montana photograph Birds of the Hi-Line

During the summer of 2015, the good people of the World Wildlife Fund hired me to spend a couple of weeks up on the Hi-Line in northern Montana photographing a multitude of things. Among those things were the birds in and around the Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge near Malta. Here’s some of what we found:

Black-crowned night heron? South of Malta, Mont.

Black-crowned night heron.

Raptor. South of Malta, Mont.

Prairie falcon.

Godwit. South of Malta, Mont.


Raven in nest. South of Malta, Mont.


Swallow near bridge. South of Malta, Mont.


Meadowlark. South of Malta, Mont.



Burrowing owl.

Cormorant. South of Malta, Mont.


Yellow-headed blackbird. Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge east of Malta, Mont.

Yellow-headed blackbird.

Battle Creek and swallows north of Chinook, Mont.


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montana photograph Saco


Grain is a big part of the history of Saco and northern Montana, but locals say this elevator, standing above the railroad and U.S. Highway 2, Saco’s main drag, is scheduled for demolition.


Shaped like a sleeping buffalo, this boulder, once perched above the nearby Milk River, is honored by Montana native peoples in traditional stories and through offerings like tobacco. It was moved to its present location along U.S. Highway 2 just west of Saco in 1967, according to a sign nearby.


Nena Magmend waits on the regulars at the Cabin Cafe she owns with her husband, Andrew, in downtown Saco. Magmend says they remodeled the cafe a few years ago, but kept the original counters, showing the wear from years of elbows.



Robert Plouffe says that when his brother moved into a new home, there was no room for all of his hunting trophies. So Plouffe put them up in the Pay N Save, one of the main businesses in downtown Saco. Plouffe is renowned for his smoked meat products and has a first-rate custom meat processing business.


“We found a nice house for a good price,” says Patty Pollock, 19, of moving to Saco with her boyfriend and family about two years ago from Cut Bank. Pollock’s co-worker at the Pay N Save, Patti Minnerath says she has lived in Saco for 32 years. “It’s very quiet,” she says. “The way I like it.”


Saco lies in the northern great plains, described by some as a desolate place. Still, there was enough traffic at this crossroads for a candidate to think it worthwhile to put up a sign. The candidate, Bruce Meyers, won election to Montana’s House of Representatives in 2014. This picture was made almost a year after that election — or maybe a year before the next election in 2016.


Howard Pippin, 76, remembers his youth in Saco when a lot of small farms added up to a population of about 500. Now, Pippin says outside his home, those small farms have consolidated into larger ones and Saco’s population is more like 170.


Saco’s downtown faces south, toward U.S. Highway 2 and the railroad, so business owners like Dan Desler have to keep up with building maintenance. Desler says he lives most of the year in Eugene, Ore., but has been coming out to Saco for more than 25 years to hunt and fish. Some years back, he went in with Rick Nelson and bought the Saco Motel.


Saco sits atop a natural gas resource known as the Bowdoin Dome. The town has its own gas well and offers residents natural gas for their homes at low prices.


A short drive from Saco, Nelson Reservoir is one of the best places in the state to catch a walleye.


See these on my website:

montana photograph Favorite Things Revisited

A batch of favorite things from a good friend with agricultural roots and an urban present:





And this acorn I found last fall but can’t throw away:


You can see more from this project at

montana photograph Cinderella’s Stash


“You should be Cinderella at least once in your life,” says The N’ Thing’s owner, Bonnie Poser. “And that happens in high school.” Poser stocks more than 1,000 prom dresses at her store in Conrad for customers from all over Montana and into Canada and beyond. Prices are usually around $500, Poser says.


Sixty miles north of Great Falls, Montana, surrounded by grain fields, the ribbon of Interstate 15 passes by Conrad on the plains of northern Montana. Conrad is the unlikely home of a dress shop frequented by people from hundreds of miles away.


Conrad’s agricultural roots aren’t easy to miss. It is the headquarters for Frontline Ag Solutions, one of the largest John Deere dealerships in the region.



“Dresses take on a personality,” Bonnie Poser says. “And that’s how it’s supposed to be.” Poser, 70, opened The N’ Thing, a dress shop in Conrad specializing in prom wear, in 1975.


You won’t find a single computer in the store, Poser says. So to honor the promise not to sell two similar dresses for the same prom, records must be kept on paper.


Styles change and Poser must be current, so new dresses arrive frequently. Yet, the buying process is a skill not easily mastered, Poser says. Dress styles come and go and Poser must choose age-appropriate attire that will appeal to her customers and their parents and chaperones.


An extensive supply of spare jewels is on hand so that in the event a dress loses a sparkle or two, an exact match can be found and sewn into place.

montana photograph Pollinator Patrol

Pollinators, like bees, are important part of the lives of innumerable plants and animals. Without them, many food crops would not exist. And pollinator numbers are declining, according to an article in the current issue of Montana Quarterly.20160420133318-2

Laura Burkle is an ecology professor at Montana State University. She and U.S. Forest Service entomologist Kevin Runyon are leading a study of pollinators near Bozeman. They’re trying to determine the effects of global warming on pollinator numbers.


On a hillside south of Bozeman on a sunny April afternoon, the team sets up equipment to measure the scent of small yellow flowers called glacier lilies. While the machines work, the pollinators feeding on the flowers will be caught and then brought back to the lab to be identified, Burkle says. The idea is to gather data over time that may help map the effects of global warming on the plants and the pollinators.


Graduate student Will Glenny sets up to measure the scent of one of the glacier lilies.
20160420142610From left, Laura Burkle, Justin Runyon and Will Glenny.

montana photograph Jason DeShaw


It’s not much of a concert poster, but it filled the room at the Montana State Hospital in Warm Springs for Jason DeShaw last summer.


DeShaw is a country singer from Plentywood who is open about his own struggles with mental illness. He tells the crowd at the hospital that he was first diagnosed in 2010 after a breakdown while he was on tour in Saskatchewan. After a 400-mile dash to Billings, Shaw tells the crowd, he was asked if he heard voices.

“Yes I do.” Whose?

“Johnny Cash.”

“And into the psych ward I went,” DeShaw says.


Four years later, DeShaw is on tour as a performer, speaker and listener, visiting Montana small towns and large cities, advocating for mental illness awareness.


He speaks from the heart, he says, and sings from it too. And his honesty, courage and eloquence have impressed and affected lives. He tells Montana Quarterly writer Brian D’Ambrosio of a performance an an eastern Montana high school that inspired several students to seek counseling for depression that many of their friends and family did not know existed.


“Mental illness has made me a better human being,” DeShaw says. That’s a hell of a thing.


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montana photograph Colstrip

Times are tough in Colstrip, Montana, where most of the town’s economy is dependent on coal, mined nearby and burned to create electricity at the power plant in town.


“It’s steam,” residents assure a visitor photographing the vapors emanating from the Colstrip power plant. Many in Colstrip are sensitive to the perception people may be getting from the town’s strip mine and power plant. They’re afraid visitors on a cold day will see plumes of smoke over the power plant and think it is all pollution. They worry that no one talks about all of the landscape restoration the mine does after it removes coal from a seam. They worry that pictures of dozens of tons of dirt being moved at once will make the mine look too dusty, despite the water trucks in evidence spraying the ground on a January morning.


Ninety tons at a time, one of the drag lines at Colstrip’s Rosebud Mine removes overburden dirt to uncover a coal seam. Coal is the central economic force behind Colstrip and its history. Colstrip supplied the coal used in Northern Pacific locomotives in the 1920s, then the town nearly died when trains began running on diesel. In the 1970s, construction began on the power plant and once again, Colstrip bustles with life — for now.


Rex Rogers manages the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Colstrip. Colstrip is a company town and that company mines coal and then burns it to make electricity. Efforts to curb the use of fossil-fueled electricity are threatening the livelihoods of Rogers and the workers he represents.


Mary Ann and Bob Whitehead are both retired from the Colstrip power plant. They live in the mobile home they’ve had since 1980, where Mary Ann has converted the dining room into a quilting studio for her new hobby. They tout Colstrip’s many parks and the local golf course, recreation center and gun club which cost residents little or nothing to use. All thanks to financial support from the mine and power plant.


In addition to free membership at a local nine-hole golf course and a park for every 100 people in Colstrip, residents can freely use the well-equipped recreation center, where 49-year-old Tammy Robinson teaches a fitness class. Robinson’s husband and oldest son both work at the power plant. “I’m nervous about the whole thing,” she says. “I’m nervous about where Colstrip is headed.”


Engineer Bill MacFarlane, 72, says he worked at the Rosebud coal mine for 30 years, assembling the giant drag lines that can weigh 6 million pounds and more. But his roots are in Havre, he says, where his grandparents were farmers. “The land meant a lot to us,” he says.

Electricity prices are being driving down by the availability of cheap natural gas, and both Washington and Oregon have passed legislation that will gradually phase out the purchase of coal-fired electricity. And the federal Clean Power Plan threatens to impose more stringent regulations on what — besides the steam — comes out of the Colstrip smokestacks .