowstone landscapes to go along with this wonderful piece of music. Here’s what we came up with. The video lasts a little less than five minutes.

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